Main menu:

Site search


December 2008
« Nov   Jan »
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  


Extra Extra

Family values run deep in Asian American communities

With the holiday season looming, Asian American Pacific Islander communities are like others across the United States: Their family values come front and center, and they celebrate the ties that bind them together. Whether there are two generations in the US or four, whether their families came recently to America or decades ago, AAPI families celebrate the richness of the holidays with the culture that connects them to their heritage.

Asian Avenue magazine surveyed one typical AAPI family, the Simsiman/Lorejos, whose roots are in the Philippines, and asked them about their relationships to each other, and to their shared heritage.

Fran Campbell, a member of the family who is a leader within the Denver Filipino community (and past president of the Filipino American Community of Colorado), shares the history of her parents who live in Denver, and grandparents, a story that shares much of its plot with many other AAPI families. It’s an American story.

When did the first generation arrive in the US?

Atanacio Simsiman came to the US in 1930 from Cabugao, Ilocus Sur, Philippines along with his brother, two brothers-in-law and his cousin. Atanacio was a farm laborer in Soledad California, sending money back home to his wife and nine children.

However, the Depression-era realities of low wages, job scarcity and racial prejudice became too great for a man who was already miserable without his family. The only married man of the five kinsmen from Cabugao returned home in 1933. Atanacio’s son Silvino (Van), who was born after he returned to the Philippines, arrived in America by ship on January 1, 1956.

Born in Bohol, Philippines, Modesto Lorejo enlisted and proudly served in the US Regular Army under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Modesto endured the infamous Bataan Death March with his American comrades, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. Modesto also received a Purple Heart after being wounded during the Korean War and reached the rank of Staff Sergeant.

His eldest daughter Fe was born on an American military base, as a full American citizen. Fe Lorejo and Van Simsiman met as college students in 1956 and married in 1960.

Upon graduating with an engineering degree from California Polytechnic State University, Van was offered a position with Samsonite Corporation in Denver, Colorado. Van and Fe Simsiman moved to Denver in June 1961. Their first daughter, Frances, was born in 1962, followed by son Daniel and then daughter Theresa.

What were some of the hardships of immigrating to the US?
Fe first arrived by plane through Anchorage, Alaska in May 1955. A military dependent, she briefly resided with friends in Fort Lewis, Seattle, Washington until her father, got his permanent US Army station assignment in Fort Ord, California. That enabled him to bring the rest of his family from the Philippines and he permanently moved the entire family to Salinas, California in August 1955.

Fe struggled in English verbal communication. She thought she spoke perfect English but Americans did not understand her because of her Filipino accent. She did not readily understand Americans either, because their spoken English was very fast and sounded strange. She took remedial English speech classes to help her acclimate.

Van arrived in San Francisco, California on New Year’s Day 1956 after a not so pleasant (sea sick most of the time) 19-day voyage as a steerage passenger in the ocean liner President Wilson. Van came to the US as an immigrant student 22 years after his father, Atanacio Simsiman, returned to the Philippines. Just like Fe, Van initially struggled with spoken English. His accent and newness to the everyday language betrayed him even as he was getting the highest marks in his English grammar and writing classes.

What were their hopes for their children?
Fe and Van’s most fervent hopes for their children were for them to be healthy, disciplined, morally strong, self-reliant, persistent and able communicators, and to grow up and be the best they can be in their chosen career. Fe and Van also hoped that their children would be proud of and remain cognizant of their heritage and mixed culture. They wanted these hopes to apply and extend to their grandchildren.

Fe and Van Simsiman are now retired and live in Denver. The pioneering first generation, Atanacio Simsiman and Modesto Lorejo, are deceased. AAm also asked Fran and other family members across generations about their relationships, identity and heritage.

What are some family traditions that you maintain from the previous generation?
Taryn Fe Campbell (fourth generation, student at Metro State College of Denver)
Some of my favorite traditions are the obvious ones such as food and dance and family values. I have been raised to have deep respect for my elders and family. There is also the tradition that my grandparents – who came from the Philippines to receive an education – have passed on to me, which is an emphasis on education.

