09:32 PM June 19th, 2013

By: Francine Almeda, June 19th, 2013 09:32 PM

A bowl of rice. Something so common can mean so much—a staple in our diet, and a symbol of our heritage. Steaming simplicity, which represents the ideals of community and sharing that Filipinos hold so dear. A people of faith, hope, and perseverance—what qualities of the spirit push us to achieve more?

Filipinos embody these qualities. Success in a new world does not come without consequences, and sacrifice. With increasing rates of immigration from the Philippines, the hope to seek something better has become the norm.

Although America is viewed as the “Land of Opportunity,” these opportunities do not come free. So many opposing and contrasting forces push Filipinos to succeed in America. Desire and strength, loss and gain, hardship and triumph—the people, and not the land itself, are what create an abundance of opportunity. The “Land of Plenty” will not exist without the spirit and soul that Filipinos bring to their new lives, in this new country. While America may not be the “Land of Opportunity” that so many promise, Filipinos create their own opportunities and success, and that is truly what makes it so bountiful for the people who live within its lands.

It is the values of the Filipino people that allow them to thrive while living in America. Fluorescent, crinkling packages pack the shelves, shiny with preservatives and sugar. America offers treats and snacks with intense flavors laced with chemicals, but these are void of nutritional value. These produce a sugar high that leaves you empty and unsatisfied, with powdered-sugar fingers as the only memory. These snacks represent the principles of America.

Lacking the integrity and honor of the Philippines, the moral standards of Filipinos living abroad stand as sturdy and reliable as the rice they eat. These unspoken codes of respect and faith allow immigrants to transform even the most hopeless situations into new beginnings. There is no place on earth that offers complete freedom, safety, or comfort. The human spirit fights to stay alive, regardless of location. Success and opportunity in America cannot exist without the qualities of a Filipino—faith, family, and kindness. How much we gain is determined by the hardships we face, and how we deal with them. While America lacks the perfection that many perceive it to have, being Filipino means standing tall in any situation, and fighting to achieve more than what is needed, creating rewards and gains in return.

Different environments produce different people. Despite this, the Filipino spirit lives strong in the young and old across the globe. Hair, skin, eyes—how many characteristics can be defined, categorized, and labeled? Being Filipino goes past skin-deep appearance. With the billions upon billions of unique humans, living unique lives, in unique ways, nobody is special. Individuality has become increasingly sparse, and identity is lost.

The world stands large and daunting in the eyes of a teenager, the sheer magnitude of humanity overwhelming. At this young age, we constantly try to find ourselves, and battle against norms to gain our identity. The heritage of the Philippines provides values and customs that bring about a different outlook on life.

The cries of homeless children blur together as a dull whine in the streets of Manila—a constant reminder of the suffering some must face, while others remain so fortunate.

Even as a Filipino teenager living in America, knowing just how fortunate you are makes every new experience a blessing. It is a sense of gratitude not felt by the typical American teen. At a young age, the sight of one eating rice at every meal was greeted by cries of “Why are you eating that?” and “How can you eat that?” from unsuspecting American friends.

While Filipino customs and values may seem strange to onlookers, these keep us connected to our heritage, and set us apart from the rest in the best way possible.

Just as rice provides sustenance for the body, Filipino values feed the soul. A pale rice cooker sits yellowed and flowered on a counter, hot steam pouring from its vents. It is a simple sight, so common in every Filipino household. It is a representation of community, and gathering. Belonging to the Philippines means so much more than the tan of our skin, or the color of our hair. Being Filipino means fighting to achieve, and smiling no matter what.

The truth is, while many immigrants long to find the “Land of Plenty” that holds so much hope, the Promised Land is created wherever the smiles, and joy, of the Filipino spirit are present.

Francine Almeda, 16, was born and raised in Chicago in the United States but comes “home” to the Philippines every year. She is a high school sophomore at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

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