October is Filipino American History Month! We want to share a story by one of our Filipino Climbers whose story takes you around the world.
Did you know the first Filipinos landed in the United States on October 18, 1587 in what's known today as Morro Bay, CA? They landed on the Nuestra Senora de Esperanza--a Spanish ship. That's why we celebrate in October!
The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) announced this year's theme as The History of Filipino American Activism, highlighting the ways Filipinos have participated in social justice movements like the United Farmworkers Strike, Hawaiian Sugar Plantation strikes, and Anti-Martial Law movements throughout time.
Filipinos have deep roots in America, from their first landing in 1587 to the 1903 Pensionados Act to the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act and beyond. The U.S. and the Philippines have intertwined history that's shaped the culture and history of both countries.
For more information, check out the FANHS website!
Fountain Park in Baku, Azerbaijan circa 2003
Where It Started
My story starts in early 2008 (well, at least the one that led me to the U.S.). I had turned 11 that previous October and knew my family was moving to America. Why? I wasn't sure beyond the fact that Mom got a job offer and it would help our family, but I was used to moving.
Before this, my journey was all over the place. I was born in the Philippines and left in 1999 when I was 2-1/2. We lived in Baku, Azerbaijan for about 5 years, leaving in 2004 to go back to the Philippines. We lived in Manila for a few more years--I remember going to school and loving it there! I also remember my parents were gone a lot of the time for work. In 2006, we moved to Singapore because my mom was living and working there, and stayed until 2008. I won't lie, Singapore has been my favorite adventure so far--I was sad to go in 2008. So, as you can see, moving and being an immigrant was a regular part of my childhood. I'm 24 and have gone to 8 different schools and lived in countless homes!
Joy with her brothers in Baku Azerbaijan circa 2003
When we moved to the Pacific Northwest corner of America, I remember my first thought being "it's so cold here." We exited the airport and the PNW chill hit me immediately, leading to all-over body shivers for the next few hours. I wasn't worried about never seeing friends or feeling super sad because I thought we'd be able to visit (surprise, we didn't because it's expensive). At some point, I was enrolled in the 5th grade because I still had to finish the school year--this is where I really felt unhappy. I had never gone to public school before and the kids weren't as friendly to newcomers. At my old school, we had new kids coming and going every semester--an experience we all shared--so we always made an effort to become friends will all the new folks.
Those few months in school were so lonely. I didn't fit in because I didn't understand the culture, plus most of them had been in school together since before they could read. Sometimes, I spent recess in the library reading instead of playing outside because I didn't really know how to socialize or ask if I could join (read: extreme shyness).
Joy and her little brother in Singapore eating ice cream circa 2006
Middle school was easier and I started to adapt to Western culture. I made my group of friends, had crushes, participated in some activities, etc. By the time I got to high school, I was fully immersed in American culture and thought the same way as most of my friends. Nonetheless, there were still some aspects of Filipino culture I held onto like Tagalog, the food, the importance of education, respecting your elders, and more. However, the crossroads of growing up in America and having immigrant parents made it hard to reconcile those two identities.
I used to get into fights with my parents about how I talked or my attitude, when I thought the way I said things was perfectly normal. I knew we grew up differently and pointed that out but was always told I'm still Filipino and needed to follow those rules.
My Greatest Struggle
I'll be completely honest and say that my immigrant story is so much easier than others. I always had a roof over my head, my mom had a job when we got here, and I was young enough to adapt. When we lived in other countries, I was given the opportunity to study at top-tier international schools (with the help of my mom's employer) and met kids who were born into privilege. The older I got, the more I realized how hard this transition probably was for my parents. Moving to America meant we probably wouldn't be able to visit our family for years and they were leaving behind the place they called home for most of their lives. Mom and Dad had to adjust to raising us with no help, relying on my big brother to watch us younger two until I was old enough to watch my little brother. My dad couldn't work in the U.S. so he worked in Canada, 3 hours away. I only saw him on weekends for a couple of years. But my parents gave me the best childhood they could, and I always had what I needed, plus some. Their sacrifice brought me to where I am and I'll never be able to repay that debt. Both my parents came from poorer families--my dad's parents never finished school and my mom's dad passed away when she was young, leaving my grandma to take care of the kids alone. They struggled, but they survived. And they worked hard to build a better life for me and my brothers.
The Bartolomes' first winter in Washington circa late-2008
Honestly, my greatest personal struggle? The guilt of not doing more for my family. The U.S. has a very individualistic culture that's affected my outlook on life, but I've also had to reconcile that part of me with my Filipino identity. Filipino culture is all about taking care of your family and those around you. It's about excelling further than previous generations to build a better future for your lineage--at least that's a huge part of it.
I've always wondered if I'm doing enough; if I'm successful enough; if I'll be able to repay my parents for all the sacrifices they've made. We once lived in a one-bedroom, concrete house with a toilet that didn't work. Today, we live in a medium-sized home where I've always had my own bedroom. With my parents' hard work, we got here. My mom left for Angola when I was only 1-1/2 years old, missing my 2nd birthday. She saw me in December for the holidays, then left again for another 6 months. When we lived in Azerbaijan, my dad lived in Georgia (the country) for one year and we only talked to him on the phone. My mom worked in Jordan for 5 months. And then at some point, both my parents worked in Indonesia for 2 months. All this time apart was to help our family survive--to work towards a better life.
All I can do now is work the hardest I can because I do want to give back one day. I want to give my future family their best shot. But I also need to learn to give myself grace. Success takes time and it's measured in so many different ways.
Where Am I Now?
Joy has her own blog: coffeecreamcollege.blogspot.com
I'm in a good place now, balancing my career expectations and striving for more. I'm a year into my post-grad career and have big dreams + plans that include giving back. My immigrant story, like so many others, stems in sacrifice--one that gives a new generation the opportunity to succeed. We all deserve the opportunity to succeed.
I am so grateful to be in the United states, but that also means I'm allowed to want better for other immigrants.
We all came here and set our roots--just at different times. My family is an almost 13-year-old sapling, growing and digging deeper roots. Your family may be a 300-year-old redwood, standing tall with roots not even the strongest winds can upend. But we all came here looking for better soil.
We should all be thankful for the opportunities we've been afforded here whether you're an immigrant like me or you trace your roots to Ellis Island or your ancestors showed up on the Mayflower.
Let's remember that unless you're Native American, you and your ancestors came here looking for freedom, for opportunity, for growth, and for more. It's what immigrants are often looking for. Let's have more compassion for the struggles of others. Let's welcome those fleeing persecution. Let's help our neighbors, and let's remember our roots.
Bartolome Family Reunion in Manila circa July 2019, after 8 years apart