“There were a lot of times that people called me weird because I was too quiet.”


I’ve found that there’s a big difference between the open and communal feeling of American culture and the backward, closed-off lifestyle of the people in the Philippines. Filipinos are taught to look down on each other and pull each other down. The confidence of the people is destroyed by society to the point where you can’t dress or act how you want.

We are taught to feel personal shame. You are supposed to be ashamed of yourself. You are not supposed to be proud or bring great attention to yourself. You’re not supposed to tell people about your success, because you must always worry about what other people think about you. Let’s say a kid receives really good grades. They are taught to be quiet about it. I refer to this mentality as “crab mentality.”

You are also expected to lean on and be dependent on each other; if you don’t, there is something wrong with you, and you will be ridiculed. I was constantly isolated growing up because I have a strong personality, and I asked questions. You’re not supposed to question or fight for anything.


I was born in the Philippines and raised by my grandparents on my father’s side. My parents were living in the United States, trying to establish a new life. They would come on vacation to the Philippines once a year, for vacation. I was brought to them at 16, and they took me to the States with them for the first time.

Because I went back and forth between the US and the Philippines, I felt isolated in the Philippines. The people in my community thought that I had too strong of a personality. I was considered too artistic and opinionated.

Growing up as a child in my home country was not easy. Internal racism was a big problem. I saw the media make fun of people with dark skin. Filipinos are dark-skinned people. There was an absolute hierarchy according to what race you were, and Filipinos were always at the bottom. They just took it and didn’t fight back.

I’m actually considered “Chinita” there because I am part Japanese; therefore, I had lighter skin and more East Asian-like features, so I was treated better than most. My sister, for instance, always looked very Filipino. Growing up with that value in mind–that Filipinos are ugly–was really damaging, especially for me and my sister. I would look down on her just because she looked Filipino. It is so deeply ingrained in our system and can cause a very toxic environment.


I was 16 the first time that I moved to the States with my parents. We were living in Texas, which is where I ended up going to college. It was amazing. I found that people actually respected me in the US. I was praised for speaking out about the things that I was passionate about. I adapted to my new home quickly and was shocked by how fast I was able to make friends and how comfortable I felt.

I started the process of shedding the “crab mentality” that had been forced on me my entire life. It took me a few months, but I was very lucky to be surrounded by supportive people. I started participating in a lot of activities, especially dancing. I felt very comfortable in my own skin. I ended up staying in Texas for four or five years before I had to move back to the Philippines to deal with a family issue. That’s when my real struggle started.

When I moved back home, I had to adjust all over again. In the States, it was like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Going back home, the weight was put back.


People would say to me, “You’re too confident.” “You’re too arrogant.” They would tell me that I came off too American, which was why people didn’t like me. Apparently, when you walk into a room, it’s not okay to hold your head high and be proud. You’re supposed to have shame, with your head down. ‘Ambitiousness’ is a bad word.

I was living with my family, but I wanted to make my own money. I didn’t want to have to rely on them for anything. So I got a job at a call center to be more independent. Trying to fit in was really hard. My co-workers would constantly make fun of me. Humor is one of the strongest defense mechanisms in our culture, but this wasn’t funny. It was downright mean.

For example, when I announced that I would be leaving my position at work, a male co-worker who I considered to be a friend reacted by saying, “Just kill yourself.” And when I told him that it was not okay to say that, he came back with, “Valerie, you are too Americanized. You’re not supposed to take anything seriously. It’s a joke.” If someone wants to make fun of you, you need to make fun of yourself and make fun of them back. It was like grade school but in a professional, adult workplace.


I was feeling lost. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I was confused by the conflicting things I was being told. If I’m fighting for something, it’s wrong. If I’m not fighting for anything, it’s still wrong. If I’m too confident, it’s bad. But when I’m quiet and withdrawn, I’m “too quiet.” Too strong, too weak, too quiet, too loud… There wasn’t anything that was right for them. I wasn’t encouraged to talk about my emotions, which led to me not having much family support. I was left on my own to try to work my way through this confusion.

The specific event that made me decide that I needed to leave the country happened in Hong Kong. I was there visiting a college friend, and she knew my personality well. On the second night I was there, she sat me down and said, “Valerie, you’ve changed a lot. You’ve lost your confidence.


There’s obviously something wrong. What happened?” I remember breaking down and crying, and she assured me that I hadn’t done anything wrong, that there was nothing wrong with the real me. She said, “Yes, you are talkative, you are lively, but you are an entertainer. That’s what attracts people to you.”

I decided right there that I wasn’t going to care anymore what people thought of me. I was going to move back to the US. So when I went back home, I had this attitude of, “I don’t care what you think anymore.” I made my decision. The next 10 months I spent saving and planning were a struggle, but the thought of going back to America kept me sane.


I came back to the US and to the people who were supportive of me. I have so many good friends now. There are none of the same problems from home. No one is putting me down or demanding that I adapt. Now I am valued for my outgoing personality, and my creativity. There are times when I feel happy, and I think, “Oh, maybe I’m too happy. Will they think I’m too confident?” But I recognize my blessings.

I know that coming to the States is a blessing. The people in my life, who do nothing but offer help, are one of the biggest blessings. My life right now is so good. I’m pursuing a career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. I’ve had some success as an actor and stand-up comic, and I have had so much support from my friends here. They genuinely want to build me up, and I’m not used to that. I feel free. In the Philippines, I felt like a bird trapped in a cage. Now I’m flying. Nothing can stop me now!

I don’t want to seem like I totally look down on Filipinos. I love a lot of our traits. We’re very family-oriented and loving. It’s the toxic traits I cannot handle. I’m going to keep talking about it. I want to get rid of the “crab mentality.” I want to give them individual pride and confidence.

It’s never easy to change society or influence someone else, but there is always hope. You have to find someone who is going to encourage you and love you for who you are. When you finally make the decision to be yourself, that’s when people will come around to support you.