Why Filipino Americans say Pilipino, not Filipino


SAN FRANCISCO — There’s an interesting side note to the ‘Filipinas’ vs ‘Pilipinas’ controversy. A similar debate, this time over whether it should be ‘Filipino’ or ‘Pilipino,’ also erupted decades ago — in America.

And those who pushed for ‘Pilipino’ won.

That’s why on many college campuses, especially in California, you’ll find groups like the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor, or PACE, at San Francisco State University; the Pilipino American Alliance at UC Berkeley; and the Pilipino American Student Union at Stanford University.

Members of the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor cast of the San Francisco State University student group’s Pilipino Cultural Night show in 1992. PHOTO/Elrik Jundis

And that’s why we have the phenomenon called Pilipino Cultural Night, better known as PCN.

That’s the yearly spring ritual on many US college campuses when hundreds of Filipino students hold musical extravaganzas, complete with traditional Filipino dances, hip-hop numbers and political skits, to celebrate Filipino (or Pilipino) culture.

The use of ‘Pilipino,’ as my friend and the academic Theo Gonzalves, associate professor and department chair of the American Studies Department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, explains, was both an act of defiance and a choice.

Yes, it was partly based on the debate of whether there is or isn’t an ‘F’ in the Filipino alphabet.

But for Filipino Americans, it was a way of choosing, affirming and celebrating their Filipinoness, or Pilipinoness.

After all, the Filipino Americans argued, one can deconstruct ‘Pilipino’ into ‘pili,’ or ‘to choose,’ and ‘pino,’ or ‘fine.’

In other words, “a fine choice,” Theo says.  “You see where this is going. Black is Beautiful and all that.”

“Black is Beautiful” is the famous African American slogan in the 1960s when blacks and other minorities asserted their rights to define their own identities and to tell their own histories.

“Just about everyone was interested in re-naming themselves,” Theo continues. “This reflected the larger process of decolonization that had been taking place throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas since the 1950s.”

“At one point during this mid-century period of decolonization, the majority of the world’s population was in open revolt in some form or another, to European hegemony. And finding your way to a supposedly post-colonial world would involve thinking about yourself in new ways — new fashion, hairstyles, ideas about homelands, languages, and names.”
These new ways sometimes involved exploring and embracing the old.

Many Filipino Americans studied the old Tagalog script called Baybayin. Some of them even tattooed their names in the ancient text on their bodies. Others studied escrima and the kulintang.

A generation of Filipino Americans also was shaped by events in the homeland. Many were part of the fight against the Marcos dictatorship, an experience that propelled some to careers in public service and politics.

It was not always an easy or fruitful quest. I’ve heard stories of Filipino Americans who eventually grew tired of or who outgrew this passion for everything Filipino. Other felt discouraged after being rejected by Filipinos in the Philippines.

But others pushed on.

And while it may not be something that’s easily recognizable to or accepted by many Filipinos in the Philippines, Filipino American culture has thrived.

And it had little to do with any rigid rules on how Filipino Americans refer to themselves.

I myself still stick to saying Filipino when writing in English, and Pilipino, in Pilipino. Theo Gonzalves, who studied Filipino American culture for decades, also suggests that labels, in the long run, aren’t the most important factor in the Filipino American story.

“When I started to learn about that larger frame of decolonization, I welcomed the switch from F to P, especially in writing. As for self-identification, I never made any hard rules. … I don’t begrudge anyone the way they choose to identify themselves, whether Pinay, Pinoy, Pin@y, Pilipino America, Filipino/American, American Filipino…. In writing, I just prefer the rather generic and boring, “Filipino American.”

“More than anything else about this topic,” he said, “I’ve appreciated the historical aspect of choosing to rename yourself when the time is right.”

In fact, there are important lessons from the Filipino American experience when it comes to labels and identity. After all, Filipinos in America coined what’s become one of the most enduring labels we’ve embraced as a people: Pinoy and Pinay.

As historian Dawn Mabalon writes in her engaging new book “Little Manila Is in the Heart, “the terms ‘Pinoy’ and ‘Pinay’ were coined by Filipinos, mostly farm workers and factory workers, who moved to the US in the first half of the 20th Century.

Later, many of the snooty, middle class Filipino newcomers who arrived in the 1960s dismissed the label as lowbrow, or bakya.

But decades later, we all use them.

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  • kmario

    Why use Fil-Ams and English as reference? In Japan they call us “Piripins or pilifinos”; in Korea they call “FFiripins or Ffilifinos”, and surely differently from other languages. Now does that matter?

    • Ryan

      coz the filipinos abroad were the first to experience an identity crisis, not us locals

  • walang pakundangan

    In china they call us felipin.. filipino is ok in america pilipino sa pinas but i disagree on the term filipinas (they are pinays female filipinos)

  • PrivateEye

    Humihingi lang ako ng Fabor sa inyo na hayaan nyo na Fo kaming gumamit nito, hindi naman fo namin vinaliwala ang mga makalumang zalita at naza vago na fo tayong Generation. Fuwede fa fo va gagamiting ang ñ ?

    • panyu

      sabi mo ” naza vago na fo tayong Generation.” – nalilito lang ako, maaari mo fu bang ipaliwanag kung ano ang kinalaman ng “naza vago na fo tayong Generation” sa kagaguhang “P” to “F”. tanong ko lang sayo, nasa luma pa bang henerasyon ang mga japanese?, chinese? koreans? vietnamese? russians? french? etc. ayos sa mga cnvi mo ang sagot ay oo. malamang nasa lumang generasyon pa silang lahat, kasi ayon sayo kung nasa vago na silang generasyon ay dapat na itapon na nila at ibasura ang kanilang wika, pangalan, panulat… alpabeto? buong kultura at yakapin ang kulturang kano na ipinalalamon nyo samin para masabing nasa vago na rin silang Generation? pakilinaw mo nga kabayan at uto-utong PrivateEyesHole!

      • Ryan

        tongue in cheek lang yan pare

      • panyu

        hehe! tama! dapat walisin at tongue galin ang mga fu tongue nang yan.di na nga nakakatulong nakakabigat pa. buseeet! lol!

      • PrivateEye

        Panyu, Habang akoy nagkukumento bago ka pa man nag reply akoy natatawa na lamang sa mga pangyayari nitong kasalukuyan generasyon. Ang ingles ng pilipino ay hinaharap natin sa pang araw-araw kahit saan man tayo may ingles na lumalabas sa ating salita. Kahit bisaya, tagalog man ang napansin ko lang na nakakalito sa iilan ang P at F. wala sa japanese to, wala sa chinese to, wala sa koreans to, wala sa vietnamese, wala rin sa russians, wala rin sa french, at cguro wala rin sa ibang bansa, Ikaw rin ba kasama sa iilan na nagsasalita ng P at F sa maling pag gamit. Hoy! Panyu, balik-balikan mo basahin ang komento ko hangat mapapansin mo na nililibang ko lang sarili sa pagbabasa ng artikulo na ‘to napakaseryoso mong tao puwede bang TUMAWA KA rin paminsan-minsan, tatanda ka ng bigla nyan! reply ka at akoy tatawa lamang, nangbabansag ka pa! tumawa ka! tumawa ka sabi! huwag kang seryoso! lintek ayaw mo tumawa, TAWA KA! pinili mo yang pagkeseryoso mo bahala ka mandamay ka pa dito! basta akoy tatawa lamang IF THERE ARE REASONS TO LAUGH ingles Yaaaan! LOL! reply ka nga uli.

  • WeAry_Bat

    I think Pilipino was the original before Filipino. P is more pilipino than F.

  • Diepor

    puck you

  • nti_boohaya

    angal ng angal mga locals sa filipino o pilipino pero sa paggamit ng taglish sa pangkaraniwang usapan e oks lang sa kanila. inmho, it doesn’t really matter whether finoy or pinoy, filipino or pilipino, taglish, or whatever used. what matters most to me is the feel, pride, language and values i grew up with as a filifino/pilipino/filipino

  • robin

    Thats very least to worry about while working and living abroad concern. I think I’m more curious on race normally I put in Filipinos but for some reason specially those forms that “Filipino” race is not being recognized you can only pick for 2.. its either “Malay” or “Pacific Islander”

    In the Philippines you wont have this problem since it’s very rare that someone will ask you to fill-up forms with “race” on it but when travelling, working and living abroad you will be surprise in 6 years primary, 4 years in highschool and another 4 years in college we never really have bother to identity or curious about what race we should belong too.

  • Eilleen Meneses

    “Pilipino” is Tagalog, “Filipino” is, well, Filipino.

  • md’c™

    go home chinx. you do not belong here. send you åss back to china moron.

  • kulkat8


  • PunyëteroKa

    Hey f*ckhead mothaf*cker, eat syeet & call your defender -observer- to try and bail you out!! Great to knock your empty heads together!!

  • Laddy

    fcku, How dare you accuse me . I’m here to find the Pinoy that tried to troll me. His name is Socali. fckur kind, you come to America get the Green card and instead of being American your still Flips. You put your Flippy interest before America’s. you kick us out of Subic Bay and now you want us back??

  • PunyëteroKa

    You words speak for what you are! Had great Flip friends (I know they won’t mind me saying that, same as the N word with afro-american friends when I say it) but you seem to have carnal ones with the chinks! Why should I want a hooded chinky-lover to be back anywhere. What I called jseesus applies to you too! Go on, continue & get more!

  • Laddy

    Cool… ill go toe to toe with you and it will be the thriller in manila. Bring on the biiitch fest.

  • PunyeteroKa

    jseesus your biiitch? First time you came to my attention, you were trying to defend him as not being chink when I replied to one of his all-caps posts, & was so mad about it. That it??

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