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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

It's Not Just Adobo & Arroz con Pollo: The Filipino-Latino Connection

Written by: Maximo Legaspi 🇵🇭

Spices at Mega Mart Latino Supermarket in Takoma Park, MD. on May 4, 2023 (Alexa Figueroa)

If you’re on Instagram or TikTok, chances are you’ve seen a variation of this joke made by any number of comedians or commenters:

“Filipinos? Oh, those guys, they’re the Mexicans/Hispanics of Asia!”

At first sight, you wouldn’t be completely remiss. On the surface, Filipinos share many things with the overarching core of many Hispanic cultures. There’s a heavy emphasis on family and religion, not to mention the shared history of centuries of Spanish oppression and colonization shaping the countries to this day. Names are also shared across the cultures. It won’t be hard to find a Mr. de la Cruz in either San Salvador or in Cavite.

Chris Cruz feels that family and hard work are important aspects of Salvadoran culture.

Hospitality and creativity are top of the list when Ricardo Guerrero thinks about Filipino culture.

Joel Manzano, of Salvadoran descent, finds family and especially family gatherings to be a major part of his life. 

Valeska Zitta feels that Filipino culture to be heavily focused on family, to a point where collectivism is often encouraged.

For Abner Calleja, the fusion of Spanish colonial identities and indigenous practices have led to a unique culture being formed in Mexico. 

The mesh of various different cultures, including Chinese, Spanish, Indonesian cultures, is what makes the Philippines special to Troy Rementina, among other things. 

For some, however, these don’t portray the full picture.

Perla Guerrero, the Associate Professor of American Studies and Director of the U.S. Latina/o Studies Program at the UMD, believes the term “Hispanic culture” to be problematic. With how many cultures are thrown under the label of “Hispanic” or “Latino,” it homogenizes, in her eyes, an extremely diverse and different set of peoples.

“I think we should problematize that a little bit,” Guerrero said. “What does culture stand for? Why do we use it as a shorthand?”

Continuing, she feels that many tend to boil down cultures into one group in order to seek connections, especially in minority and immigrant communities. Even with that, the connections can only run so deep. 

“If I, as a Mexican person, were to go to the Philippines, I don’t think many people in the Philippines would be like ‘Oh, you’re basically Filipina, right?’ There’s a lot of things I don’t know…linguistically [and] culturally,” Guerrero said.

Michelle Magalong, Assistant Professor in the Historic Preservation program at the school of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, finds Filipino-American culture to be heavily influenced by the legacy of Spanish and American imperialism in the Philippines proper.

Though in popular culture Filipinos are generally regarded in a positive light due to supposed qualities of hospitality and generosity, Magalong sees this as a result of centuries of being put into second-class status.

“Americans came to the Philippines and exploited our labor,” Magalong said. “We’re the caregivers, we’re the nurses, we’re the teachers, we’re the Navy stewards.”

Even though Filipinos are constantly being seen as docile, she points to historical examples, especially the Watsonville Riots in 1930 to show how Filipino men were also seen as threats. As an influx of male Filipino immigrants came into the town to work on the farms, the white population saw them as a danger. Filipino men were spotted dancing with white women, resulting in the deaths of several.

Guerrero sees similar views in how Mexican people are perceived in the U.S.

“You’re either the good immigrant worker, right, the one with good family values and maybe religious beliefs…or you’re the bad immigrant,” said Guerrero. “In the U.S.We’re constantly having to define ourselves as not being the stereotype.”

Derogatory and untrue rhetoric against Hispanic immigrants, most of which include Mexicans, saw a rise during and after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, influencing untold amounts of popular discussion surrounding immigration from Latin American countries. Labels of “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists” were thrown against an entire community of people, resulting in hate and violence.

Still, Guerrero believes that many immigrants look for connections wherever they can, especially if there’s not many people of the same culture in your surroundings.

For Magalong, who grew up in the San Diego area, she found a connection to the city’s Mexican population, learning pieces of Spanish along the way. Guerrero found connections with her Vietnamese friends in childhood, bonding over a shared immigrant experience and navigating similar dynamics in society. These connections can lead to a greater understanding of other cultures, and, in Magalong’s experience, can result in mistaken identity.

“I get mistaken for native Hawaiian, I even get mistaken for Latino, and I think people get confused,” Magalong said.

She feels like much of the confusion stems from a lack of education in the American education system about global history, especially in regards to a country that the U.S. was heavily involved in.

“People don’t understand the legacy of [the] Spanish colonial role in the Philippines, not only in terms of food, but as I mentioned, our religion and spirituality…The fact that, like, de la Cruz is the most common last name in the Philippines…we can’t avoid it,” said Magalong.

Further, she wonders if her constant mistaken identity is part of her own overall Filipino self.

“I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching,” said Magalong, “of just like, is that the Filipino in me? That’s someone who is very adaptable, who’s also very empathetic, [and] who can pick up on social cues.”

Many Filipinos and Hispanic people have their own thoughts on the comparison between their cultures.

“I think it’s funny because it has some historical precedent to it,” Rementina said. “I think most people in the Philippines would also find it funny, because it’s not completely baseless.”

“Of course there’s similarities between cultures and stuff like that,” said Cruz, “but at the end of the day, they’re two different identities.”

“Our names were given by the Spaniards,” Ricardo Guerrero said, “and Filipinos as a matter of fact, a lot of them have Spanish Christianized names.”

Manzano sees the importance of family as being a common theme among many cultures, with the main difference lying in other traditions.

“Americans have the Sweet 16, we have the quinceañera, and of course holidays, not everyone does it, but like Day of the Dead and stuff like that,” Manzano said.

“They have some differences, they have some similarities,” Calleja feels. “It’s like something you’re able to share with the Filipino culture.”

Zitta feels like the comparison arises from many Filipinos feeling like an invisible minority, as, in her eyes, Filipino culture is only starting to make an entrance into the cultural zeitgeist. Still, it has the potential to diminish what Filipino culture is.

“Not defining itself as like a singular Filipino [culture], but [as] like the ‘Latinos of Asia’ can maybe create a harmful generalization of it,” said Zitta.

Regardless of how similar or dissimilar each culture is to the other, Guerrero believes that it’s all about community. For many immigrating to the United States, they come to this country with very little in the way of connections, so they cling to anyone with a slight bond to them.

“It makes sense that we would look for connections with people that we see as having something more in common with,” Guerrero said. “I think, it’s [about] seeking community, we’re seeking community.”


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