Identity, Life

Could I really be Filipino if I wasn’t Catholic anymore?

I didn't feel like I was enough. That I could ever be enough.

It’s always been difficult for me to reconcile being Catholic and being Filipino.

Christianity made its way to the Philippines during Spanish Colonization from the 1500s to 1800s, and today there are about 76 million Catholics living in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center. Needless to say, Catholicism became an important pillar of modern Filipino culture, even in diaspora.

As the case with many Filipino Americans, I was born into the tradition of Catholicism. Being baptized, attending weekly Sunday school and church service, and taking the first communion were as essential to our lives as food and water.

It's always been difficult to reconcile being Catholic and being Filipino. Click To Tweet

My parents’ attempts to raise me and my siblings in the Catholic tradition wasn’t for a lack of trying. They were both 1.5 generation Filipinos, arriving in the United States when they were just kids. Not only was it important to them in maintaining our heritage, it was even more important to my grandmother, who I saw as the ultimate embodiment of being Filipino.

Faith was important to my grandmother.

She had a rosary for every occasion, bibles, illustrations of Jesus Christ and prayed every night. When we had curiosities about our faith, she had our backs. The years following her death were rough years for my family. After my grandmother passed away, my family stopped going to church altogether. She was the figure who compelled us to keep going.

I was on the cusp of puberty when I lost faith in religion entirely.

I experienced trauma in my family life, and this really was the tipping point for me. I couldn’t comprehend how the pain I felt was a part of a higher plan. But as a result of abandoning even spirituality, I felt that I consequently lost parts of my ethnic identity at the same time.

I felt that I lost parts of my ethnic identity. Click To Tweet

I attended a Filipino festival called Sinulog (the celebration of Santo Niño, or Child Jesus) with one of my best friends years later, who also happened to be a fellow Pinoy.

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With an entirely Filipino congregation, followed by the sounds of Tagalog, I felt nostalgic in an extremely bittersweet way. It had been so long since I had felt connected to the Filipino American community, I had wondered if I had been entirely removed from because of my wavering faith.

I was completely washed over with sadness.

I often also felt alienated by my Filipino American peers in college. A large part of the community was built from shared experiences or inside jokes around Catholicism that I couldn’t relate. I felt too embarrassed to admit that I was a non-practicing Catholic, especially when conversations were centered around Lent or attending Holy Week services. I simply went along with these conversations to spare myself the emotional labor of explaining my loss in faith.

It had been so long since I had felt connected to the community. Click To Tweet

There was a church that many of my Filipino American peers attended that was literally across the street from where I lived. I could open up my windows and be greeted by the cross atop its roof or by the sounds of church bells. But no matter the proximity or peer pressure from my fellow Pinoys, symbolically I still couldn’t make it through those doors.

These experiences of doubt have made me feel as though I am not enough of a Filipino American because I don’t observe practices around Catholicism. In hindsight, they have also allowed me to grow even more comfortably into my identity. They have prompted me to practice compassion and examine all of the other corners of my identity that aren’t connected to faith.

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I’ve questioned so many times what it means to be Filipino American when the answers were laced through my existence. I am Filipino American because of my parents and grandparents came to the United States so generations after them could grow and flourish here.

I am Filipino American because I have intersectional identities separate from religion that are influenced by a culture I am rooted in.

The way I speak, the way I think, and the way I live my life is rooted in my heritage, which will always be an undeniable part of my being.

I’ve questioned so many times what it means to be Filipino American. Click To Tweet

I eventually reconnected to my spirituality after years of self-reflection and soul searching. I realized that not attending church was beyond cultural and had more to do with healing from past trauma. I may not explicitly feel a connection to my heritage from Catholicism, but I feel my Pinoy roots in plenty of other ways. Now, I can also attend Filipino festivities centered around religious observances and instead of feeling guilt, I feel an appreciation of its history and connection to my community.

For a while, I didn’t feel like I was enough because of my lack of faith. But I eventually came to realize that I am Filipino American in so many other ways.

By merely existing, I am enough.

Alicia Soller

Alicia Soller

Alicia Soller is a first generation-born Filipinx American digital storyteller committed to uplifting the narratives of communities of color. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received her B.S. in Journalism and began her involvement with community organizing. She currently does freelance writing, marketing and design work with non-profit organizations.

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