Manitoba·First Person

Am I still a 'bad Filipino'? How my identity quest dramatically changed me and my family

Did Jim Agapito make his lola proud? The Filipino-Canadian is on a recovery mission to learn about his Filipino roots and culture in his new CBC podcast and radio series Recovering Filipino.

All 10 episodes of CBC's Recovering Filipino podcast with Jim Agapito now available

Once called a 'bad Filipino' by his lola (grandma), Recovering Filipino host Jim Agapito, second from left, has been on a cultural recovery mission to learn more about his roots. (Submitted by Jim Agapito)

This First Person article is the experience of Jim Agapito, host of the new CBC Radio series and podcast Recovering Filipino. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I have recently become the family's "go-to expert" on Filipino history and culture. But to be clear, I'm no expert.

When someone looks to me for an answer, I pause and think to myself, "Is this happening?"

Never in a million years would I have dreamt this would happen.

Since launching my CBC podcast and radio series Recovering Filipino in June, I have covered a lot of topics about Filipino identity, culture and history.

The idea for the podcast was sparked when my 98-year-old lola (grandma) called me a "bad Filipino." 

The podcast has been a cultural expedition, with me as the guide recovering my Filipino identity.

Jim Agapito hosts Recovering Filipino, a new show on CBC Radio One. Pictured right: Agapito's grandmother and his mother, Yolanda, who acts as his unofficial guide during his cultural mission. (CBC/Submitted by Jim Agapito)

Family reaction

Several weeks back and with COVID-19 restrictions loosening in Manitoba, my mom (or Tita Yoly) celebrated her 70th birthday in a park.

We Filipinos are known for our epic parties and this was the first time I had seen most of my family since Christmas 2019. There was lechon (roasted pig), lumpia (spring rolls), pancit (noodle dish) and fried chicken, along with cupcakes, four cakes and more desserts. The spread was amazing.

I was happy to see my family but honestly, I was also pretty apprehensive.

At the birthday party, I wasn't sure what they might say about Recovering Filipino or what questions they might ask me.

On the podcast, we have covered Filipino superstitions, food, our obsession with basketball and loads of other topics. I have also come clean about my problems with alcohol. So everything was on the table and possibly up for discussion. 

To my surprise, my family replaced the usual questions of "When are you going to settle down and get married?" and "Will you just eat some shrimp?" with "Can you tell us more about how Filipinos helped create tequila?" and "How did we invent karaoke?" 

LISTEN | Recovering Filipino's Jim Agapito explores karaoke and the cultural cuisine:

Karaoke is often considered the Philippines' national pastime, but, as Jim learns, it’s not always a recipe for good times. What one karaoke song has brought singers to fisticuffs, and worse? Meet a singer whose karaoke performances led her to Broadway. 27:26
Jim isn’t a big fan of Filipino food, especially sweet spaghetti. Jim digs into the yuck and yum of Filipino cuisine with the help of expert Patricio Abinales; delves into his relationship with a popular bee; and gives a hated dish one more try. 27:26

The expected family conversation shifted from finding ways to roast me, their Jimmy-Boy, on his lack of "Filipinoness" to questions about "Filipinoness." 

I had become an expert in my family's eyes.  

Some relatives thanked me for taking an interest in the culture while others said they'd stock more coffee and beverages at their homes so I wouldn't feel awkward when they drank alcohol.

LISTEN | Recovering Filipino's Jim Agapito talks about a drinking ritual and his struggles with alcohol:

Jim dips into his own family lore to understand the Tagay ritual - taking shots until the bottle is empty. Meet a mixologist infusing Filipino flair into cocktail culture. And Jim has an overdue conversation with his mom about his struggles with alcohol. 27:27

I heard my cousin Arlene tell her children that they should eat more at the party because they don't want to be called a "bad Filipino" by Tita Yoly. She smiled at me while she said this.

I dove into the conversation with my family, and we talked about debuts, tuli (male circumcision), boxing, superstitions and food protocol, all topics I had covered in the podcast.

That has been the point of Recovering Filipino: to spark conversation- Jim Agapito

Having my titos (uncles) talk casually about their own tuli stories was both jarring and fascinating. 

My older titos, titas (aunts) and cousins, who normally don't talk about Filipino-related topics at family parties, also had lots to say about our culture. 

And that has been the point of Recovering Filipino: to spark conversation.

I had questions about my culture that many other second-generation Filipinos also had, I'm sure.

Cultural understanding

Some of you have reached out from different parts of the world and have tuned in and learned (and questioned) something about our culture.

Non-Filipinos have also reached out, saying they've learned something new. It's made them question their own cultures because they have similar traditions done in their unique way.

The Filipino-adjacent (non-Filipinos with close relationships to Filipinos) have also expressed interest in understanding more about the backgrounds of their friends. 

With 10.2 million Filipinos living outside the Philippines, it's best to know your neighbours, right? 

How am I doing, lola?

But the real question for me these days is: "Am I a good Filipino now?" and "What does lola think?"

Epifania Bulaong, here with her grandson Jim Agapito in Winnipeg, has been in the Philippines since December 2019. (Submitted by Jim Agapito)

While my titos, titas, cousins and parents see the change in me, I am still wondering about my lola, who has been back in the Philippines since late 2019.

She's the real reason why I went on this journey to recover my Filipino identity.

She's 98 years old now, and I want to make her proud. 

I want to prove to her that I am no longer a "bad Filipino."

So in late June, as we were finishing production on our 10th and final podcast episode, I arranged to call her back in the Philippines. 

My tita helped arrange the phone call. Lola, I was told, dressed up for our phone call. She knows I have been working hard on recovering my "Filipinoness."

So I asked her, "How am I doing, lola?" 

"This is just the start," she told me.  

For me to be a good Filipino, I need to continue to connect with other Filipinos, she said, and I also have to visit the Philippines.

As lola said, "It's the only way you'll truly be a good Filipino."

How to find Recovering Filipino

  • Tune in on CBC Radio One, starting June 28 at 11:30 a.m. across Canada. New episodes air Mondays at 11:30 a.m. throughout the summer, and on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. AT, 8 p.m. NT).
  • Listen any time on cbc.ca/recoveringfilipino.
  • Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.
  • Join the conversation at #recoveringfilipino.
  • Send us an email.

 

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