Filipino American Psychology



Rizal Beach, Sorsogon circa 2008

This blog continues to discuss how Filipinos are hugely, and sometimes grossly underrepresented in the arena of food and the culinary arts. However, the dearth of Filipino representation is evident in other areas as well. In his book Filipino American Psychology, Kevin L. Nadal discusses the lack of Filipinos in academia and the absence of research on such a dynamic race.

It offers a history of the Philippines and a very quantifiable breakdown of the Filipino personality. For instance, it has one entire chapter devoted to the colonization mentality and how Filipinos were affected by a loss of sovereignty for 420 years.

At times, I have been at my own job and felt beleaguered by a “want” to be a certain way, be more forward, more aggressive in my social exploits, be more verbal…this book has been giving me assurance that this is a very natural and typical conflict that many Filipinos have.

Nadal breaks down “indigenous values” that were pre-existing before the Philippines’ colonization. Some of them:

  •  Kapwa (fellow being — “feeling intrinsically connected to each other interpersonally, spiritually, and emotionally.”)
  • Utang ng loob (debt of reciprocity — “Filipinos expect to rely on one another in any situation and hope that by being charitable to others, others will help them in their times of need.”)
  • Hiya (shame — “governed by the notion that the goal of the individual is to represent oneself or one’s family in the most honorable way.”)
  • Pakikasama (social acceptance — “Filipinos would rather remain in harmony with their peers than vocalize any disagreements or dissentions in a group…also means that Filipino Americans will more likely choose what is best for the collective than for the individual, in order to please everyone.”) (Nadal, 38-43)


The Philippines was colonized by Spain for 370 years, about the same time as all other Latin American countries. They are the only Asian race that can be considered “Hispanic,” the only Asian race to lobby to be separated on the demographic sheet as “Filipino” instead of “Asian” or “Pacific Islander.” (Nadal)

However, Spain had a wield of influence that is evident in the Filipino mentality. There were several values that Spain was able to integrate into Filipino country and they remain today. Some of these values that Nadal touches upon:

  • Religion (only Asian country that is predominantly Roman Catholic)
  • Gender roles (The Philippines in the indigenous state was an extremely gender neutral society. Spain brought machismo (male superiority) and marianismo (female submissiveness, women are meant to be selfless and put family first like the Virgin Mary)
  • Pride
  • Interpersonal relationships (coincides with the existing value of Kapwa, “fellow being”)


Even though the Philippines thought that they would be getting independence after the U.S. helped them defeat Spain, the Philippines became an American colony for 50 years. Consequently, some American ideals were revealed as well:

  • Importance of Education
  • Individualism and Competition

So, what the Philippines already had: (fellow being, debt of reciprocity, shame, yearning for social acceptance.) What Spain gave us: (religion, gender roles, pride, interpersonal relationships), and what the U.S. gave us: (education, individualism/competition)

No wonder our national dessert is halo-halo (mixed-mixed).

I, myself am Filipino American but had parents that were native Filipinos. There were cultural clashes, definitely…especially in high school. This was the time that I really began to see the divide. I remember having many, crying conversations with relatives trying to reconcile my parents’ wishes and this outspoken, rebellious, competitive streak I had inside of me. I’m sure my parents felt at times that they couldn’t control me, and alas — I really don’t think that they could have, I was completely stubborn and resentful of their inability to “adjust” or acculturate, to American ideals. I remember thinking to myself — “We aren’t there anymore!!!!!” I felt shamed when my parents tried to exert strictness or weren’t bold enough in public.

Now, I am so humbled by my culture, so curious, so happy that I have parents who were able to expose me to my culture and plant those seeds so I can carry their lessons on to another generation. Albeit, it is modified, I have recognized how important it is to embrace the makings of an individual — to learn the history, the culture behind intention. How can you possible know what you intend to do without knowing where you’re coming from?

This deconstruction has been very healthy; and now when I interact with people I know that my culture is alive and kicking. To me, it helps settle inner demons inside of me that think — “why can’t I be this way?” I am this way. I embrace and acknowledge these inner facets and now that I have a conceivable baseline…I can move forward.


4 thoughts on “Filipino American Psychology

  1. Hi – I can totally relate to this post. I think the other piece of it, from my opinion, is that instead of embracing our history and accepting all of it as part of what makes us beautiful and unique, we see it as “faults” and find it easier to hide behind other ethnicities/identities. I don’t think Filipinos have as much pride and love as other ethnic groups and I think it is in part due to the confusion of who we are as a people. Have you seen this article? Got it from my Tita on Facebook and thought it might contribute to your post. Thanks for you thought provoking writing. Irma

    What Korean’s think about FILIPINO’S?


    Filipinos always complain about the corruption in the Philippines . Do you really think the corruption is the problem of the Philippines ? I do not think so. I strongly believe that the problem is the lack of love for the Philippines.

    Let me first talk about my country, Korea . It might help you understand my point. After the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. Koreans had to start from scratch because entire country was destroyed after the Korean War, and we had no natural resources.

    Koreans used to talk about the Philippines , for Filipinos were very rich in Asia . We envy Filipinos. Koreans really wanted to be well off like Filipinos. Many Koreans died of famine. Korean government was very corrupt and is still very corrupt beyond your imagination, but Korea was able to develop dramatically because Koreans really did their best for the common good with their heart burning with patriotism…

    Koreans did not work just for themselves but also for their neighborhood and country. Education inspired young men with the spirit of patriotism.

