Just to keep things interesting, I thought I’d take this week off from writing and share with you a video interview post with a friend of mine, Jose Lisi.
I met Jose less than a year ago but have gotten to know him and his family pretty well over these few months. And I was lucky enough to attend his Baptism, First Communion and Confirmationceremony here in Southern California.
It was quite the ceremony and naturally, I had a few hundreds of questions about Jose’s experience and why he was going through this process now.
If you have five minutes, take a listen.
To pick up my book, Is God Listening?, about where God is during our life’s trying times, click here.
I’m a first generation Filipino immigrant to the United States and I’ve got a legit American passport to prove it.
In our first-time plane journey, Mom and I flew to the U.S. from the Philippines to begin our new lives. It all started from one of those pen-pal services that my mom joined pre-online dating sites. Sounds like a ‘Mail Order Brides’ kind of operation to me but who am I to judge?
Mom did what she had to do. All she selflessly wanted was a better life for me.
I spent my whole life growing up in the States; from pre-school through college.
I even worked my first two “professional jobs” in the U.S. We’d visit the Philippines every couple years if money allowed it and when I had those long summer vacations. My last visit was at the age of twenty with Mom. By that time, I was already telling my Tita (aunt) that I wanted to visit on my own next time and really travel the Philippines.
I forgot about this prophetic comment until my next visit six years later. I was twenty-five going on twenty-six.
Newly emerged from a self-proclaimed “quarterlife crisis” in which I had let go of a 5 year long relationship complete with house, mortgage and a dog. That was slowly killing that fire within, that frees-spirit, that wanderlust that I always had. I knew I had to make big changes and so I walked away.
I uprooted my entire life just to reverse all the opportunities I’d known to embrace my Filipino culture and living with my own people.
I thought returning home would be ‘a spiritual coming home’ experience – a return to my roots. I was going back to the homeland. I’m still here now, but it ain’t all bed and roses. Sometimes, it’s wooden floors and coconuts. It’s a strange sort of culture clash, when you’ve all but lost your own culture.
5 Challenges of Returning Home
1. IDENTITY or “Being Told I’m not Pinoy.”
The term ‘Pinoy’is used to describe a person from the Philippines; a Filipino.
Pinoy can also refer to the native culture of the Philippines. e.g. “Woke up to bad karaoke blasting from the neighbors singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. That’s so Pinoy!”
I have had many times, especially during when I first landed, where people have told me to my face that I am ‘not Pinoy’.
Who am I if I’m not even Filipino?
Are Filipino-Americans, particularly the Filipino-Americans who don’t know their own language fluently (guilty), such aliens?
Am I a freak?
Do I not belong in my country of birth?
Who am I if I’m not Pinoy?
The comments stung as I grasped for a sense of my own ever-changing identity.
Who am I if I’m not Pinoy and these aren’t my people? Identity is a real bitch.Each devaluation, regardless of the cultural context (OK, so I know I’m not as “Pinoy” as I am “American”), is a kick in the gut. It hurts.
2. ICE COLD SHOWERS or “Going Native.”
Joel Runyon, who runs the popular Impossible HQ, thought it would be weird and crazy to take cold showers for a month just because he can.
I mean, who does that!?
And probably a big chunk of the world population not in the top 8% we call America. Cold showers are a reality for developing countries and “going native”.
Filling buckets of cold water and using little “dippers” to dump water over my head is a reality for most, especially in the province (Bonus points if you can do this outside with your clothes on. DOUBLE bonus if you can do this outside in your birthday suit. Context is everything. And if you’re wondering, heck yeah, I’ve done both.).
Despite the humid, hot environment, cold showers still take some getting used to.
Grabbing my boobs with both hands to cover them while simultaneously jumping up and down with flip-flops (it’s weird to shower barefoot) under the shower. Once I get used to the temperature I let go of my boobs and hang loose, baby! So who’s the crazy one now?
3. CULTURE SHOCK or ‘You’re so yuppy!’
Culture shock is a broad category that can cover a myriad of situations and examples.
But the opposite of ‘Pinoy’ and not being culturally “native” is being ‘sosyal’ (think “social” with an accent). This term refers to the higher-class, often “yuppy” groups of Westernized socialites and urbanites out of touch with their native culture. These social elites live in high rises and not the bahay kubo (“high rise” house on stilts made out of bamboo that the provincial poor dwell in).
I am the LEAST poshy least social person ever and I live in the slums but I still get labeled ‘yuppy’ because it also refers to the mindset, if not the lifestyle, of a Westernized person.
(By the way, things like using utensils to eat instead of a fork and spoon gets you marked a sosyal!?!)
4. GIMME A KISS AND YO’ US DOLLARS or “Family Obligation.”
Money is a real bitch here, and family members are expected to help out collectively, for the greater good of the family. That’s all fine and dandy but it also means you can get taken advantage of as the “rich” Westerner. This was completely new to me having gone back for the first time by myself.
