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“How well do you know yourself?”, seems an easy question to figure out but when being asked you could be thinking twice. Do I really know myself as an individual or do I need to depend on what other people perceive on me? Somehow, a simple question becomes complex when followed by another question as possible responses or ideas become broader. Identity relates to every choice we make, and these choices reflect who we are and what we value. In our daily life we are making choices on what we do such as what to eat, what to wear, going to work or school, or taking the bus even though the destination is just three stations away. Every choice we make is the result of what we believe we are as a person including what we value from our experiences and the people who influenced us especially our family who has been part of our lives ever since. Even in the long run we have choices or decisions we need to work out like choosing our priorities and objectives in life. Defining our identity is necessary as it leads you to what you want to fulfill in life, but isn’t even possible?
I grew up in Philippines where society are well known as collectivism. Filipinos most value the loyalty to family, extended family, and extended relationships. Most Filipino middle to low classes children are most likely obligated to support their parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews after they finish their studies. Some, generally from lower class families go straight on finding job after finishing their secondary level of education just to sustain the needs of their family. Just like my aunt who went to Germany 15 years from now to provide a better life for her mom and other siblings. According to experts, society and culture play a major role in forming a person’s identity. I believe that my family has a big of an impact on my current identity. But despite of that, I could not deny that the people that I encountered or the environment that I had been do influenced my perspective in different aspects.
My whole life I live in the most populous urban area of the Philippines, Metro Manila or also known as Manila. Streets full of dirt, polluted air, garbage mostly different plastic products, worse traffic jams and fully packed public transportation, these are the things I was so used to that I was filled with astonishment the day I arrived here in Germany. But one thing I first noticed when I got here was how open the people are on being affectionate. I was a bit shocked seeing couples snogging along the streets during my first few days here. In my home country, you can barely know that opposite sexes are dating for unwanted stares cannot be avoided when couples display affection publicly in some extent such as snogging. But despite how socially acceptable this matter here, I still perceive it as improper and should have done only during the couples’ private moment. Regardless of how people can be easily influenced by other cultures mainly because of rapid growth of social media, I believe that the values implanted from wherever an individual came from cannot be easily reestablished. My ran-away strict grandmother took care of me since I was born while my hard-working single mother was a stay-in laundrywoman ironing piles of bed sheets and pillow cases on above average working hours at a prominent hotel just five minutes away from the Manila International Airport.
My mother is sixth of nine siblings, they grew up together in a twenty-five square meter house and barely have necessities. But no matter how hard their life was, her parents always found ways to serve three meals at their table daily. Then my mother grew up and found any jobs to survive. She was a vendor, a house keeper, a nanny, and a laundrywoman until she met my father and had me. I remember I was about five when I used to cry out to my mom and innocently asked her why she has been always out of sight even before I woke up in the morning and barely went home at night. “I need to work hard to be able to provide you milk”, she answered.
Sunday was my favorite day of the week as I got to go out with my mother and eat in a food court mall after we went to church, some Sabbath’s day I got even more excited when my grandmother comes along (of course when she was in the mood, which rarely happens). My grandmother came from the Southern part of the Philippines, Mindanao, where people are known to be authoritarian may it be influenced by the Muslims whom predominated the Southern region even before the Spaniards colonized the country in 1565. She was a 14-year old teenager who ran away from her poor ethnically iron-handed parents after she was being disciplined and almost killed by her hot-tempered and alcoholic father. Turned out to be that she was just like her parents, except on being alcoholic of course. Long umbrellas, thick rubber slippers, her favorite hard plastic hangers, and anything she sees possible, these were the classics used by my grandmother to hit, spank or throw at me whenever I did something against her moral values. But despite how authoritarian she was, I learned to appreciate on everything I have because of her. She used to always remind me and my cousin that we are lucky enough as we do not need to harvest rice or work by the sweat of our brow to earn money, we can invest to a good education in a prestigious University, and mostly we can bite whatever food we want. Being family is the primary source of a person’s identity, I believe the humble beginnings of my mother and the way my grandmother used to discipline me at my early years served as the foundation of what I am today. Life would not get any easier, but it gets better if you work hard and have values that you are taking care of. In my case, it was the two important women who imparted me the values that I still have right now.
“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human…” This quotation from Aristotle was mostly adapted by social experts especially on proving theories. Culture and family are two of the relevant aspects that I consider shaped my identity. Though I am not always with my family’s company, there were people whom I believe has also been part of my being and has taught me a lot especially on the long run. I like to differentiate them as friends and colleagues. Colleagues who just know the explicit or visible aspects I have. I call them colleagues as they are the people whom I met in school, university and institutions that I’ve been, also had a talk for a while but just in a casual way. People who has been part of me for years now and may include few of my relatives, whom I had and still have a constant connection with are what I call Friends. They have known me not only the top part of the iceberg of my personality but also the aspects I hid below the water line that includes my sentimentality. These kinds of people have influenced my social skills especially on handling conversation with different people. I have a limited basis of culture identity as my whole life I grew up at the main city of the Philippines. Despite of that, my family and I still consider some practices and traditions of people from Southern part of the Philippines because of my grandmother. I was not exposed to an international environment since I came in Germany.
English is just my second language, so it has been a bit difficult for me to express myself with people who doesn’t speak my first language. Even though I’ve been here for just six months, there were things that I noticed far different from where I came from when it comes to communication. One of them is the humor. I remember when I first had lunch with my aunt and her two German employers. We were talking about something and I cracked a joke to make the conversation a bit lively. But my aunt’s employers didn’t get it, so instead it turned out to be an awkward situation. When it comes to communicating with international people, being able to relate with them is not that difficult for me.
My sense of sympathy, which I believe came from the hardships my family went through and people I encountered, somehow helps to be able to understand different people. That’s why my expectations on other people differ on how much I know or understand them. Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel (2010) stated that the primary exposure of a person’s identity such as culturally accepted beliefs, values, and social roles came from his or her family. I totally agree on this statement as I whenever I face arguments on different aspects, I still foremost consider what my mother and grandmother have taught me. Things such as knowing my value on getting in a relationship, keeping my feet on the ground, and even learning the household chores because I am a woman. In the same way, people I encountered and difficulties I went through has also influenced my current identity especially on dealing with either life predicaments and breakthroughs.
Determining our own identities is possible if we acknowledge the factors that affect them, may it be from culture and society we grew up with, gender identity, or ethnicity. But seeing the picture sometimes lead to confusion, but as the time goes by we will learn to choose the factors that we most valued for. Eventually those values would be instinctively reflected on our actions.
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