Interviews of Filipino Americans on Campus: Gabe Nucup Worthington

Name: Gabe Nucup Worthington

Class year: 2023

Major: Undecided

Hometown: Mechanicsville

You said your grandfather was Filipino. Has that affected you in anyway or influenced you culturally?

He was in the navy so that’s how we ended up in Hampton. If I had to guess, that’s why most Filipinos ended up in Virginia through the military. He’s my only surviving grandfather so I had that obvious connection to him. He married interracially in the 60s so that went over great (haha). My grandma’s family was okay with it because they’re both Catholic. Even though they lived in Virginia they had to go up to Maryland because Loving hadn’t happened yet so interracial marriage wasn’t allowed. It was so shocking to me at a young age that all that happened within one lifetime.

I feel like that also impacted my mother more, part of the thing is because [my grandfather] was in such a restrictive time. [My grandfather] had to give up a lot. That’s changed in the recent years, he’s started doing more Filipino cooking, heading back to[the Philippines to] visit people. So that’s changed, but if someone were to go into their house they wouldn’t be able to guess [that he’s Filipino] other than that we take our shoes off but plenty of non-Filipino people do that too. For me, it was always his experience that stuck with me, not necessary my experience because I’m pretty white-passing. Most people ask, “Are you half Chinese?” I’m like, “No, not even half and definitely not Chinese but thank you”. For me it’s never been too big of an issue and then people notice it.

In high school there was slightly more Asian representation. If I was ever like “I’m Asian” people would say “No, you’re not, you're white” and so I say, “Okay, I guess I’m white” and then they’d say “No, you're good at math, you're Asian. Duh.” So you can’t win either way. I think being mixed race itself has had more impact than being Filipino because I didn’t notice it until I started asking questions about [my grandfather’s] past.

Do you have any favorite dishes that he cooks?

Lumpia, we do that for Easter typically. We started doing that fairly recently. My uncles and aunts and mom eventually coaxed him out because he likes cooking. He doesn't typically do it with non-American stuff because he didn’t want his kids to be bullied. Typical immigrant struggle to fit in.

When you meet new people that don’t know about your background, how do they react when you say you are part Filipino?

A lot of times it’s “Ohhh” because my eyes are slightly different than your average white person and sometimes I’m tanner than the average white person other times I’m not. So they're like, “I see it now.” It’s not something that's really been assigned onto me especially because [my grandfather] wouldn't make an effort to include me in it – no one forced that part of the identity on me. I never picked up Tagalog, I haven't been to the Philippines though I would like to. None of my relatives other than him speak [Tagalog] so he didn't make an effort to teach his kids at home – understandable he left that behind in his mindset. He tried to Americanize everyone including himself. An opportunity like this, we've never talked about it before in our family. Obviously, when I ask him about “Tell me about x” then he’d bring that up. My mom doesn't talk about being half Filipino in the 60s/70s in a predominantly white school. My grandfather definitely doesn't talk about that.

Are there any stories that stick with you?

There was one before he started doing computer work. The admiral he was working for – he had to give a report of the day’s agenda essentially. So he was reading it off one day and there was one thing: it was a dance sponsored by the moose lodge that said “no coloreds allowed” and my grandfather looked at the admiral and said, “Am I included in that?” and the admiral surprisingly said, “Oh no, no one’s going there. If they’re not letting everyone on then I’m not letting anyone go”. It’s stories like that... I don't really get the whole experience but maybe it's impossible for me to get the whole experience [of racism at that time]... I think another big thing that always stuck with me was the marriage to a white woman. She was Catholic so 1) the family being okay with it and 2) being in an interracial marriage having interracial children, I think that in itself is really brave in a world where it’s really binary to give birth to – my mom lovingly calls herself a “half breed”. That’s its own act of defiance that I really respect

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

Definitely, like I said I really want to go to the Philippines. I am waiting until there’s a time where I have the money to take [my grandfather] and he’s not sick and he’s able to go but I don't know if that’s ever able to happen. If not, I can take one of my aunts. So I would like to go to the Philippines. I'd like to know Tagalog but I'd like to know every language so I don't know if that’s particularly unique. I really wish I could take his brain and copy/paste it because there’s so much experience and info that I wish I could delve deeper in that.

What does it mean to you to be Filipino American?

I’m a half breed of a half breed so I’m really stuck, so I think part of it is not forgetting the stories my grandfather told me but also in a more duty-bound sense: carrying on the bravery he had to be in an interracial marriage in the 50s/60s. There’s some obligation of carrying on that with regards to everyday things. The idea of individual perseverance, I suppose.

Knowing your grandfather’s experience, your mothers experience, how do you think that’s shaped your own identity?

I’m really interested in history and I’m sure that him telling me all these cool war stories. I like to think I have an appreciation for other cultures so an appreciation for multiculturalism. Mixing cultures is not a bad thing and learning from their mistakes that mixing cultures doesn’t mean giving up everything. It leaves me in this weird spot culturally. As far as shaping my identity, it’s been more about learning about history and other cultures.

Do you have any closing remarks?

Sorry, I therapy sessioned you. I don’t think anything in particular. My grandpa is coming up for parents weekend and is mildly disappointed none of his grandchildren are following him into the navy but that’s okay (haha).

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