When Kristine Sloan wrote an essay about bicultural identity for her Creative Nonfiction workshop, she didn’t think it had much relevance to her upcoming family trip to the Philippines.
“I mentioned I’d be traveling to the Philippines for the first time and meeting a lot of my relatives,” Kristine remembers. “But I didn’t think much of it.”
After reading her essay, Kristine’s professor, Mark Nowak, suggested she pursue the subject of biracial identity and upbringing based on her personal experiences. Kristine grew up in Baltimore. Her father is American and her mother is Filipina, and much of her extended family still lives in the Philippines.
“I was just trying to show the juxtaposition between being the typical American kid who watches cartoons on Saturday morning and who also grew up eating Filipino food and trying to learn Filipino words so I could understand my family!” she says.
At Nowak’s urging, she applied for a Comegys Bight Fellowship to fund summer field research — in this case, reading and research about the Filipino-American experience, which coincided with her own trip to the Philippines.
“I wouldn’t have applied had my advisor not suggested it,” Kristine admits. “I was trying to find a way to merge the Filipino and American cultural values in my own life, and with this family trip in the works, it seemed like the perfect time to explore it in more depth.”
Before the trip, Kristine thought she’d experience the culture as she would traveling to any other country abroad. She was wrong.
“It’s not just going to another country. It’s a place that’s connected to me, and my family’s there, and I realized I belong to it in some ways,” she says.
Kristine and her parents spent three weeks in the Philippines, staying with her grandmother and exploring the islands with cousins she’d just met.
“They were all very excited to meet me and show me everything,” she says. They visited museums and national landmarks in Manila, toured the village where her mother grew up, and traveled to the beaches and shopping malls. Kristine especially enjoyed seeing the “real” Philippines that most tourists miss.
“My cousin has a motorbike and he drove us around the rural countryside. It was much better than seeing it from the inside of a car,” she said. “The landscape is much different, and people don’t really tie up their livestock, so you’ll see goats and chickens on the side of the road and rice paddies and caribou in the distance.”
When she returned from the trip, Kristine supplemented her experiences with readings about other Filipino-Americans.
“I didn’t know much about the history of Filipino immigration. Most of it occurred in the early 1900s with people coming to California to be farm laborers. It was pretty enlightening to learn about the stereotyping and racism they faced, because those things weren’t prominent in my upbringing,” she says.
Growing up, Kristine remembers occasionally feeling isolated from the rest of her family.
“I didn’t know many of my relatives and I hadn’t been to the Philippines. The relatives I had in the U.S. often spoke Filipino, because it’s their first language. It was hard to have family, something I’m deeply connected to, that I couldn’t truly understand,” she says.
The trip helped her come to terms with the ways she was affected by her bicultural upbringing and drew her closer to her family.
“I experienced the culture firsthand and also saw how readily they want to include me. Even though I can’t speak Filipino yet, they’re still my family and, since the trip, I really feel more like I’m part of it.”
- Majors: English and Philosophy
- Minor: Creative Writing
- Presidential Fellow
- Hodson Trust Scholar
- Writers’ Union, Treasurer
- Philosophy Club
- Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows