Filipino Americans and the psychology of a middle child

When I am older, I will be stronger,

They’ll call me Freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.

(To hear the song, click Wavin\’ Flag )

These lyrics by the artist K’Naan are worth thinking deeply about, and for Filipino Americans, worth considering a life lesson. Freedom is a relative pursuit: we are never completely free; we are in an ongoing struggle toward personal and community development; we are in a constant battle to break free from everything that holds us back from manifesting our highest potential as individuals and as a group.

We are bound by things both external and internal; and while more and more of us have broken free from what some call colonial mentality, we seem to be bound in place, held back, by what I call the ‘psychology of a middle child’. It is not a new Filipino affliction, just a blind spot that we need to be aware of in order that we quash and summarily move past it.

The middle child often has a sense of ‘not belonging,’ of being out-of-place. He fights for attention because he feels many times ignored or diminished. She feels insecure, and often lacks the drive and clear direction abundant in the first-born.

Such is a middle child; and we are middle children.

We are surrounded by peer ethnic communities and peer nations that by most measures have surpassed us; and we are caught between two homes—that of our ancestors, and, the other, that of our choosing–which divide how we view ourselves as hyphenated Filipinos.

In the family of ethnic communities, we remain largely invisible and lacking a shared direction. What are Filipino Americans about? What do we stand for? What are we all working toward? In order to secure our rightful place among our peers, we cannot walk uncertain. We cannot walk without a well-defined destination. We need to jointly shape a proactive community agenda.

The answer links us back to the reason we are in foreign lands, in the first place. We are scattered across the globe for our families back home to prosper and be whole. Herein lies, too, the answer for many that ail us wherever we now live. We, too, must do for ourselves what we already do for our families back in the homeland: focus on how to thrive. This ought to be an overarching framework for a proactive agenda forward.

In this U.S. election year, as we are courted by those running for higher office, let us not give our support without strings attached. We only should pick–and pick well–those who will help us focus on how to thrive. We need to predicate our votes upon a new analysis that departs cleanly from our middle-child thinking and appraises our vital role in American society. We should vote only for those who will support a bold proactive agenda that we, ourselves, devise for our own future.

Society is not as color-blind as we would like it to be; not yet, at least. The average Filipino American life outcome remains shaped not only by individual effort, but also by the efforts of those with whom we interact, by those who measure our capacity based in part by our looking like the ‘Other.’  We cannot escape how we look like; even if we were able to scrub away all about us that is brown, we remain mag-kasing lahi. Kayumanggi. I-isang lahi.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” In these times of rapid and fundamental change, we ought to look at how we can change inwardly, such that we are able to articulate a shared proactive vision of our collective self and a coordinated effort forward. For if we do not, how, indeed, could we take full advantage of the opportunities—and the multiplicity of freedoms these opportunities represent out in the world–when we are fundamentally bound from within?


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