Griffin Robert Campbell (fourth generation, student at Colby College, Kansas)
My favorite tradition is the family environment and how we rarely go a week without seeing or talking to a family member. Not just the main family but the extended family – the people that have raised me and are considered family just from how we are always in each other’s lives.

Another tradition I love is the food. You can never visit or leave a Filipino’s house without eating something Filipino.

Theresa Lina Simsiman (third generation, living in Sacramento, California)

My grandmother’s house in Salinas California was filled with touchstones of our family traditions. For instance, in the family room sat a 1950s cherry wood cabinet record player which witnessed many a sing-along to our favorite 45, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The kitchen had a cobweb-covered wood relief of the Last Supper hanging over the archway to remind us of our Catholic faith. And, in the dining room you would find the traditional oversized wood fork & spoon hanging on the wall.

The Filipino cliché of the fork and spoon is not lost on a “third gener” like me. After all, it is said every Filipino home has a Capiz shell lamp, a swords of Moro shield and/or a large fork and spoon hanging in the dining area. And while I am prone to the sophomoric pastime of noting all the Filipino houses with forks and spoons, I am comforted by the presence of these utensils because they remind me of our cultural traditions of hospitality: A roof over your head, good food, good company and more good food! It is these traditions of hospitality that I maintain, cherish and look forward to.

Daniel Modesto Simsiman (third generation, living in the Bay Area)
My religious beliefs have been passed along from the previous generation to me, probably more so than any of my siblings.

I have gone around the world and this is one thing I know about the Philippines, that Filipinos do the best…. Filipinos live Carpe Diem, they live for the day. And here’s the best part of this traditions (lesson) – Filipinos do it with a smile!

Fran Campbell (third generation)
Mostly Filipino cultural manners relating to social interaction with others, such as:
· Don’t point at anyone with your finger but it’s okay to point with your lips.
· Don’t summon anyone by crooking your fi nger at them.
· You’re never too old to be scolded by your elders.
· Never enter a room without first greeting your elders (even if you don’t know them).
· “No” can mean “yes” and “yes” can mean “maybe.”
· A hug is better than a handshake.
· Eat even if you’re not hungry.
· Share even if you have only one.
· It’s okay to be a little late.
· Never leave without saying good-bye.
· And, a Filipino “good-bye” is at least a half hour long.

How fluent are you in your ancestral language?
Fran Campbell
There are over 70 dialects in the Philippines – and my parents, family and friends speak a combination of at least six of these plus English. So although I can understand 99% what is said to me, I’m unable to distinguish which dialect is being spoken – and I’m therefore only able to respond in English. But language includes more than just the spoken word… I consider myself fluent in Filipino nuances, gestures, body language and mannerisms.

Dan Simsiman

No, I do not speak fluent Tagalog. However, I no longer need the use of a translator all the time. It has come easily and readily to me. I even find myself eavesdropping on conversations in Tagalog wherever I may be (even in Toronto, Hawaii, or Las Vegas), just so I can practice what I have learned in my mind.

Taryn Campbell
I am not at all fluent in any of the multitude of languages from the Philippines. I do know enough to get by if I need to, and I do occasionally use words in my everyday speech – i.e. Lolo, Lola, k’ain. I can however understand when someone is talking to me in Tagalog, and most times I don’t even realize that they are talking to me in another language.

Griffin Robert Campbell
I am not fluent at all. I can listen in on conversations and pick up the main subject and get the idea of what they’re talking about. When someone who is fluent speaks to me I usually understand what they are saying.

Theresa Simsiman
Fluent would not be a word I’d choose to describe my use of our ancestral languages of Tagalong or Ilocano. Growing up in our Denver household, English was the spoken language. Unless, of course, us kids were in trouble, then Mom and Dad would discuss their discipline course of action in Tagalong. In mixed presence of those who spoke both Tagalong/English and those who just spoke English, when someone asked my mother something in Tagalong she would insist on answering in the shared language of English. It was rude to do otherwise.

What lessons have been passed onto you?
Dan Simsiman
The best lesson I learned from my upbringing is to be grateful for who you are and never let your differences in look, speech, mannerisms, etc., get in your way of being who you can be.

