an artwork by Billy Agustin
This digital art piece is an exploration of my cultural identity. I thought a lot about feeling split between my Filipino ethnicity and my American upbringing. As a child of immigrants, the culture of my parents is imbued in my own experiences. It impacts my life in a lot of ways, from the food I eat to the ideals I hold.
In the process of creating this, I used my hair as a representation of a part of my identity. My hair is extremely thick, and oftentimes difficult to deal with. It’s that coarse Filipino texture that frizzes in humidity, and contingently, a symbol of my cultural identity. It’s also gone through a great deal of evolution as I’ve sought to tame it. It’s been dyed and cut countless times, straightened, curled, and everything else in between. Nothing has ever been able to control it in a way that I am satisfied with, but I’ve learned to embrace it somewhat. In my artwork, my hair represents the part of me that is Filipino. Symbolically, the act of cutting one’s hair in the media is oftentimes shorthand for development and change in a character. It is cut here as a reference to this, as well as the degree of separation I feel from the culture. I know I’ll never truly be a Filipino, but at the same time, I don’t have the same ideologies, experiences, or lifestyles as the majority of my American peers. Even if I have come to accept my differences and learn that this doesn’t change my worth as a person, it still bothers me. I’m not sure if there will ever be a time where being stuck between cultures doesn’t bother me, but I think I can still be proud of my own evolution in grappling with that.
The flag and the details within it are very much a representation of what I’ve taken and learned from my Filipino culture. There’s the food I grew up with, Tagalog phrases I hear often, and cultural garb. Things that appear in my life without American influence, but still on the periphery of my existence. As an American citizen first and foremost, I do not possess the same pride and nationalism as Filipino citizens that have grown up in that archipelago. Hence why the red side of the flag—the one that represents such values—is featured the least in my artwork. It’s an act of reluctance and co-existing loyalties. I love the country of my parents, but I cannot truly call it home. Still, there are essences of myself that are fully defined by my Asian culture. The history is my own, as are the hopes held by the Filipino community. The liberty and freedom symbolized by the flag’s sun, a triumph to taking up arms against Spain—that is the story of my people. The white triangle embodies hope for equality, something I still yearn for despite my distance from the nation. And finally, the blue stripe: a representation of justice and peace. It id a message most important in the current climate of the nation that I’m witnessing before my eyes; for even if I cannot call the Philippines my home, it isn’t a place that’s entirely foreign. I will always care for the Pearl of the Orient, a place of people that I call my own, people that I care for. If anything, it is home in the strangest sense possible. The culture itself has become my home and part of who I am. I am Filipina, no less than any other, no less full of love for that country.
- Billy Agustin