Studying abroad in another country has forced me to reflect a lot on my identity as a Filipino-American. Even though I grew up in the United States, I identify more with my Filipino background and am very proud of the culture in which I was raised. Both of my parents were born in the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. in their twenties, so I am the first-generation American in my family. However, despite the fact that I was born in the U.S., I never felt strongly tied to my American identity until I got to Sweden.
Before coming to Sweden I already had some sort of an idea as to how Europeans, in general, view Americans. After speaking to a few locals, they confirmed my suspicions saying that they saw Americans to be loud, culturally unaware, and very materialistic. There are even American-themed food stores in Stockholm filled with staple American snacks, which show how commercialized American stores are compared to Swedish ones. Because of these stereotypes, at first I felt embarrassed to speak Swedish knowing I had an American accent, or tell others that I was from the U.S. I tried my best to be culturally aware and polite, making sure not to speak too loud on public transportation or always remembering how to properly say “tack så mycket” (thank you very much) whenever I left a restaurant. However, after a month or two I realized that being from the U.S. is not something to be ashamed of. Many Swedes that I have met have mentioned that they love how friendly and outgoing Americans are, and a few students I have met have even studied abroad in the U.S. or have plans to in the future.
While American culture is pretty well-known in Sweden, I didn’t have high expectations in terms of feeling at home with my Filipino heritage. When I learned that there was only one Filipino restaurant in Stockholm, I decided that I needed to celebrate my Filipino culture in my own way. One central aspect of our culture is the food, so I decided that I wanted to begin making Filipino dishes on my own. However, I was disappointed when I found that there was only one aisle dedicated to Asian cuisine in my local grocery store. After doing a couple of Google searches, I was excited to find out that there was an Asian grocery store a short train ride away from my apartment.
While being excited to go to the Asian grocery store may sound trivial, seeing ingredients labeled in a language that I understand reminded me a lot of home. The store felt like a microcosm of many Asian cultures that I was surrounded by growing up, with different aisles dedicated to Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines. I felt at home being surrounded by foods that I grew up eating, and hearing different Asian languages being spoken rather than the usual Swedish.
When I was younger, I remember going to a huge Asian grocery store an hour drive from my house with my parents and making an entire day out of it. As a child, I was so excited to look at all of the freshly baked goods and help my parents pick out different kinds of fish and vegetables to make dinner later that day, so this all felt very nostalgic to me. I began cooking more and making Asian dishes on my own. Cooking helped me feel more connected to my cultural background, and I always felt excited to call my family back home to show them my finished dishes or ask for advice about recipes I used to eat as a child.
While there isn’t a huge Filipino community here in Stockholm, I learned how to celebrate my culture in a more individual way. I still get excited whenever I hear someone speaking Tagalog on public transportation, and whenever I meet a Swedish person who talks highly of their experiences in the U.S. Being abroad has taught me to embrace and appreciate my identity as a Filipino-American more than I ever have, and I’m proud to have had the upbringing that I did.