In continuing our mini-series of creative profiles from the first part of the June 2019 issue, here’s another Fil-Am author making waves with the power of her words. In this e-mail interview, asienne spoke with San Diego-based author, Deborah Francisco Douglas about her Filipino-American identity and her new book, Somewhere in the Middle. This is the second of two creative profiles for the Asian writer’s series specifically for APAHM.
Name: Deborah Francisco Douglas
Known for: Somewhere in the Middle
Star Sign: Pisces
Tagline: Filipino American with a passion for making a difference. Writer. Blogger. Dreamer. Adventurer.
Here’s an excerpt from Somewhere in the Middle:
“My identity as a Filipino American had always felt ambiguous. It was definitely not something I felt I could claim as my own. Sure, I knew what lumpia—the Filipino version of an egg roll—tasted like. I had learned the tinikling, a traditional Philippine dance, and I remembered loud parties at my relative’s house where singing karaoke was just as important as the overflowing pot of white rice. But what did it mean to be Filipino? I couldn’t answer that question.”
A: In your own words, how would you define Filipino-American?
DFD: I have come to realize that Filipino American identity is actually much more diverse than people realize – and that’s a good thing!
I grew up thinking there was only one type of Filipino American and that if you didn’t experience the same things or weren’t able to relate to that one type, it meant you weren’t really Filipino American.
But my experience over the past few years has taught me that the term “Filipino American” can mean a lot of different things. Some Filipino Americans feel much more connected to their Filipino side and some much more connected to their American side, and most are somewhere in-between.
It’s important to recognize that we all have diverse experiences and that each is valid and at the same time we can still be connected through our common Filipino roots.
A: Considering the title of your new book, Somewhere in the Middle, do you identify more as one or the other?
DFD: In my book, I talk about this a lot. I found that the best way to describe what being in the middle is like is to imagine being in constant motion, like a dancer, moving back and forth between two different cultures.
To me, identity is a fluid concept and I find a lot of freedom in that.
A: What do you hope to convey with Somewhere in the Middle?
DFD: Everyone at some point in their life grapples with understanding who they are and where they fit into the world. For me personally, I had a longing to understand more about my Filipino roots and background.
I found it to be a transformational experience that taught me more about myself and changed the way I live and the way I view the world. I wouldn’t trade that experience – no matter how difficult it felt at times – for anything.
I want others to be inspired to take a leap and find their own personal journey, one that will transform them, move them, and change them for the better.
A: In the book, you talked about your excitement in receiving an assignment for the Peace Corps to travel to the Philippines because you wanted to know more about your Filipino heritage. How long was this trip of self-discovery? What did you feel then?
DFD: I had always longed to know more about my Filipino heritage. So, when I was coincidentally assigned to the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was unbelievably excited! It literally felt like fate to me. When I held that acceptance letter in my hand, I felt like I had received a special mission just for me. What was supposed to be a two-year volunteer service contract turned into three adventured-filled years.
A: Can you describe the most eye-opening experience you faced during this time?
DFD: When I lived in the Philippines, encountering the enormity of poverty in the country was a very challenging aspect of my work. Even though I had done volunteer work in the past that exposed me to poverty, I hadn’t experienced it on that level before.
At times it was overwhelming knowing that I could not fix everything, or help everyone. I had to learn how to accept my small role and do the best I could to make a difference in the world.
A: What do you miss most about your experience back in Baguio City?
DFD: I definitely miss my students – seeing their eager excited faces every day and getting to watch them grow and improve over time. I also miss the slower pace of life – everything in the Philippines takes time, whether for travel, waiting in lines, or waiting to meet a friend. It really helps you slow down and appreciate each day for all the special and ordinary moments.
Check out Somewhere in the Middle on Amazon.