This is a huge culture shock for someone trying to travel and live on a budget!
Add to this the passive-aggressive communication style. How my aunts would call my mom on the phone to talk about how I wasn’t paying and my mom would call me to tell me I needed to pay. Big turn off.
To this day, I still hesitate visiting knowing that I’m expected to shell out money, and being guilt tripped if I don’t.
Now that’s so Pinoy!
At my current rate, trying to build my web/blog design business (www.byjanet.net), I’m just trying to survive like the rest of the ‘Pinoys’, with very little money to spare.
5. SLUMS or “I’m a Survivor.”
My life is so much different than it was a few years ago. I am now living in the Manila slums when I found my money run dry and was faced with living in the cheapest rent of the city that I could find.
This is like a season of “Survivor” but I guarantee you there’s no million dollar grand prize if I survive.
Not surviving means not making rent or having dinner!
My ‘coming home’ path wasn’t the path I had imagined but I’m certain it is the path that will ultimately make me succeed as a person.
Coming home does have it’s plusses – I am with my people (like it or not) I speak Tagalog daily (so Pinoy!).
I eat with my hands (more often at least) I’ve learnt persistence, survival skills and become more of a local than when I first landed here.
You know what? It feels good to be home.
Did you enjoy Janet’s story? Have you had to ‘go home’? Was your return home anything like Janet’s experience? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below
Janet Brent is a straight-up Pinoy, still living in the Phillipines and chasing her entrepreneurial dreams. She works with creative and holistic writers and authors to build web platforms, design ebooks and assists with product launches over at the Purple Panda. She’s also living on $2 U.S. dollars a day this month.
*This post is in response to a few questions on the subject of why Indian parents will never accept non-Indian husbands for their daughters with a mighty strong dose of humor woven in. Enjoy. (p.s. sometimes they accept – see video above) For my book, How to Get Indian Parents to Accept Your Marriage Proposal, click here.
Dear Non-Indian lover, suitor, knight in shining armor,
Let us give it to you straight.
You’ve been with our daughter (your Indian princess) since you both met that fateful night in college.
You think she’s Bollywood glam! The love of your life, the woman of your dreams…Aishwarya Rai, Pocahantas and Freida Pinto all rolled into one.
Unfortunately, there’s no way in this lifetime, this yuga or even in your next life, you’re going to be accepted into our family. Of course, if you reincarnate as a wealthy Indian prince or Sharukh Khan, we’ll change our minds and open our hearts to you in an instant.
You may love our daughter and she may love you.. You may want to die for her. You may want to commit suicide if you don’t have our approval.
Well…jump off the building if you must.
Move to a different part of the world, in protest, if you have to. (We’ll pick up the tab and your moving expenses)
No matter what you do, what you say, what you believe in and what you drive (well, we’re open to reconsideration if you show up in an S-Class Mercedez) are we going to accept that Priya, Anita, Maya, Leela, Rita, Sita, Shreya, Nisha is going to be your lawful wedded spouse, so help us God.
6 Reasons We’d Rather Jump Down a Well In Shame Than Give You Our Daughter’s Hand in Marriage.
1) You’re not Indian.
And by that, we don’t mean you’re not caramel brown-skinned, you don’t have an Indian passport or large family estates in India. (Well, we do mean that) We simply mean that you don’t have Indian VALUES.
You don’t VALUE EDUCATION, you don’t VALUEBLING (diamonds and gold), you don’t VALUE palatial like homes which are way too large for you to ever live in or fancy cars to make our friends envious.
2) You’re not religious.
This is not a do-or-die reason but you’re not a practicing Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Christian. A lot of Indian functions revolve around spirituality, religion, and our over-the-top century-old customs.
We sure as hell don’t have time for you to learn it and have no interest in letting you in on family traditions that have been carried on for hundreds of years.
3) We don’t trust your family background.
You can’t trace your roots back for 8 generations. But more importantly, you’re not from a stable family. Your parents are divorced, you have dysfunctional family issues and we don’t know if marriage is a lifetime commitment to you.
Sure, we’re more dysfunctional than the Kardashians and should be locked up under 24 hour psychiatry care but this conversation isn’t about us. It’s about you, son.
4) You’re not a professional, earning six figures.
If you’re trying to win over our love and affection, make a move here and you can win over our hearts and minds.
Whoever said money doesn’t talk is probably a pauper or dead. In our culture, money talks.
If you got some (a lot of cash) your Ben Franklins will make us think twice. If you can provide a stable and comfortable (opulently wealthy) life for our daughter, you might have a shot.
But listen yo, we’re not talking here 5 figure jobs or ‘good’ jobs. We’re talking high-paying, high in-demand jobs and one you’ll be able to stay employed in for two lifetimes. All medical professions and dentistry qualify. So does mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.
