Rachel Anne Pagador, commonly called by her friends as Rachel, is Filipino-Chinese by ethnicity and American by nationality. She was born in Los Angeles, California to a Filipino-Chinese mother and a Filipino father.
You can easily recognize her. Her hair, which was originally jet black like most Asians have, is now often colored brown and worn long. She is bordering between the normal and obese weight description but would always refer to herself as “chubby.” Rachel is a tall girl with dark brown orbs inside her eyes which were slanted like a typical Chinese pair of eyes should be slanted. I dare you to watch out for her eyes – these vanish whenever she laughs or even smiles.
She is also one of my batch’s fashionista. She would always don comfortable clothing which comes in light and fun colors. She is also very fluent in English (both American and British accents), sounds okay in Cebuano-Bisaya, but sounds really awkward in Filipino. Finally, this down-to-earth gal has this contagious falsetto laughter which could go on and on for more than five minutes.
After completing her basic and secondary education in the Philippines, Rachel pursues her tertiary education in her main country, the United States of America, particularly in California. How does a transnational like her cope up with the new environment?
Rachel could not forget the first impressions of the people in her new environment. Most of her classmates thought she was Chinese, Korean, or Japanese.
There was one instance, Rachel shared, when someone asked for her name. When she responded “Rachel,” they asked her if that was her real name or her English name.
“Most Asians usually don’t use their real name,” Rachel explained. “They pick English names to go by.”
Rachel also shared another similar experience. Rachel’s seat mate, thinking that Rachel was Chinese, spoke to her in Mandarin. Rachel understood enough of what her seat mate said so she replied not in Mandarin but in English. After two weeks, that seatmate again asked her a question in Mandarin. However, that question was too long and complicated for Rachel to understand. So, Rachel told her seat mate that she did not get what her seatmate just said. That seat mate was so surprised that Rachel was not Chinese after all but a Filipino!
What shocked Rachel even more was the fact that Filipinos could not even recognize her as a fellow Filipino! These Filipinos would be even more shocked whenever Rachel speaks in Tagalog.
“Unless people see my Spanish last name, they would think that I am Chinese, Korean, or Japanese,” Rachel shared.
At first, Rachel had a hard time adjusting to her new environment.
“Americans are just very individualistic,” she said.
Rachel told me that she had to attend senior high before pursuing her tertiary education. She enrolled late so naturally, her class already had cliques. She felt like she was an outsider. Good thing a fellow new student befriended her.
Rachel only had a few friends, not until her AP teacher, Ms. Kennedy, asked her class why a freshman was in her class when in fact, that class was only meant for juniors and seniors. Rachel answered that question fluently and confidently. Her classmates were impressed and after that event, people slowly approached and talked to her.
After a year, Rachel found living in the US pretty easy. She already got used to their common practices, pronunciations, and other norms. Moreover, she had already gotten accustomed to their common expressions and actions. However, Rachel admitted that she still could not get through some of their references and humor.
“Having dual citizenship helped a lot,” Rachel said.
It allowed her to become multilingual, which she said was an advantageous characteristic. Also, because of her nationalities, Rachel was shaped in different perspectives. It somehow made her dynamic and unique. Her minimal accent in English-speaking gave her an edge, too, for many people thought she practically grew up in California.
“Most importantly, my thoughts are not chained to the traditional or conservative eastern thinking nor is she too liberated by western influences,” Rachel said. “I would compromise somewhere along the threads of those cultures which are intertwined in her being.”
Having an American citizenship made Rachel enjoy and celebrate numerous holidays and special occasions (like 4th of July and Thanksgiving) aside from the usual Filipino Catholic holidays. Also, American citizenship gives her the freedom to travel around the world without the need of a VISA. Her Filipino ethnicity allows her to hold a Philippine passport and stay in the Philippines for as long as she wants. Rachel says that she is not really Chinese because her family does not embrace Chinese practices. However, her Chinese looks provides her with wonderful life experiences.
Unlike other Filipino-Americans living in the United States, Rachel did not see herself as part of a marginalized community due to her ethnicity. Her nationalities even worked to her advantage. When asked if she would rather choose one nationality over the others, Rachel replied that she would rather have them all.
“Being transnational is a gift. It offers a lot of opportunities. The most important of which is the gift of freedom especially in the global field.”
Now, Rachel continues her tertiary studies at a college in California. She is still undecided whether she would still continue to walk on the medical path or switch to the liberal arts. However, she is trying to take units of both and deliberates on the options carefully. She juggles classes, work, and two organizations.
“I work at school as an English and English as Second Language (ESL) Tutor 10 hours a week,” Rachel said. “I’m also [the] Internal Vice President for two honor societies in the campus, Alpha Gamma Sigma and Omicron Mu Delta. All while maintain full time status as a student.”
When asked about her future plans, Rachel said she wished to graduate from the university with flying colors. And since her education and training is based on the US standards, she is planning to work in the US.
This is how Rachel, a transnational, coped up with her new environment. Stephen Bishoff once said that it is extremely difficult to find ones voice amidst a population who is also struggling to find its identity. Indeed, a Filipino-American would find it difficult to identify her own identity among her lost fellowmen. However, Abraham Lincoln advices us not to worry if we are not recognized. We should instead strive to be worthy of recognition.