As a first generation Filipino American, my story doesn’t start the day I was born. It actually starts in the 1950s when my Lolo, which means grandfather in Tagalog, asked my Lola, grandmother, for her hand in marriage after serenading her in the rice fields with his guitar. And so, my story is one filled with love from beginning to end.
My Lolo and Lola got married, lived in a farm in the province of Capiz, and had nine children together. My mother was their seventh child and the youngest girl. She spent her childhood playing in the fields with her brothers and sisters, climbing trees to eat mangos for breakfast, walking to school in beat up flip flops, and taking baths in the lake behind their house. It was a simple life, and a very different one to what we lead today.
In the 1970s, my Lolo was given advice by a friend. He was told that if he wanted his children to grow and have more opportunities than he had, then my Lolo had to move…. My Lolo would have to leave behind all that he knew and move to America.
This one very important sacrifice is the one decision that will forever impact my family and the future generations of my family.
My Lolo, once a very respected man in his barrio (village) who people came to for guidance, spent his first couple years in America working at a McDonalds. He would save all his money and send it home to the Philippines in order to send his children to college.
I can go into deep detail about my family’s 20 year long tale of coming to America, but long story short: my Lolo managed to send all nine of his children to college; petition to bring them, their spouses, and my Lola to America; actually get his children, their spouses, and my Lola to America; bring all his grandchildren to America as well; and then build a house in Roxas City in 2006 for us to stay in whenever we visit home.
Because of that one decision my Lolo decided to act upon, I can never say that I am not loved.
In 1994, I was one of the first babies in my family to be born in America. My extended family is very close. Therefore I grew up speaking Tagalog, eating Filipino food, watching Filipino television, singing Filipino songs, and even learning how to dance tinikling at one point.
I sometimes feel like people forget that I’m Asian. Numerous times I have heard, “But you’re not really that Asian,” or “You don’t look Asian.” Or even better, “You’re Filipino, you’re not a real Asian.” I’m technically Pacific Islander, if we’re getting really specific. But indeed, the beautiful archipelago that is the Philippines is located in the continent of Asia. And before you claim that I am not a real Asian, please consider the fact that I am very much in touch with my culture and where I came from.
After moving to New York, my parents basically started their lives from almost nothing. Although they’re both professionals, they had to learn a new language, be accustomed to a new culture, find jobs, and adapt to the norms of an American society. And on top of that, they raised two children in a limbo between our traditional Filipino culture and the American culture that we live in. My mom and dad are the two most amazing, strongest people I could ever ask for to be my parents.
And thus, they are another reason why I can never say that I am not loved.
Although my grandfather moved to America in the 1970s, his goal isn’t done; it is still in the process of being done through my cousins and myself. Therefore I would lie if I say that there isn’t some sort of pressure that comes from being a first generation Filipino American in my family. They have sacrificed so much in order to provide my cousins and me the opportunities that we have. My grandfather wanted us to have a life where we can choose to be whoever we want to be and thrive. I would hate to have his hard work and sacrifice go to waste.
Coming from a family of immigrants, I always understood that I had to work twice as hard to attain the same amount as my predominantly white peers. The fact that I am at Syracuse University, studying what I am studying, and actually having a shot in this field of study is completely mind blowing when thinking about where my parents came from.
Kamusta, I am Katrina Bartocillo and I am a first generation Filipino American with a bright future ahead of me. And I will never forget how everything that I am, everything that I have, and everything that I will achieve is purely rooted in a man’s love for his family.