Fran Campbell
Dignity in hard work; determination in difficult times; self-effacing leadership; community responsibility; ultimate respect for elders… All these life lessons are born from my family. They’re lessons my parents and grandparents learned while growing up in the Philippines and during their struggles to raise a family in America.

Theresa Simsiman
The lessons of community are what my parents passed on to me. Community work is ingrained in my genes as both my parents were involved in the Filipino American Community of Colorado since before I was born. My parents at times led in the community and at times followed but throughout their experience they were able to pass on lessons like work hard together, contribute what you can, have a vision beyond the present day, and stand together or disagree when needed. In my own community I have put these lessons to practice and they have served me well.

What do you hope will be different for the next generation?
Fran Campbell
I have always hoped that the next generation will be resilient to racial prejudice; I hope that they will be excited and proud of the diversity of their own heritage; I hope they’re able to blend all the different infl uences in their lives and shape their own future.

Dan Simsiman
First and foremost, learn the language. Participate and learn the culture – the food (mang sarap!), the dance, the history. Be strong mentally, physically, spiritually, as an individual, and as a group. Be proud to be Filipino! Learn to give back.

Theresa Simsiman
What I hope will be different for the next generation is an everyday comfort with mixing one’s cultural identity. Growing up in predominately Caucasian Denver, I compartmentalized my cultural identity, ready to pull out each compartment at the appropriate times. In one place I was the American kid socializing with high school chums – cheering at football games, playing lacrosse or talking about boys. In another place I was the Filipino kid dancing the tinikling, eating dinuguan and sharing news with my extended family. To this day, even in culturally diverse California, I rarely mix these worlds and I wonder what each has lost in the process or for that matter – what I have lost.

What are some traditions that you know you’ll pass on to your children?
Griffin Campbell
Definitely the Filipino food and the close family. I want my children to have a big extended family that we see often. A big extended family that will be like second parents – just how my Filipino family at the Filipino-American Community of Colorado has been towards me.

Taryn Campbell
Besides handing down the obvious things such as food, dance and love of life; I would hope to have my children learn more of the language than I have. I love the fact that I have a group of people who are not related to me by blood but because they have been in my life for so long, I am able to call them family. Most of the people at the Filipino American Community of Colorado have known me since I was born and now that I am old enough to start contributing back, helping the community has given me such a strong sense of accomplishment. This sense of accomplishment is something I would like to pass onto my children. I want to be able to give them a place where they feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves, yet a place where they can call home.

What are some generational differences?
Griffin Campbell
The major one would be the same for every culture, which is technology – and also the language barriers. Technology has changed the way our generation communicates which makes us closer when we are miles apart. It also brings the older generation together with the younger one because now they come to us for help with new phones and other gadgets. It is amazing to know I can actually teach my elders something because they teach me so much.

Fran Campbell

There were so few Asian Americans in Denver during my generation’s youth, so my generation preferred assimilation (which is virtually indistinguishable from invisibility). But now, I see the third, fourth and later generations happily returning to their cultural ancestral traditions. I believe this is a direct result of the growth of the AAPI community in the Denver Metro Area. There is an interest and an excitement for anything traditionally cultural. There is more active participation and leadership at all levels. This generation is confident in their realization that they are as much a “typical American” as anyone else - and that the American promise of opportunity was made to them as well.

By Erin Yoshimura
Photos by Ashton Do


Comment from georgette Johnson
Time December 4, 2008 at 12:09 pm

This article has educated me about cultural diversity and the importance of sharing ones cultural as the same time knowing that this is done in America without even trying!
I enjoyed learning about the family’s history which I can say is very similar to my Italian heritage, being a 3rd generation myself, I can understand how important the traditional aspects of keeping the culture alive throughout the future generations.

Comment from Oriol Casañas
Time December 5, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Excellent article. Now I know a little bit more about filipino culture. I’ll be careful not to point at anyone using my fingers, and now I know why lips are sometimes moving so much :-) Thanks to all generations for sharing a little bit of yourself.

Write a comment