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My Pilipino-American Experience

Hi! My name is Nathan Mariano, and I am a SPACE intern this fall. I am a second-year traditional student from Hercules, California.

I applied to SPACE Internship to develop my Pilipino-American identity and embrace my cultural heritage. Being involved in SPACE has given me the opportunity to discover more about my own culture by engaging in dialogue with other Pilipino-American students who share similar experiences. I learned about the conditions that affect Pilipino-Americans and found ways to serve my community. Getting involved in SPACE and engaging in our weekly discussions has allowed me to reflect on my struggle with my Pilipino-American identity, specifically with cultural cringe.

What is Cultural Cringe?

It is defined as an internalized attitude of inferiority towards one’s own culture. It is closely related to the concept of colonial mentality in which people believe that their culture is inferior due to colonization. It is connected to cultural alienation where one abandons their own cultural background.

My Experience with Cultural Cringe

My hometown of Hercules, California has a strong Pilipino community, particularly in the church and school. Pilipinos regularly attend the local parish, St. Patrick Catholic Church Rodeo-Hercules, and are heavily involved in its activities. The choir group that performs at 9:30 AM mass is known as Banyuhay (“metamorphosis”) and consisted of mostly Filipino members who performed at mass and were involved in service to the community. The church celebrates Filipino Catholic traditions such as Simbang Gabi (“night mass”) and Santacruzan (“holy cross”). In high schools, there are various Pilipino Clubs that organize activities like performing Philippine folk dances at multicultural assemblies.


The Pilipino-American community encouraged involvement from the youth to keep their traditions alive. I did not realize the importance of carrying on traditions because I wanted to assimilate into American society. Even though I supported my friends who participated in Pilipino Catholic traditions and multicultural assemblies, I cringed at the thought of being involved in their events. By avoiding involvement in the Pilipino-American community, I ran away from my identity and dismissed my own culture as inferior to the culture of the United States. I was not proud to be Pilipino.

As the son of Filipino immigrants in the United States, my parents never bothered to teach me and brothers their native tongue (Tagalog and Kapampangan) because of its lack of relevance in America. They assumed that we would not need to use our native language in the future. Instead, they focused on teaching English to me and my brothers to improve our social mobility and success in the future. However, their decision to not teach us Tagalog made me feel disconnected from my culture and my people. My classmates in my elementary school judged how Pilipino someone was based on how much Tagalog they spoke, the Filipino food they ate, and the teleseryes they watched. I did not feel Pilipino enough because I could not speak Tagalog.

I had several opportunities to become involved in Samahang Pilipino in my first year at UCLA, but I missed them because I wanted to avoid confronting my own struggles with my cultural identity. I was invited to Bruin Life Weekend (BLW) to meet with other Pilipino-American students who had been admitted to UCLA. Despite being encouraged by my parents, I decided not to participate because I assumed that I was not Pilipino enough to fit in. I attended the Pilipino Welcome Reception (PWR) during the fall quarter of my first year, and I left immediately because I was intimidated by the massive number of Pilipinos in one area. In doing so, I abandoned my cultural background and did not find a community where I belonged.

After my first year, my family and I went on a summer vacation to the Philippines to visit our relatives. I appreciated the nature and natural beauty of the Philippines, but I also witnessed the issues that affect the Pilipino community, mainly political corruption. Being exposed to the Philippines and my relatives’ way of life motivated me to learn about Philippine customs and beliefs. Therefore, in my second year, I decided to take the initiative to develop my Filipino-American identity by becoming involved in Samahang Pilipino. Specifically, I was involved in the Friendship Games, Samahang Pilipino Advancing Community Empowerment (SPACE), and One Step Ahead (OSA) Mentorship. One of the most memorable experiences of my second year was participating in the Friendship Games, where over 40 Pilipino-American Student organizations from colleges and universities in California compete with each other and celebrate Pilipino Culture. Through Friendship Games, I formed close bonds with other Pilipino-American students from UCLA. By being a part of SPACE Internship, I learned how to embrace my cultural identity and felt more empowered to take action towards issues that affect the Pilipino-American community. I applied to the OSA Mentorship to learn from a mentor who has more experience navigating through college as a pre-med/pre-health student. With my involvement in Samahang Pilipino, I am excited to further explore my Pilipino-American identity.

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