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  • Writer's pictureClarissa Valbuena Aljentera

This Filipina American Life

Understanding my roots and culture has a complicated history as a Filipina American. As a cradle Catholic I have gravitated toward understanding my history through the lens of faith. The devotions I pay attention to and the novenas I hold holy are the ones revolving around Philippine customs. As October being Filipino American History Month, I pay extra special attention to something I want to learn or delve deeper into. The month of October is a great reminder of wanting to celebrate my family’s history alongside my experience.

Filipino Americans are the second largest Asian American group in the nation and the third largest ethnic group in California, after Latinas/os and African Americans. According to the Filipino American National Historical Society the celebration of Filipino American History Month in October commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States, which occurred on October 18, 1587, when “Luzones Indios” came ashore from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza and landed at what is now Morro Bay, California.

With family ties up and down California and having been born and raised there it wasn’t until I left the West Coast as an adult that I began to yearn for the familiar. I was looking to celebrate San Lorenzo Ruiz whose feast day is at the end of September and I was listening to hear Tagalog sung at Mass from time to time. The rhythm and roots of a spirituality steeped in a Filipina experience means honoring the Christmas Eve novena of Simbang Gabi because I see images that are like home and what I hear preached from the pulpit is familiar.

Photo of author by a historical marker in Manilla Village.
The photo is from a trip to Manilla Village in 2017 - a settlement of Filipino American sailors established in 1895 in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana - where the sailors were known for their shrimp drying techniques.

These days as a newish mama I’m paying attention to the home my husband and I are creating for our son. Our home has a few reminders of Filipino roots such as the Santo Nino and bilingual Tagalog and English storybooks. Growing up my lolas (which is Tagalog for grandmothers) had deep devotion to Mary and when my son and I walk through our Chicago neighborhood we will stop and pray with the Mary statue near the Catholic Church on our block. I think of the little ways I can continue to guide him in understanding his role as a boy who identifies as Black and Filipino. I think of the ways I can continue to create a home and meaning in his world.

How does your home reflect your family’s sacred history? How do you create tradition and meaning with your spiritual or religious practice?

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