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FSA Interviews Dr. Infante

Interviewee: Jhoanna Infante

Interviewers: FSA (Bernice Arreola, Lily von Behren, Nicole Serrano)

Bernice: Could you give a quick introduction of yourself and how you identify within the AAPI community?

Dr. Infante: Sure, yeah! I identify as Filipina-American. My parents were both from the Philippines, and they moved here in the 70s when they were in their twenties. My sister was born in the Philippines, she’s older than me, and then I was the first in my family to be born in the United States. Yeah, so, Filipina-American. I grew up here my whole life, but I’ve been to the Philippines a few times in my life and it was very close to my grandmothers, who lived with us sometimes. For long periods of time when I was growing up, my parents also built a kind of chosen family, I would say, in the US. So I had aunties who were not blood aunties, who lived on my same block, which is really special. So I got to grow up surrounded by lots of other people’s grandparents and my own, and also my cousins.

Lily: How do you think your heritage has shaped who you are today?

Dr. Infante: I think it’s in everything I am and I didn’t always realize that about myself, because I think that coming in my parents didn’t understand what assimilation would be like for us, and I had no consciousness of that while I was growing up. I just felt that questions built as I got older, such as Why do we live here? and Why am I the only Filipino kid in the school? or things like that. I think that my heritage is really deep within me in terms of my grandmother’s love and presence and you know all the love I received that was wordless from my grandmothers. It’s really deep within me in just the way that I connect to my own children, the values I have around community and being present, authentic, and loving. I think all those things are really a part of me, and then in terms of specific cultural things, I think food is really important. It’s a really big part of my memories and my comforts, so certain foods laughs and thinking about the people that always made those foods for us when we were kids.

Lily: Do you have any food in particular that you always think of?

Dr. Infante: My auntie would always make me mochiko, and I really love lugaw. I make lugaw too, it’s so comforting. It’s not something I liked as a kid though, I was more of a lumpia person as a kid. But now I love palabok and lugaw, sometimes caldereta, and empanadas. Yeah, those things.

Lily: I guess the food is related to the next question, but do you have any specific family traditions that you hold dear to your heart?

Dr. Infante: Yeah, so my grandma made suman, and when she was in the Philippines and somebody would come to California, she would send suman to me on the plane in these huge balikbayan boxes. I think the balikbayan boxes are just very characteristic of our culture, and it’s still going on, you know. So when I went back I brought huge boxes. So, I taught myself how to make suman. I did this with my housemates at the time, who were also Filipino. It just brought back so many memories to physically do this, and just remembering the taste, the texture. I think the traditions of cooking and then singing is a really big one. That continues today for me. I sing a lot; I grew up singing a lot of karaoke, and a lot of church music too, because I was Catholic, so we always went to church and listened to the choir, so we always had music. My kids love singing, so I sometimes have karaoke parties with my siblings, since all of us can sing – we all love it, everyone in my family loves it, so that’s super super fun. I’m really grateful for how musical my family and the culture is. I think it’s amazing how musical of a people we are.

Bernice: On that note, do you have any recommendations for songs, movies, shows, books, podcasts, for AAPI month?

Dr. Infante: Oh, okay! I love Lea Selonga, I’m sure this is pretty commonly known. I love anything Lea Selonga’s ever done, so I will follow anything she does. Although, I don’t know, I have mixed feelings about Miss Saigon, the musical, but her voice is still extraordinary. So, I think if one can bracket, or at least be aware of, the paternalistic arc of the whole thing, I think she actually transcends that, so I still listen to that musical sometimes, and I think the power of the words is just divine, so I love her. She’s a really big part of my identity, actually. Other stuff…when I was in college, I read a couple of novels by Filipino authors that were really important. One was by Jessica Hagedorn, called Dogeaters, and she writes in this postmodern kind of style, with many characters and there’s a lot about this really abundant and sometimes chaotic mix of Filipino and American culture, and so I think that that novel, and she was a writer, is really interesting. And there was another novel that I read in a Nationalism course in college called State of War, by Ninotchka Rosca, and that novel was really interesting because it really is a novel about Neocolonialism, and the separate systems in the Philippines, and this kind of fierce independence within the groups that didn’t want to be assimilated into the colonial systems, so I think that is a really interesting novel for someone interested in Filipino history, and in a kind of socialist or communist strain of thinking that comes from this novel, so these are a couple of selections. But, yeah, in the Philippines, those novels and a few others are really kind of critical to the history of the novel, and I think that’s something people don’t really know. Noli Me Tángere, I don’t know how many people have read that, but I think it’s a required reading in the Philippines if you’re going to high school there, it’s by José Rizal. That novel is very, very important in terms of the history of the novel as a nationalistic engine, and so I think that’s a really critical one to know about and read in order to understand some of that.

Lily: Thank you! How has your specific identity as a Filipino-American played out in your life, and what are the stereotypes that you’ve maybe faced, or heard, or experienced, of being a Filipino-American?

Dr. Infante: Oh, I think that’s a really interesting one. I think that - this might be general to Asian Americans too - but I think that there is a kind of docility expected of me, and it took me a long time to break out of that, but I think I have, at this point. I do feel that once I kind of liberated myself from those expectations of docility, I really found this kind of voice and willingness to stand up for things, that I also think is a part of our identity. I don’t really have a specific narrative around this, but I do feel like there is this strain of this kind of revolutionary past in me, you know. One story is that, on my mom’s side, there was a guerilla soldier, who was opposing the US colonization of the Philippines, and when I think of the landscapes of the Philippines, I think about that kind of resistance in the mountains, and that’s something that I really identify with. So, I think that within me, there’s this breaking through of that stereotype that’s put on a lot of women, and on a lot of Asian women, because of my size (I’m not very huge, physically), and I really came to resent that, because that’s probably not who anyone is, you know.

Bernice: How do you believe AAPI individuals contribute to the history and culture of the US?

Dr. Infante: Yeah, I think there are so, so many ways. That one’s a little hard for me because it’s so big. I just think Asian Americans are everywhere, and I think that there is like this, not for every individual, but I think that there is this, I don’t know if it’s assimilation or culture but there is like this strain of excellence, that I associate not only with Asian American literature but I see as a culture that is a part of it. Like a kind of discipline of excellence. It’s not always about academic success or successes, but it’s like excellence. In art, in music, in performance, in creative writing, in all of those things. I feel like there’s this precision and this edge that I see in a lot of Asian art.

Lily: Do you think that AAPI month accurately represents the AAPI community? Or, in general, what are your thoughts on AAPI month as a tool for incorporating more experiences in mainstream media? Like, in American media.

Dr. Infante: I’m not so tied into the monthly celebration. I think maybe it’s having more visibility now. I definitely think it’s a positive thing. And I know it’s going to be very broad, because there’s so many different cultures that would be considered Asian, or Asian American, under an umbrella. I don’t know if I really have a good response to that question. Actually, there’s one thing I do want to say in response to that. AAPI month…nationally, I don't have much of an idea of what that looks like, but at College Prep, I do, and I want to thank you both, and also all of the events going on this week. And then I think there’s just this kind of increased pride and representation that there’s so much more happening compared to five or eight years ago around Asian American cultures here at College Prep, so I think that’s so, so wonderful, and I’m grateful for it, so thank you.

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