We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofAlyssa Oldham
I was 5 years old and the year was 2010: I was in my first year of kindergarten and was absolutely ecstatic. It was really my first time around other children besides my big brother, Noah. My mom dropped me off, a nervous little kid with pigtails, and I immediately introduced myself to the other students. I was drawing shapes, learning colors, and playing house, and I started to notice something odd. I was very curious about the fact that several children looked very different to me. There were children with different skin and hair than me; I had tan skin and deep brown hair. There were children with dark skin, pale skin, curly hair, and suddenly everything was strange and new to me.

I went home later that day and asked my dad how that could be? How could everyone look so unique and complex? He laughed at me and let loose the biggest bombshell he could’ve dropped onto me: We were of a different ethnicity. He told my brother and me that we were Filipino. He told us that our family came from the Philippines and immigrated to America in the 1960’s. I was confused because I’ve never heard of such a thing. “What on earth is a Fillipino?” I wondered to myself. All I’ve known my whole life is that he was my dad and my mom was my mom. I had no idea what ethnicity even was. My mother is white and I was only really around her family growing up because my dad’s family was very spread out over the country, so I was very perplexed. He explained to me that his father, Amado, came from the Philippines in the military on a submarine as a chef and ended up in Norfolk, Virginia. He then had my dad and his sister. My dad said that’s why he had deep tan skin and black hair, and it wasn’t anything bad and that we should be proud of it. He told us that being Fillipino is what makes our family different. 

Going to school after that gave me a newfound appreciation for other people’s culture. It made me wonder what their homes were like, and if they were different than mine. For example, as a Fillipino, different things from our culture influences a lot of our daily activities like cooking and other household hobbies and chores. We have to take our shoes off before coming inside the house and chores take a number one priority. My dad works a full time job too, so my brother and I have a strict chore schedule. Since learning this, we’ve been doing more traditional Filipino things like cooking Pancit and Lumpia for almost every birthday, and I’ve been in touch with my cousins in the Philippines and practicing my Tagalog. The Philippines is a very culture-rich country with sunny beaches and a lot of unique food dishes I would love to try one day; it’s a beautiful island country and I have many cousins there who would love to meet me and my brother. My grandfather Amado lives across the country in California with his wife, so I have never had the chance to meet him, but I hold what I know of him dearly. He reminds me that, although they are far away, my family is still such an important part of who I am as a person today. It is such an important piece of my heritage and it’s nice to know that my family is loved from all around the world.

© Alyssa Oldham. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.