My name is Benigno Bacolores, Jr. Originally my mother wanted to name me Jason, but my father was keen on having a son bearing his name. Benigno actually comes from Benigno Aquino, a famous Filipino senator and political dissident who was assassinated in 1983. My parents came to America in the pursuit of a better life, a new beginning, leaving what they had in the Philippines for my brother, sister, and me. Albeit, many people are curious to the origin of my name. I’ve been told my last name rolls off the tongue, but my first name (or my government name as I love to refer to it as) is a rollercoaster.
“How do you say that?”
Ben-nig-no. I shroud my name, hiding behind one of familiarity. Ben makes everything easier; it helps me assimilate into a culture where I don’t necessarily feel like I fit in. Being named Benigno isn’t a nuisance. I don’t hate my first name. I just hate that dirty look I get whenever the professor calls my name on the first week of classes. Yeah, I know my name is different. Yeah, I know people have trouble pronouncing it. Yeah, I speak English fairly well. Yeah, I can speak another language. No, that doesn’t make me a terrorist, poor, or whatever I’ve desensitized myself to hear. There are so many other things to learn about someone other than their name and culture. At first glance, you wouldn’t know that I can beatbox, I’m left-handed, and I’m double jointed in both my arms.
“Where are you from?
I come from the land of beaches, In-n-Out, and traffic. I live in Carson, California, but I consider Los Angeles my home. From birth I lived in Koreatown, but I was raised in Carson which is technically in Los Angeles Country. Back home, I could count the number of white friends I had on one hand. Here in Syracuse I can count the number of Filipino friends with my GPA. I loved my weekend trips to Los Angeles where diversity is as prevalent as the smog that fills that iconic skyline. Everyone should experience new culture like a bowl of pho after a night out, dol sol bibimbap, sinigang, okonomiyaki, and hot pot. (Thanks to my inherited taste buds, I know food). Don’t get me wrong, I love Syracuse, but I wasn’t expecting the culture shock and the drastic change in food.
“No, where are you really from?”
I’m Filipino, Ilocano to be exact, but I know what you mean. I’m still from California. Ilocano is one of the 150+ dialects that my people speak. Although Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines, I don’t expect folk from Upstate New York to know what I’m talking or swearing about in my native tongue.
“So what are you?”
I’m American who’s never left this country before. My first time getting on a flight was to come here. Hearing someone ask me about what I am makes me feel like an outsider. Those sharp words feel like condescending daggers but they’re shrouded by the unfamiliarity of culture and diversity. I’m the 25% of this university that isn’t white. I don’t really care that I’m some statistic on a college pamphlet. I’m here to make my mark at ‘Cuse and make a difference. Whenever I hear someone mention that they knew someone who is Filipino, it’s typically the help. Filipinos are generally nurses, postal workers, secretaries, cooks, and caretakers. Despite this we’re not bounded by this at all. My mom works for Cedar Sinai Medical Center, a premier hospital in Beverly Hills. My dad worked for Four Season Hotel, SLS, and Onyx Lounge in Los Angeles as an executive chef. So to answer the question, I don’t know what I am, but I know I’ll be something great.