My mom always said to stick to one thing that we love for the rest of our lives. Those words meant a lot back then, especially as my best friend, a fellow Filipina, and I grew up showered with ideas of becoming doctors and nurses: those jobs that'll kill you first before you start to make good money. To me, it was a joke to daydream about entering the medical field but for my friend, it was a serious thing to think about. I knew about the stereotype, and I didn't want to be seen as part of that.
Before anyone starts to say this is a common misconception about Filipino women, it was real for the majority of us to push aside our real dreams and adopt our parents' dreams and wishes. I knew I didn't want to follow the stereotypes of a Filipino nurse or doctor and I'm thankful my mom didn't push that dream on me.
A year before I entered high school, things started to change, maybe for the best.
My friend had entered her first year of high school in one of the top public schools in the state. As an eighth grader, I learned to envy her for her success and my mom's attention for her over me. It was a recurring thing for her to mention my friend's accomplishments to me, from her academic intelligence to her ability to balance work and sports. My mom's words felt like daggers to my heart and lingered with me especially on my worst days. I was insecure with figuring out my own body and now I was trying to mend my intelligence to please her. I remember my friend's mom would talk to my mom about her daughter (usually explaining why she's not around for an event because she's doing some other incredible thing) and my ma would nod in response, smiling. She would usually say things about me but lately, there isn't much to talk about.
Younger me winced whenever my friend and I entered a gathering and people would ask about our dreams. My answer was never the same, but hers was always a doctor or someone who will find the cure to cancer. She said it so confidently that I was so sure she would do it and people wooed her for that. Even to this day, I still think about her saying that as I struggle trying to persuade myself to stick to one major at the university.
I began to distance myself from my best friend and at some point, I started to hate her for doing the things she loved to do. At this point in my life, I soon became aware of this toxic trait of insecurity.
You would think that hearing about someone else's accomplishments would make you genuinely happy for a person. It made me want to be better by being more like my friend, but people aren't built to be the same way. I was so persistent in making my own image better than my friend's that I was ignorant of the things I wanted to do. When I completely removed my friend from my life, I learned it was better to isolate myself so I wouldn't have to be compared to anyone else. To a certain degree, I became apathetic to those of the same background as me.
Self-care was the thing I needed, and my isolation brought me to prioritize that. Art became my calling, and it was a way for me to mend my feelings and display them to everyone without saying a word. Before I entered college, I tried to avoid going to art school because of the fear of failure, but it was the best decision of my life.
I still hold these insecurities as an adult with my constant need to be distant with those who seem to be better than me but it's a work in progress. My negative feelings toward Filipino culture have dissipated into affection from meeting so many amazing and supportive people along the way. It's heartwarming to be able to relate to this sort of thing, especially around people with the same cultural background as me. At my university, the Philippine Student Association has created a safe place for me to learn more about my culture despite being so far away from home. I still keep touch with my old friend via social media, and I'm genuinely happy to see her taking a different path with her career in Environmental Sustainability somewhere in Hawai'i.
Looking back at it, I exaggerated a lot of things as a child. My mother and my friend would never purposely hurt me and I've drilled that idea in my head to help me grow as an individual. Sometimes your mind turns into your worse enemy and it's uplifting to know there are people who can fall out of that and turn things around. I started coming out of my shell once I started focusing on myself with clubs, schoolwork, and art, and it's been rewarding, mentally.