Relative values: Creating our own culture

FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

Mia Gourlay and her mother Candy Quimpo Gourlay live in London. Mia is working on a film about mixed race identity and applying for a masters degree. Her mother Candy is a Filipino author who has won several awards for her children’s and young adult literature.

Candy: I think I was very aware that everything I do represents the Philippines, but at the same time, I’m also aware that I’m quite unique and I’m not like a lot of the other Filipinos I know. I mean, I don’t do all the other things that my friends seem to do, like cooking Filipino food, because it’s so labor intensive and I’m the only one cooking, washing and cleaning.

I feel like we kind of created a culture between ourselves. Our house was very open, which was not how my childhood was. I was never house proud about my living room. I always left the wall empty in my living room so that the boys could play football against the wall. I bought a trampoline that covered the whole of the garden, all the children in the neighborhood would come. At the same time, I also had that Filipino thing of “Have you eaten? You have to eat!” I would put food on the table so it’s kind of like a mishmash of the two cultures.

I really thought about what does it mean to be Filipino? It means you choose to call yourself a Filipino and that is why in all of my author bios, it says “Filipino author living in London.” I do that deliberately because I am aware that I’m representing and I’m making people proud.

My books are all set in the Philippines. I think that that was a big influence on Mia. I was so conscious of my children that this is a book with them in mind. Mia was eight when I wrote my first book, exactly the reading age for it. It’s called “A Tall Story.” The other day it was chosen by Booktrust, the biggest literacy organization in the UK, to be on the list of the best 100 books in the last 100 years.

It’s a culture clash novel. The two main characters take turns as narrators, when you read Bernardo’s voice, it’s perfect English. But when he opens his mouth to speak to his sister Andy, from Andy’s point of view, his English is really heavily accented. I was thinking about how people look at Filipinos here, I wanted to show that someone with a heavy accent could also have complex thoughts. They hear the accent, then they stop trying to look beyond that. This boy has all these complex thoughts, he’s so lovable and yet when he comes out, all people can see is that he’s a giant and he’s a foreigner.

Ten years ago when I was trying to get published, it was so rare to have any authors of color. The only way I got could get invited to a festival for a few years after I got published was to be on the diversity panel. They would ask us about our experience of being excluded, but I would just want to talk about story structure and the craft of book writing. I want to create books and make art and be who I’m meant to be. My books get read in schools here and when I go and visit them, you can see the light in their eyes when when you go in. The children all say, “We wish we were Filipino.”

Mia: I think being mixed you inherently have two cultures, or the culture that you live in and the other culture that isn’t the one that you are inhabiting. I don’t think that I have the experience of a Filipino person living in the Philippines, but I have my own experience of being Filipino, the things that I hold onto and grab onto and  try and bring to my home in the UK.

A lot of that centers around food, music and singing, and my mum, obviously.

I feel lucky that I don’t have a Filipino mum that is so strict and so religious as well. Actually, when she moved to the UK, she moved away from Catholicism and religion, and then kind of realized that she couldn’t live her life without it. Anwyay, she didn’t pass on the regimen that they have in the Philippines, like you live with your mum until you’re married; whereas my mum I think has adopted more of a British attitude since she’s been here, which I’m grateful for.

I would have been such a different teenager if I’d grown up in the Philippines.

I feel so grateful that I grew up in London and had my experience that I’ve had without the crazy strict Asian parents.

When I was at elementary school we used to do a magic carpet day every week where everyone would sit on the carpet and the people who have different cultures in the room would bring stories. Everyone would close their eyes, we had magic music and we would ride the magic carpet and when we open our eyes. So my mum came in one week she had put yellow mangoes in the middle of the room. She told the story about why the pineapple has a thousand eyes. I remember sitting there thinking “This is amazing! Not only is my mum making this whole room of children, just think ‘WOW!”’ But also I can claim this is my identity too!” I remember feeling so proud of that.

I love introducing the Philippines to my friends in different ways, not just in terms of the country itself, but in what I love about Filipinos. Whenever I meet Filipinos, we have the same kind of pride. It doesn’t matter whether you’re full Filipino, mixed Filipino, whatever. There’s a same kind of pride of being Pinoy and it’s such joy that you can immediately connect. It’s an attitude of wanting everyone to be family and everyone to enjoy your culture and your family. I would like people to know that being Filipino is family and how  close we hold each other, as family and the community as an extension of the family.

There are just so many different ways of feeling like you’re expanding your family when it comes to being Filipino.


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