If you’re a creative-type or a ‘freelancer’, please find yourself a nice Greek girl.
5) You’re not from a wealthy family.
We’re looking at the long-range strategy here. If you’re not from a wealthy family, you’re not going to inherit a lot of cash. You won’t be able to pass on any family wealth to our grandkids.
You’re also not going to be able to afford luxury cars, medical school tuition for our grandkids or buy that palatial home we hope to crash at.
Are you suggesting that we’re shallow, materialistic and superficial?
How dare you!!
6) You’re not going to let us move in with you in our old age and live with you until our dying day!
When we’re old – that would be now, we’re going to move in with you.
At least that’s the happy thought we’d like to have when marrying off our daughter to you.
We want to move into your house, have you buy us groceries, have you cook us dinner and inconvenience you often. We want you take us to doctor visits, pharmacies and all special Hindu pujas at the temple or Muslim prayers at the mosque. And we want you to do it 150% out of obligation and with a smile on your face dammit!
7) You don’t speak our language or appreciate Bollywood movies.
We want to speak to you in our own language. Yes, we’ve been living in America for 60 years but don’t think we’re switching to that American lingo (and the English language) now.
We want to speak to our grandkids in Hindi, Malyalam, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. They’re sure as Lord Ganesha not going to learn it from you cause you don’t even speak English right, son.
Now, non-Indian beau – you’re in a mango pickle. What do you do – stay and fight for the love of your life or…
Yup, here are 4 directions to run in.
Run forward. Run towards the alter. Elope. Follow the love of your love regardless of the consequences. Do it big and do it bold; run-away like couples in Bollywood blockbusters.
Who cares about the consequences, the emotional trauma you’ll create for generations and the heart-attacks you’ll cause in the bride’s family. Mostly, their families over-exaggerate about heart-attacks and suicides. Rarely do parents kill themselves over the shame of their daughter marrying a non-Indian person.
Run uphill. You can run uphill. And by that I mean, try to accommodate your future wife’s family as much as possible. And what does ‘accommodate’ mean?
Well, they’ll never really accept you, embrace you or approve you. But to try to get into their good graces, you can try to fix items 1-7 above.
Never too late to enroll in medical school!
If medical school is out of the question, there’s always optometry, dentistry, podiatry, physical therapy and a whole slew of other medical-related specialties that will net you a six-figure income and make our family proud.
You can also build or buy a large house, get a fancy car and provide large gifts of gold, silver or diamonds to your in-laws. The latter will be an instant hit and you will immediately be showered with love and acceptance from your future mother-in-law.
You can also become a devout Hindu, Jain, Sikh or Muslim (depending on your fiance’s religion) although following the family’s spiritual path only brings limited favor to you.
Offering to have your family pay for the entire wedding also curry-favors with your future in-laws.
Run away. If I’ve convinced you Indian culture is neurotic, sociopathic, materialistic and most people in it have lost their mind, take your money, dignity and sanity, and run for your life.
This community’s CRRRAAAAAYYYYY! And being Indian, I can attest to that.
Sure, we care about education, stability and no-divorce lifestyles but we also care too much about your bank account, your house and what people think of us. Our lives constantly revolve around what others say and think about us.
We’ll protect our reputations like a lioness protects her newly-born cubs. Try to compromise our standing in the community and we’ll lash out against you with sharpened paws.
If you value your sanity (and your life in some cases), make a run again to the nearest Latina, Greek, Italian, Thai or Chinese girl you can find. Yes, some of those cultures will expect you to be well-settled and educated but they’re usually sane and will be respectful of you.
Run backwards. You can always slow your relationship way down and take a breath. Run to the side, run backwards or just stop running for a minutes.
Although Indian parents deeply desire you both ‘take a break’ in hopes your relationship will come to a screeching halt, it really may be the best case situation for both of you. If you both cool down the relationship, you can both evaluate your relationship and next steps.
You can allow the love of your love to show her parents that she’s not marrying anyone else and will wait for you, even if it’s a month or one year. You can get a lot of juice out of this dramatic sacrifice-ridden exercise.
Taking a break might even show your future in-laws that you’re respecting their wishes and listening to what they have to say, which might win you points in the long-run.
Finally, let me just say this. More likely than not, your future Indian in-laws aren’t going to readily accept you into their traditional and conservative family but sometimes, if the moons align and the Gods are on your side, they just might say ‘yes’ to you. You might just get the green light to marry their daughter.
In that case, run, I mean sprint like a cheetah, to the alter.
What if you’ve fallen in love with someone from the Indian culture? Want a practical, step-by-step guide to win over the hearts and minds of Indian parents and get their approval? Pick up, How to Get Indian Parents to Accept Your Marriage proposal today.