speak two languages that I feel I inhabit two different identities. Or are the reasons for my feeling this way more complex? It is difficult to say, but I do know that although I am only one person, inhabiting one body and one mind, in many ways, I feel I live in two different worlds, with two different identities. My language is more than a vocabulary, the words that I use to describe things. Language for me forms a key part of the person I am and the way I see the world. I am bilingual but also bicultural.
One of the clearest ways I inhabit two languages and two different identities is my name. My real name is Restituto. But you, the American reader of this essay, will better know me as Rusty. In America, everyone calls me Rusty. I chose this American nickname for myself because when I came here my real name seemed very difficult for everyone to pronounce. The difficulty people had with such a basic part of myself, my name, was one of the first 'clues' I had how different my life would be when I came from the Philippines to America.
In the Philippines, my name was quite ordinary; it was something I took for granted. I never considered it difficult to pronounce. No one I knew considered it difficult to pronounce. In America, however, whenever my name is read as part of a list and someone is unfamiliar with me, I always know when my name is about to be called because I can see a strange, confused expression coming over the person's face.
Rest-res..." they will say.
A must shake my head. "Just call me Rusty," I say.
This scenario never happens to me in the Philippines. In the Philippines, the name Restituto is no more or less common than John or James is here.
For awhile, I considered changing my legal name to Rusty. When I became naturalized citizen, I thought, I should. I told myself, I am leaving so much of a part of my culture, my nation, behind, perhaps I should try to shake off that old part of myself, that old identity that seemed to be unpronounceable in America, that of "Restituto." When I tried to explain this to my mother, she disagreed. She explained that she and my father had given me that name, lovingly to me when I was born. She told me that my name was more than a name, more than a word. My name was part of my identity, part of my connection to my native heritage and to the history of my family. In cutting myself off to that part of my history, my mother said, I was cutting myself off to my identity. But still, although I agreed with her, I wondered -- what room did the United States have for 'Restituto?' In the United States, could I only find room, find a place for the identity of an American, was there only Rusty?
I would like to say that the different parts of myself, that of Restituto and that of Rusty, are completely comfortable in both of the parts of the world that I live in. But that would be a lie. The truth is, I live in two very separate worlds, just as I live with two separate names and speak two different languages.
One of the worlds I live in is within my home. There, although I am in America, I become "Restituto" once again. I am not wholly Filipino within my home in the United States, because my family is fairly assimilated to United States culture. However, my family still practices some Filipino ways. More often than not, my family speaks the native dialect of the Philippines "Tagalong."
However, when I step from my door outside into the world, suddenly I must become "Rusty" again and speak English. I am only understood in English when I am "Rusty" and I am only fully understood as "Restituto" when I speak "Tagalong," a language most native-born Americans have never heard of. But again, it is more than a different simply of language and vocabulary. The fact that I am always switching languages within my head makes me a different person than someone who dwells wholly and completely in one culture, in either that of American ways or Filipino ways. Also, when I am in school I must not only change my language but also adjust to American customs and ways of relating to others. I must be able to communicate using the English language but also Americanized ways of relating to others that would have no place in my home, in the Philippines, no place in the world of "Restituto." would like to say that in both the worlds of Rusty and of "Restituto," I feel equal, if not the same, than only different, in the ways people perceive who I am and how they treat me. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Just as which language is truly my own is uncertain, just as which name is my own is uncertain, so is my identity in both America and in the Philippines. In America I am treated as a second class citizen, or not a citizen at all. My physical appearance because I am of Asian Pacific descent is different from many of my peers. I must say that this has been particularly uncomfortable in the last six months, for often many people confuse American patriotism, I believe, with intolerance and fear of those who appear to be different than them.
My difference with others is not only physical. As always, language is the sharpest contrast I feel in the ways that I am distinguished from others. My English is accented. When I speak, even when I speak with the correct, standardized American grammar, I immediately mark myself as different. I speak with an accent and learned English, not from American television shows, but in school and from teachers. Occasionally, I feel like screaming, just because I speak English, as my second language does not mean I am a second class citizen! Or ask, how many words of Tagalong do you speak, when my accent is criticized. I realize that this is America, and English is the primary mode of communication, of course. But when people are intolerant, this can be difficult and not much comfort.
It would not be fair to say that my expression of my identity is difficult only in America and relates only to my difficulties with English.
When I return to my native home, to visit my friends and family in the Philippines, people do not simply treat me as just another Filipino who has been away for awhile. Because I am from America, they often act towards me as if I come from some sort of promised land, a promised land that exists only in their minds. I am treated and called someone who is special, one of 'the lucky ones,' they say.
This 'special identity' can feel like a curse, sometimes, because often I simply want to blend in. I wish to be in a place where I do not look different or sound differently than most people, but when I return to the Philippines I am aware that there is no such place.
A try to be understanding of people's awe-struck attitudes because I realize, in the Philippines and all over the world there are many people who dream of coming to America. These dreams are not often realized, and I am aware that I am fortunate and unique in that I have seen so much of both America and the Philippines.
My knowledge is even sadder and sharper because I know people's difficulties in leaving my native home for America is not only rooted in the expense of traveling from the Philippines to U.S., but also the difficulties of obtaining a Visa to stay and work in America. I know that even if people work very hard, and save up a great deal of money, they will not necessarily be able to stay in the United States. I am the embodiment of their dreams, yet I look more like them than I do many of my American friends, I think. And it can be very difficult to feel like an ordinary person and yet to be the embodiment of other people's dreams.
Not everyone in the Philippines looks at me that way, however.
Whenever I go back to visit my relatives and friends in the Philippines, many of them laugh at me just as my American friends do. They notice changes in both my English and Tagalong pronunciation and accent that I don't notice. I don't notice such things because I see myself and hear myself every day. But when I go back, I must see myself through their eyes, through a different set of eyes and as a different person, of one who is no longer…