I was very fortunate to get Jeff from 8asians to do an interview on Fil-Am Ako when this blog was still in its early stages. Recently, I got in contact with another Fil-Am blogger at 8asians.com for an interview. Efren from 8asians was very gracious to take time out of his busy schedule for an interview with us about his life as a Filipino-American and how he got into blogging. The interview also touches on a subject that I haven’t brought up on Fil-Am Ako, which is Filipinos in the LGBTQ community and the hardships they face coming to terms with their sexual identity, especially coming from a culture that has a huge emphasis on the Catholic faith.
Please tell us who you are.
Efren Bose. I’ve lived in San Francisco, CA, and I’m a proud Bay Area native. I’m a first year student pharmacist at UCSF School of Pharmacy. I was born in San Jose, CA, but my mom was originally from Binalonan, Pangasinan, and my dad is from San Juan, Abra.
How did you get into blogging and become a part of 8asians?
I didn’t really start blogging in its current form in 2004 (http://flanflanflan.blogspot.com), although I had done a form of blogging through newsgroups when I was in college in the early 90s. I was asked to be part of 8asians by Jocelyn Wang and Ernie Hsiung in 2007.
What does being Filipino-American mean to you?
Being Filipino-American is a study of contradictions. It was very paradoxical for me growing up, since while my parents wanted me to be proud of my Filipino heritage, they also were afraid of me being “too dark” when I went swimming in the summer and refused to teach me Ilokano because they were afraid I’d pick up the accent. It wasn’t until I took Asian-American studies as a double major as an undergraduate that I began to understand why there was this cognitive disconnect with wanting to be mainstream American and yet holding onto their Filipino identities. It became clearer to me when I started studying queer Filipino-American men and their strategies in coming out during my doctoral studies in sociology at UCSF how truly complicated identity is, especially when one has to incorporate not just ethnic identity, but sexual identity, gender identity, etc. I realize now that while being Filipino-American is part of my identity, and that I’m extremely proud of it, I am not just that. I’m also queer. I’m in my late 30s. I’m technically divorced, even though I’ve never been officially married.
What are you experiences as a Fil-Am in the LGBTQ community?
As someone who’s been out as queer for nearly 20 (!) years, I’ve come to appreciate how far Filipino Americans have come to be recognized. Filipino-Americans have played a considerable role in LGBTQ activism in the United States for decades. A Filipina lesbian was part of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first nationally recognized lesbian organization in the United States. Filipino-Americans were part of the suit in Hawai’i in the mid-90s to recognize same-sex marriage. I’m proud to say that I was part of that activist tradition in 2004 when I married my now-ex and suddenly was thrust into the spotlight as one of the few out queer Filipinos willing to talk about my sexuality.
It wasn’t always that way. I remember coming to terms with my sexuality in the late 80s and early 90s and convinced that I was the only Filipino-American gay guy out there. It didn’t necessarily help that the only representations that I saw of queer Filipinos were the stereotypical bakla and tomboy in Filipino movies, and I felt that I couldn’t identify as being that effeminate.
In order for me to feel comfortable, I felt I was forced to create my own community. During my college years in the early 1990s, the internet was still just for college students and engineers, and through the net, I was able to find a community of other queer Filipinos worldwide, many of whom I’m still friends with now. While in college and in grad school, I tapped into many of the queer Asian groups in Los Angeles, including Barangay, one of the first specific queer Filipino-American men’s groups in the US. They helped shape me to speak up against injustice, be proud of who I am, and remember that there’s always friends and kababayan to back me up.
To be Filipino-American within the mainstream queer community is very interesting. On the one hand, because I was born in the Bay Area, because I grew up speaking fluent American English and am fluent in mainstream American culture, very few people within that community think I’m unusual. What may be unusual to some—but not all—in that community is that I prefer to be with other Asian men in a romantic and erotic sense. Otherwise, my politics is fairly progressive and pragmatic, so I tend to speak my mind when I see racism in the mainstream LGBTQ community and homophobia in the Fil-Am community.
I find it interesting that because I don’t fit into many Filipino-Americans’ perceptions of what a queer Filipino-American man is supposed to be, I get met with many quizzical looks. I don’t look effeminate. I’m bigger than most Filipino-American men in terms of my weight. I’m extremely outspoken. I’m going to be a pharmacist, not a hairdresser, nor a nurse.
What words of advice can you offer to Filipinos who have yet to “come out of the closet” and come to terms with their sexual identity?
My best piece of advice is to take your time and come out on your own terms. Also, come out because you want to, not because you have to. There are plenty of happy queer Filipino-Americans who are comfortable with who they are because they’ve done just that. Most importantly, should the unthinkable arise and you are disowned, make sure that you have the ability to support yourself, financially, emotionally, and socially. While my family knows about my sexuality, I’ve never felt the need to specifically come out to them. They know and understand my life.
What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how the world views Pinoys?
I think that we need to be proud of who we are. There’s always been this palpable sense of self-deprecation, that we’re ashamed of who we are because many of us have accents when we speak English, or we’re not fluent in American culture. It annoys me to see that there’s so much emphasis on having lighter skin, yet we talk shit about our mixed-race Filipinos who look “too white”. It pisses me off that people say that instead of saying they’re Filipino, they’re “Asian and Spanish.” It makes me upset that Filipino-Americans feel no claim to their identity because they don’t speak the language, or they don’t know the culture. If you don’t know, and you believe it’s what you need to do to be proud, learn it! I’ve always believed that being Filipino is how I believe it to be. No one else can define my identity.
Do you look up to any famous Pinoys as role models?
While I respect what many Filipinos have done, I’ve always shied away from calling anyone a “role model”, except for Trinity Ordona, who’s an older second generation Filipina-American lesbian who’s done amazing organizing and helped to build and sustain a queer Asian-American community in San Francisco, and somehow managed to finish her PhD and is doing what she’s always wanted to do. It’s hard for me to claim other queer Pin@ys as role models simply because I know of very few who I can call role models since we’re all colleagues and friends.
When was the last time you visited Philippines?
Sadly, I’ve only been back to the Philippines once when I was about 9 years old when I went with my mom and sister and I haven’t been able to go back. I have very vague memories of my time there, except for the time that I ate dog without knowing it. Halfway through my trip, my mom decided to take us to Baguio to see our uncle, and throughout the trip I remember playing with this black dog in the barrio. When we came back, the dog was suddenly gone, and my amang invited us over for some stew for dinner—and the texture of meat wasn’t really chicken or pork and the taste was really unusual. While they denied that it was dog, I knew what was up. Strangely, I’ve never thought it was a bad or a good thing—it just was.
What is your favorite Filipino dish?
Tinolang manok. My mom made it all the time growing up and it’s one of the comfort foods that I turn to when I’m sick or missing her. She passed away about 7 years ago.
Is there any additional information you would like to share with us?
I think what I’m most proud of right now is me going back to school to follow my dream to be a pharmacist. I’m acutely aware that there is a dire need for Filipin@ health care providers who aren’t just nurses or physicians, and that we need to be represented in all areas of life and work, and not just the ones that are considered “honorable.” My dad, while he’s incredibly proud of me going to UCSF—the #1 pharmacy school in the country—he always manages to dig at me that I should’ve done this 15 years ago when I was still in my 20s. Better late than never, I always say!