Filipino students community embraces ‘huge diversity’ at UH
UH exists in one of the most global cities and as one of the most diverse universities in the nation.
The Filipino community within the University reflects that reality. This community is comprised of a mosaic of dialects and culture made up of people who know how to adapt and share their values with outsiders.
“As Filipinos, you assume it’s one culture, but in reality, there’s a huge diversity in that one community,” said business freshman Angela Villaruel. “That’s beautiful.”
Filipino students at UH can find a vibrant community that shares their background, even if they feel like they’re losing their sense of identity.
Villaruel speaks Tagalog, one of the largest dialects among over 150 in the Philippines. She wasn’t born in the Philippines but lived her early, language-forming years there.
Her siblings don’t speak Tagalog because they were born in America and never had the chance to live in the language as she did, Villaruel said.
Villaruel didn’t have the chance to use Tagalog often in her daily life and most Filipinos she knew spoke English or another dialect.
Richard Nigos, a chemistry junior who grew up in Cavite near Manila in the Philippines, said he predominantly speaks English except when he talks with his parents.
Speaking Tagalog was less useful in Houston than Spanish or Vietnamese, Nigos said, but meeting another Filipino was “special.”
Psychology sophomore Sofia Nicole Lumbo speaks Tagalog fluently but finds her thoughts are mostly English now.
“I woke up once and was thinking in Tagalog,” Lumbo said. “That was really weird for me.”
Lumbo’s parents reinforced speaking Tagalog and showing her Tagalog in media, Lumbo said, and she had no difficulty learning English by living in America.
“It’s not hard if you’re exposed to the other language a lot,” Lumbo said.
A teacher asked Villaruel in preschool what her favorite fruit was, and she said “mangga,” which is the Filipino word for mango, confusing the teacher and herself in the process.
“I didn’t know there was another word for the fruit,” Villaruel said. “It was always called mangga to me.”
Keri Isabel Semilla, a public health sophomore, was born on an island called Cebu in the Philippines. She speaks a dialect of the Filipino language called Bisaya, specifically Cebuano, which can cause minor issues when speaking with other Filipinos.
“I definitely can’t respond as quickly and there are references I can’t catch because I don’t actually speak (Tagalog),” Semilla said. “I can’t make the same quality of jokes I could make if I was speaking Bisaya.”
Semilla moved from the Philippines when she was 2 years old and grew up near Brownsville at the border, where a community of Filipinos that speak Bisaya have gathered into a “mini-Philipines,” she says.
However, Semilla said she was happy to find a community at UH in the Filipino Student Association, as she felt she’d lost touch with Filipino culture.
‘Open and welcoming’
The Filipino Student Association is dedicated to promoting Filipino culture through performances, demonstrations and social gatherings.
UH’s chapter of FSA participates in an annual event called The GoodPhil Games, put on by the Southern Collegiate Filipino Alliance, where students compete in dance and a two-day sports tournament.
“You get to hang out with people from your culture, and promote that culture to people that don’t know about it,” Nigos said.
FSA is also open to non-Filipino members interested in learning more about the culture.
“FSA is very open and welcoming,” Lumbo said. “They want to bring people in.”
Semilla said FSA was “everything” for her because she has found a place where she could embrace her culture without feeling embarrassed.
“Even though I miss my mom and my dad, and my family in the valley, and in the Philippines,” Semilla said in Bisaya, “coming to Houston I found people I love because I chose them and they chose me.”