Kuya and Ate

“A lot of Filipino culture is centered around respect for family, especially those people who are older than you in your family. There’s the word for older brother, you call him ‘kuya’ and for an older sister, you call her ‘ate.’ But it’s actually, it’s a form of respect to call them that. And if you have older cousins, it’s a sign of endearment to call them kuya or ate, just to show that they’re close to you. And to show that you look up to them. When I visited my family in the Philippines, I remember one of my little cousins… she was four or five, and she would come up to me and call me ‘Ate Bekah! Ate Bekah!’ It was really cool hearing that because it’s a term of endearment, so it shows that even though I had just met her… using that term is a term of respect. It really shows that that family member looks up to you and respects you as an older person. It felt awkward for me to use at first, because we don’t use it with my family back in America, but it’s a big form of respect in the Philippines. I had heard of the titles in passing, but I didn’t really know them until I went over there. I heard it with my cousins and people encouraging me to call my older cousins ate or kuya.”


As my informant said, the importance and continuation of this folklore in Filipino culture comes from the great respect they have for family and their elders. In addition to the surface level of conferring the title upon relatives as a sign of respect, continuing to use these titles in this way allows the younger generations to show their respect for the Filipino culture and traditions of the older generations. By keeping up customs that are held so dearly by the older generations, the younger generations acknowledge how important these customs are to the older generations in how they perceive of their culture. Continuing to use these customs is, in a way, a promise to the older generations that these traditions will be kept going even after those generations are gone. That promise commits the younger generations to respect their elders in the long-term in a way that goes beyond the simple use of the words kuya or ate.