May Is Asian Heritage Month!
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Today I was reminded how important it is to learn about and honour one’s own heritage and culture. As a Canadian-born Filipina, married to a Salvadorean man with children whose identities are split in a diversity of language and customs, it’s especially important to pass on a knowledge and attitude of both cultural pride, understanding, and inclusivity.
The month of May is a great opportunity for me personally to share my Asian heritage with my children.
While we speak English in the home to correspond with what my son and daughter are learning in school, they are also exposed to hearing three Filipino dialects (Tagalog, Kapampangan, and Pangasinan) and El Salvadorean Spanish from their grandparents.
Our food menu at home is as eclectic as our music ranging from rice, egg, and longanisa for breakfast, to tortillas, pupusas, and beans for dinner; to sad and slow Filipino ballads to the feisty rhythms of Salvadorean folk.
And our traditional wear is not only visible during special occasions such as weddings and religious observances, but worn with cultural pride.
Today, my son’s school celebrates Cultural Day in the spirit of Asian Heritage Month. He was excited to be able to wear his Barong Tagalog, a Filipino long-sleeved shirt made out of piña fabric, worn by boys and men usually for formal occasions. My daughter does not own her own Filipina traditional wear such as a Mestiza gown, so she wore a Salvadorean poncho instead to represent her father’s Latino heritage.
As a Filipina, here are some of my recommendations on the taste of Filipino culture found in some of my cultural favourites:
1. Pancit Bihon
Pancit Bihon is a traditional Filipino dish composed of very thin rice noodles, fried with soy sauce, patis (fish sauce), and a mix of chicken, sausage, cabbage, and assorted chopped vegetables. It is usually cooked for large gatherings and especially made for birthdays in the traditional belief that the length of its noodles symbolize long life for the birthday celebrant.
Longanisa is sweet, Filipino pork sausage that is first boiled and then fried, usually accompanied with egg and rice, and eaten at breakfast or dinner.
3. Filipino Empanada
Filipino empanadas usually contain ground beef, pork or chicken, potatoes, chopped onions, and raisins in a sweet, flour pastry. They can be either baked or deep-fried and are a party favourite.
Espasol is one of my favourite Filipino desserts, a Filipino rice cake shaped in cylinder logs that originated from the province of Laguna and is made from rice flour and coconut milk, dusted with rice flour. It has a soft, subtly sweet, and chewy texture that compel me to always eat more than one! While the recipe is quite simple, its production is not. One wrong move and the Espasol is too dry or hard. But, if made correctly, mmm…what a treat!
5. Cassava cake
Filipino Cassava cake is made from grated cassava (Kamoteng Kahoy) mixed with coconut milk, eggs, butter and topped with a creamy, condensed milk. A person who can make a great cassava cake is highly respected in the Filipino household and community.
6. Filipino Jeepney
The Filipino jeepney is one of the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines, which were originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II. They are flamboyantly painted and decorated and have become a symbol of Philippine culture and art. Unlike the North American buses, which require you to push a button to ring for a stop, Filipino passengers bang the roof of the jeepney, yelling, “Para! Para! [Stop! Stop!]”.
7. Freddie Aguilar
I grew up listening to the Tagalog singing and guitar playing of Freddie Aguilar. Here’s one of my all-time favourite Filipino songs called, Anak:
8. Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco
Illustrado is the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, published in 2010. It’s a story about the character, Miguel, a student who pieces together the story of his teacher’s life through his poetry, novels, and memoirs after his body is pulled out of the Hudson River. It tells of a rich and dramatic family saga of four generations, tracing a hundred and fifty years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves.
In what ways are you celebrating Asian Heritage Month this May?