Interviews of Filipino Americans on Campus: Sarah Concepcion

Name: Sarah Concepcion

Class year: 2021

Major: Cognitive and Behavioral Science

Hometown: Richmond, VA


I’ll start with my ethnicity because people are very confused by me often times and I think that’s something I’ve talked to a lot of Filipinos about actually. I’m half German on my mom’s side and then my dad is from the Philippines. He moved here when he was 14 or 15 and his mom and dad had been kind of all over the place working internationally, and so he was raised by his grandma and then came over here in late middle school, early high school and learned English. Then he met my mom late in his 20s, and then there’s me (haha). So him, his 2 sisters, and my grandma all lived – well one of the sister’s just moved recently – lived in Richmond. On our holidays we always split so for Thanksgiving we always go to my mom’s side of the family and do the traditional sweet potato casserole and all that. For Christmas we go to my dad’s and it’s like this hodgepodge of Filipino food but then also a couple of more traditional sides. It’s fun.

Where is your mom’s side of the family? Where do they live in the states?

She lived up north for a while in New Jersey. So most of her cousins are from there. My grandpa moved down to Richmond.

What does being Filipino American mean to you?

I think at first, growing up, I grew up with all white peers and in an environment where I didn’t have a lot of interaction with other Filipinos and I think I didn’t even realize I was more than one ethnicity until I was getting older. Growing up, it really didn’t mean anything I guess. As I got older and started to understand that more – obviously it’s something kids don’t really understand in the first place – but I started to get questions like, “What are you?” and things like that, you could call them microaggressions. That made me realize that I was just different from all the white people surrounding me. I guess to me now it means being able to be a part of 2 totally different cultures because I’m not just Filipino, [and] I’m not just white. This duality of experience and seeing both and living both – it’s hard for me to answer this question because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, like how my cultural identity has developed because of the situations I grew up in and also because I’m biracial and people don’t know what I am typically. I don’t feel like I have a formulated, good answer for that question. Generally, it means really fun family, traditions, and experiences.

Is there anything specific, like a story that stands out that your dad told you?

It’s interesting because he doesn’t talk about it a lot, and me and my mom always wonder why he doesn’t talk about it more. Occasionally he’ll get really nostalgic. The thing he always goes back to is all the fruit trees. Maybe that is because so much of Filipino culture is centered around food and community. We went to Jamaica this summer and we stopped at this fruit stand at the side of the street and he picked up a sweetsop and he was like, “Oh my gosh, we used to have this in the Philippines” and he went through all the different fruit trees that he had in his backyard and how he’d just go out and grab some. That’s just something he really likes to talk about. He also talked about how when it would rain a lot and flood the street he would go out with his sister and they would go fishing essentially in the streets and try to catch all the little fish that were swimming around.

Something I find interesting is how much living there informs who he is today and his tendencies. For example, he’ll never throw anything away and he loves free stuff. This is actually true of his sister as well and my grandma. If something’s a good deal or free, they never throw leftovers away because for him that’s wasteful and you don’t want to be wasteful. He grew up in a place where he didn’t have that much. But it’s very interesting to see how they all do that. My mom gets so upset at him sometimes like, “Why are you eating this rice that’s over a week old” and he’ll say, “I just don’t want to throw it away” I just think that’s’ so funny.

I think most of our traditions center around food because we’re not really in a community of Filipinos necessarily. We have our immediate family and then some cousins who aren’t actually cousins but we call them cousins. There’s like three of them and they always come to all of our holiday gatherings.

Coming to WLU, how has being biracial affected your experience?

I think to some degree because I grew up being around white people I felt comfortable with that fact. Obviously I didn’t love it. My younger sister goes to UVA now [and] shes’ a first year and the first thing she did was join the Filipino American group there (OYFA). There’s so much more cultural diversity there [that] made me wish how much that was here. I think it’s been beneficial – I don’t want to use the word beneficial – but because I am biracial I think people who are not white feel comfortable talking to me about what it’s like to be on this campus and I really enjoy having those conversations and being a diversity PC. Because I look different than most of the people on this campus they’ll feel okay with approaching me and talking to me to some degree. It’s weird to think of now but that’s been good. It’s hard this is something that I’ve been processing so I don’t have a set answer

Did you grow up in Richmond your entire life?

Yeah. we’ve actually been in the same house my entire life.

Is there a big Filipino community there?

Not really. There is some at the west end area. There is a small Filipino community a couple neighborhoods over I think but we never ended up interacting with that community or getting involved in it. I believe one exists..? The fact that I’m not full Filipino adds to that and makes it hard and not feeling completely one way or another so you don’t know if you completely fit in either. Obviously when you’re with family you’re not thinking of that.

Is there anything that you want to learn more about Filipino culture?

I have never participated in a pig roast and I would really like to do that. That’s a really niche answer but more generally speaking that’s always something I’ve wanted to do. I would love to learn more of the language besides select phrases because knowing language teaches you a lot about the culture. I’d love to go to the Philippines because everyone has preconceptions in there head of what something will be like but I had very few of those because my dad hasn’t talked a lot about it and so I have this big question mark in my head of what his experiences were like growing up. I would really like to go and see for myself I know the house he lived in is still here.

Do you know where your dad is from in the Philippines?

I’m pretty sure he’s around manila but I’m forgetting what area he’s from.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or that you’re thinking of that you want to talk about?

The only other very informative experience for me was a couple years ago my family took a trip to California where my dad’s dad lived. He lives within LA. It has a big Filipino and Hispanic cultural area there and it was the first time I felt like I was actually Filipino because we were there. His wife took us to this marketplace and then we came home and cooked food and had all these family members over who were like my second and third cousins who all lived on the west coast who I never see and so it was really cool to be in an environment that was more of a cultural hub and experience more of that side of who I am

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