I recently had my high school reunion, an alumni class of Beverly Hills High School, that was impressively swollen compared to now. Over 630 people constituted our senior class. More interesting to the readers of this paper, I can only think of three of us who hailed from the Philippines. Regina Santos is one of them.
Regina did not pass through a feeder elementary school like I did. She attended Catholic schools before transferring to Beverly High for 9th grade. Born in Quezon City, Regina migrated with her parents at the age of four to the East Coast. After six months, her parents, who met working in the financial industry in Manila, separated and Regina came to Los Angeles with her mom.
While I had noticed Regina in high school and I had wondered if she might be Filipina, I never asked her about it until I saw her at the recent reunion. She was a cheerleader; I spent my days with a crowd derogatorily referred to as “the math club.” We were defined by our interests and, while this seems very appropriate, it certainly illustrates the experience of minority immigrants who happened to land in places where there were few to none in our minority demographic. Like me, she “made an unsuccessful attempt to integrate with other Filipinas in the States.” The difference was just too large. Beverly Hills was too far away. On my end, there were not enough of us to create a critical mass of Filipinas to group as one and identity politic.
I write this profile because it illustrates the life of a well-integrated immigrant, a phenomenon that is unusually common for Filipinas.
Regina went on to live a very well-adjusted American life, getting her Bachelor of Arts from UCLA, pursuing a career in public relations, starting her own firm and, after 15 years, taking a long look at herself and finding her persona too corporate, her femininity compromised by the task of surviving in the professional world. At this, she pivoted. Today, she is a professional performance coach and fitness consultant, the creator of a lifestyle concept she named “Running in Heels” which helps high-performing women achieve professional, physical and personal lifestyle goals.
It is a story that resonates with creativity and achievement, but I wondered what mindshare the land of her birth took up with her. She was fortunate enough to have a mother who made sure to bring her back home every summer. “I’m always so appreciative of the motherland,” she said. “There’s an innate paradox―when I go, I feel too American, and when I come to the States, I’m too Filipina.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these comments in the last few months (since I started listening for them). I hear FilAm stories, success stories that coincided with integration stories that disconnected us from our original culture. We marry outside our community and, because the motherland is thousands of miles away, we may occasionally forget. One thing I’ve realized is that our subculture (too American to be considered Filipina in the Philippines) is four million strong and our stories are variations on similar themes. Perhaps its time to recognize that we are our own unique branch of the diaspora and embrace the differences that now define us.
- Published in Cristina Osmeña