    40 years ago, President Park took over the government to reform Korea . He tried to borrow money from other countries, but it was not possible to get a loan and attract a foreign investment because the economic situation of South Korea was so bad. Korea had only three factories. So, President Park sent many mine workers and nurses to Germany so that they could send money to Korea to build a factory. They had to go through horrible experience.

    In 1964, President Park visited Germany to borrow money. Hundred of Koreans in Germany came to the airport to welcome him and cried there as they saw the President Park . They asked to him, “President, when can we be well off?” That was the only question everyone asked to him. President Park cried with them and promised them that Korea would be well off if everyone works hard for Korea , and the President of Germany got the strong impression on them and lent money to Korea . So, President Park was able to build many factories in Korea . He always asked Koreans to love their country from their heart.

    Many Korean scientists and engineers in the USA came back to Korea to help developing country because they wanted their country to be well off. Though they received very small salary, they did their best for Korea . They always hoped that their children would live in well off country.

    My parents always brought me to the places where poor and physically handicapped people live. They wanted me to understand their life and help them. I also worked for Catholic Church when I was in the army. The only thing I learned from Catholic Church was that we have to love our neighborhood. And, I have loved my neighborhood.

    Have you cried for the Philippines ? I have cried for my country several times. I also cried for the Philippines because of so many poor people.. I have been to the New Bilibid prison. What made me sad in the prison were the prisoners who do not have any love for their country. They go to mass and work for Church. They pray everyday. However, they do not love the Philippines . I talked to two prisoners at the maximum-security compound, and both of them said that they would leave the Philippines right after they are released from the prison. They said that they would start a new life in other countries and never come back to the Philippines.

    Many Koreans have a great love for Korea so that we were able to share our wealth with our neighborhood. The owners of factory and company were distributed their profit to their employees fairly so that employees could buy what they needed and saved money for the future and their children.

    When I was in Korea , I had a very strong faith and wanted to be a priest. However, when I came to the Philippines , I completely lost my faith. I was very confused when I saw many unbelievable situations in the Philippines. Street kids always make me sad, and I see them everyday. The Philippines is the only Catholic country in Asia , but there are too many poor people here. People go to church every Sunday to pray, but nothing has been changed.

    My parents came to the Philippines last week and saw this situation. They told me that Korea was much poorer than the present Philippines when they were young. They are so sorry that there are so many beggars and street kids. When we went to Pasangjan, I forced my parents to take a boat because it would fun.. However, they were not happy after taking a boat. They said that they would not take the boat again because they were sympathized the boatmen, for the boatmen were very poor and had a small frame.. Most of people just took a boat and enjoyed it. But, my parents did not enjoy it because of love for them.

    My mother who has been working for Catholic Church since I was very young told me that if we just go to mass without changing ourselves, we are not Catholic indeed. Faith should come with action. She added that I have to love Filipinos and do good things for them because all of us are same and have received a great love from God. I want Filipinos to love their neighborhood and country as much as they love God so that the Philippines will be well off.. I am sure that love is the keyword, which Filipinos should remember. We cannot change the sinful structure at once. It should start from person. Love must start in everybody, in a small scale and have to grow. A lot of things happen if we open up to love.

    Let’s put away our prejudices and look at our worries with our new eyes. I discover that every person is worthy to be loved. Trust in love, because it makes changes possible. Love changes you and me. It changes people, contexts and relationships. It changes the world. Please love your neighborhood and country. Jesus Christ said that whatever we do to others we do to Him. In the Philippines , there is God for people who are abused and abandoned. There is God who is crying for love. If you have a child, teach them how to love the Philippines . Teach them why they have to love their neighborhood and country. You already know that God also will be very happy if you love others.

    That’s all I really want to ask you Filipinos.

    I sincerely hope that this essay inspire us all and show LOVE for our homeland.

    Please Share if you love your own homeland.

    • Irma — thank you for that matter of perspective. It is interesting to look at Filipino pride from a “gilded” standpoint. Pride is uplifting on the surface but — does it have substance? I myself have wrestled with this same question and have read essays where Filipinos are constantly looking for something/someone to invest their pride in. Another concept that I’ve heard of was the “crab mentality” (if 1 crab tries to escape from the boiling water all of the other crabs will pull it down to keep it from succeeding), which is driven by cultural pangs of jealousy. On a more realistic note, I think that jealousy exists in all cultures. However, I think that Filipinos are especially vulnerable because of years of colonization and oppression. Here’s to hoping that we can pick away at this theory as a whole. Thanks again for bringing up such a different viewpoint.

  2. Pingback: The Filipino, The guy from Singapore and The Ugly American | Philippine Thoughts

  3. You haft to look beyond this and other re-hashes of what is typically written about in some undergraduate cross cultural sensitivity class. Everybody knows about Spanish and American colonization, Japanese occupation and the Catholic Church. We need to examine the granularity of the experience and form a substantional thought from it. A Filipino-American isn’t necessarily going to relate to a Filipino immigrant by way of experience. To each there own. To lump things into the usual historical perspective isn’t going to shed anymore light into otherwise is what is a very vibrant international history.

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