Raising an American: A Filipino parent’s dilemma

Patricio N. Abinales

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Raising an American: A Filipino parent’s dilemma
The parents' 'accomplishment' of helping their children achieve the 'American dream' comes with the painful admission that their progenies are not, and will never be Filipinos

I am sure many Filipino immigrant families have faced this dilemma and still have to resolve it. They confront this quandary over raising children in a place they now call home.

To what extent will a Filipino migrant family allow its kids to grow up American, imbibing the values of individualism, a fierce defense of one’s freedoms of expression, religiosity but also secularism, and the association of happiness with wealth?

In the main, Filipino families allow their offspring to be thoroughly perfused by these values. After all, the ultimate aim of “becoming American” is the latter’s total integration into the new society. Immigrant Pinoys never envision their children going back and living in the old country.

One therefore understands why, when the balikbayan returns for a visit, there is this conscious attempt at distinguishing oneself from the former kababayan

This distance is evidenced by a thrasonical refusal to stop talking in English and switch to one’s argot of birth and the constant lament of the awful life in Filipinas when compared to urbane Midwest America. The message here is superiority and the gratification of having been able to escape the miseries of the Third World.

In actuality, however, there is no escaping the influence of the old country. Old habits never go away despite the California twang or an exhibition of the latest fashion from Anne Taylor.

You notice these slippages when parents set up boundaries when it comes to family ties and religion.

Almost always, the first complaint about raising children is the difficulty in harmonizing some valued practices back home with those of the new place. Many a family I’ve met whine about how American norms constrict the ability to chasten one’s children. 

In the old country, setting kids on the right path and making them appreciate the importance of respecting elders includes the use of the rod. You insult Auntie, you get a whack on the head; you shout back at Grandma, the belt comes off Father’s pants and you get whipped until you apologize.

Alas, in America these actions are illegal: their brutality endangers the child and makes the parent liable for prosecution and jail time. Many Filipino migrant families see these less as mechanisms to protect the young but instruments that turn youngsters into spoiled brats. To them, the American preference for verbal admonition to chastise kids – “Go to your room! You are grounded for one week!” – is a feeble counter-measure; it only emboldens juveniles to break family rules or probe parental weaknesses.

So, almost always, conversations turn into grumblings over the inability to influence the next generation’s mindset. These chit-chat often ends in a despondent note, a morose surrender to the reality that there is nothing Filipino in them, saved perhaps their physical attributes. 

So you want your child to become completely American, yet you also like some of Filipino values passed on to them. Every parent wants to brag that the little girl is truly American now, but she still possesses a Filipino soul.

One can easily call this attitude as hypocritical, suggestive of the belief that we Pinoys are seguristas. But I think there is something more profound that is in play here, and this is the migrant parents’ fear of having no control over their offspring’s fate and the prospect of the next generations increasingly having nothing in common with them.

This is one of the painful ironies of raising children in this place. The individualist aspiration to do good and be happy also means that our sons and daughters cannot look back (for what is there to look back to?) but “move on” as individuals – the most basic of all American pilgrimages.  

Filipino parents, however, grow up in a society that values family attachments across and within generations. Individual identity is seamlessly fused with the family name. Personal ambitions are also clan goals and to go to it alone without concern for family is courting risk to be ostracized from the tribe. 

The clash of how life should be is thus inevitable, and lacking a knowledge of American family and social life, the parents almost always lose. They are left with this odd feeling that in helping their children attain success they have achieved the “American dream.” But the accomplishment comes with the painful admission that their progenies are not, and will never be, Filipinos.

This is, however, not the end of the story. Two other contradictory features of immigrant life serve to reinforce the complications. These will be looked at in succeeding essays. – Rappler.com 

Patricio N. Abinales works in the middle of nowhere to send money back home to Ozamiz City. A single parent, he is raising a 10-year-old daughter.


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