Imposter Syndrome Through a Filipino-American Woman

Imposter Syndrome - the experience of feeling like a fraud or a phony; difficulty accepting their accomplishments and feeling a sense of failure.

In many ways, I felt that exact feeling as a Filipina born and raised in the Bay Area. Thinking back, I had many insecurities about my appearance, the people I grew up with and my place within the community.

I didn’t look like the half-American Filipino models I would see in commercials and my prettier, Filipino classmates and cousins had a lighter and whiter skin tone compared to my own dark skin. I was even mistaken for other races and ethnicities that weren’t my own throughout elementary school to high school! Incidentally, this led to a series of many whitening soaps and lotions to match the beauty standards I saw on screen. I wanted to change how I viewed myself and not feel like I was living in someone else’s skin.

But going beyond what was skin deep, I felt like a fraud in terms of how “Americanized” I was in my own home. I mostly spoke English even though I understood Tagalog. Of course, I loved watching Filipino shows and hearing stories told in Tagalog, but I was very much embarrassed about speaking my culture’s language, it did not feel right coming from my mouth. Even when I would visit the Philippines as a child, I was viewed as an “American” and felt the need to only speak in English despite wanting to try and communicate more in another language.

Reflecting on my upbringing and the experiences I had in an American home, my mother would say how much fun she had during Christmas in the Philippines and the number of bonds she made during school, still connecting with friends from elementary school. She also told me about the hardships she had to go through,cleaning and taking care of her younger relatives all while studying for school. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a teacher who taught elementary school children and told me countless stories of her and her many siblings while living in the Philippines.

As a woman, I felt that I should have been working harder at times and put in more effort to connect. I wanted to change, and what helped me open my eyes were the very people that I was envious of. My family, whom I hold very dear to my heart, helped me to see just how powerful women are. 

My mother would always say, “People are jealous of you. They want your skin tone here and you are beautiful.” My grandmother, who taught me Tagalog through television, encouraged me to speak and not feel afraid to be ashamed of my culture. The friends that I made throughout my life, also felt Imposter syndrome in one way or another. We spoke about our struggles and it made me realize how tight-knitted the community around me was. I no longer felt like I was the only person. This feeling could happen to anyone and it is normal to live through. 

I might not be to be “Miss Universe,” but I am still becoming more of a “dalaga,” or young woman, with each passing day and lessons I learn from the ones who surround me. So, in light of Women’s History month, I give you this anonymous quote, “Flowers grow, even after being stepped on.” Flower or otherwise, I hope that each one of us women continues to thrive and grow, no matter how trivial the struggle may be. Happy Women’s History Month!