Growing up as second-generation Filipino American, there were many Filipino values instilled in me that I firmly stand by today. Among them: the value of a good education, an optimistic view of the world, and the importance of being resourceful and resilient in today’s society.
And perhaps it’s the fact that I am a second-generation child, born in America and raised to follow my passions and shape my own beliefs, but when it comes to family, my principles are not quite “Filipino” – my values on this subject are my own.
The concept of “blood is thicker than water” runs deep within most Filipino households, but in recent years, I’ve come to question this notion.
How can you stay true to your family if your family doesn’t stay true to you?
How can you respect your elders when your elders are often racist, sexist, and transphobic?
Why should you stand by your family’s side, when they’ve never stood by yours?
Like most Filipino American families, mine is huge. My dad is one of 11 children and my mom’s extended family meant that there was never a shortage of aunts, uncles, and grandparents to give presents on birthdays, hugs during the holidays, and high-fives during other familial celebrations. Growing up, parties were jampacked with cousins of every age group and at least a dozen adults at any given time teasing me about getting a boyfriend. Graduations meant begging the school authority figures for extra tickets so no relative was left behind. And shopping for new clothes was almost a rarity given the number of hand-me-downs available from older siblings and cousins.
Looking back, childhood was a dreamlike state filled with love and wonder; everyone got along and family feuds were almost nonexistent. In truth, I, along with the other children, were spared the real drama because we were too young to shape and share our own opinions. Instead, we were pushed to follow antiquated family values.
We were pushed to believe that our elders were to be respected, regardless of their disrespect toward other cultures, other ideas, and other people. We were pushed to follow outdated patterns and traditions when it came to raising children, relationships, and “proper” occupations, among other things. Above all, we were pushed to believe that family is everything.
But now I’m pushing back.
I’ve come to learn that blood isn’t always thicker than water.
When my estranged father, for instance, remarried a woman younger than me and chose to keep his marriage a secret from me and my siblings, I chose to end our relationship and allow him to keep his secrets, along with his distance.
When my aunts and uncles chose to boycott my sister’s wedding over a petty squabble, I chose to follow a different path when it came to my own wedding, removing their invitations from the picture altogether. I chose to escape such negativity and find supportive and loving people to call my own.
When these same aunts and uncles chose to shun my mother, a woman who had been in their lives for 30+ years, simply because they wanted to stand by my wasted father’s side, I chose to cut them out of my life entirely. I chose to build a family founded on loyalty and mutual respect.
How can my so-called family, the extended relatives that I grew up with, consider family as everything when for so long they’ve denied my immediate family anything?
What’s fascinating in this discourse, however, is how members of this new generation – my generation – continue to carry the “family over everything” mindset. It’s choosing culture over chaos. Some would rather sweep drama under the rug, bottle up any negativity, and ignore problematic and prejudiced attitudes in favor of maintaining the foundations of their cultures and keeping the elders happy.
Call me crazy, but this doesn’t sound like family to me.
My own sister is at times a prisoner to this mindset. For example, she allows her daughter to build a relationship with our father, the same man who encouraged his adult siblings to boycott her wedding. He’s the man who has never attended a single one of his children’s graduations. He’s the man who preaches the importance of family, but was never around when my siblings and I were growing up.
As I enter the stage in my life where children are a very real thing in my near future, I can’t help but think of the values I’ll introduce to them. The phrase “blood is thicker than water” refers to family bonds and loyalties being the strongest, but in truth, they’re the most fragile.