BACKGROUND: My informant, AV, was born in the Philippines. His parents are also both immigrants from the Philippines and currently live in the US. This piece is an explanation of a gesture used in Filipino culture to signify respect. AV explained that this is something his parents taught him to do in front of elders.
CONTEXT: This piece is from a facetime call with my friend to talk about customs in Filipino culture.
AZ: A custom that we have in the Philippines is like — they can’t see me right?
Me: It’s only audio.
AZ: Okay well in my specific language, like my parents would be like, [speaks Tagalog] Like, I don’t know how to explain it, but basically, you take the person’s hand and hold it, you hold it in your hand and you kind of like, bring it up to your forehead like this. Basically, it’s like a sign of respect for your elders and usually you go to your aunts and uncles and do that. But like, it’s funny. I think like a lot of times when like adults don’t want to feel super old, they’ll be like, “Oh no, don’t do that.” But like, I guess as you get older, if you’re like my grandma or like my grandpa they definitely expect us to do it. All the older relatives too.
THOUGHTS: This gesture is really telling of the things that Filipino society considers important. As a kid, back when my parents were still fairly new to the US and staunchly steadfast in their culture, I had to show my respect to them by bowing my head and avoiding eye contact when speaking to them. On top of this, as the eldest daughter in the house. My mom always made me present a bowl of soap and water to my father and other older male relatives to wash their hands with whenever they ate dinner at our house. As I got older and my parents became more engrossed in American customs, I was no longer required to avoid eye contact or prepare my dad’s bowl. It’s interesting to me how the more “Americanized” I became the less I was required to show respect in the traditional way.
The informant and I are sitting on my bed in my room. It is about 9:00 pm and she is describing to me some of the stories she heard growing up that impacted her life and viewpoint.
Informant: “So the story was that there was a huge bowl of pears in the dining room table and there’s a little girl and she was the middle child and there’s like an older brother and a younger brother, I don’t think the gender matters. Then a friend came up to the little girl and asked her which pear she was going to get. The little girl ended up grabbing the smallest pear possible in that bowl. Then when the friend asked the little girl why she picked the smallest pear, she replied saying she was going to give a pear bigger than hers to her younger brother. When asked why, she explained how he has yet to experience the good things in life and that in order to know the good things in life he has to at least experience them once. So that’s why he’s experiencing the big pear first so that he knows that’s a good thing. Then she’s going to give a larger pear to both her parents and her brother because they’re older than her out of respect. Then the elders are the most respected and the leaders of the family, and giving them a larger pear is also kind of signifying like they don’t have as much life left to live and so we should be giving the riches of life to them because they don’t have as much time left. Kind of morbid in all honesty.
A: “How did this story affect your life growing up?
Informant: “Oh yeah it had a huge impact on me! Growing up, it’s one of the only stories that I remember from my Chinese book. I actually just asked my mom if she remembered any stories and she said ‘no’ and then when I told her that I remembered the pear story, she still didn’t remember that one. Then I explained it to her and asked her again if she remembered and she said ‘no.’ But that’s always impacted me because I feel that I’ve always tried to prioritize my parents a little bit more in the sense where I did have to respect them because they are my parents. Also, because I wanted to give them things more so because I knew that they wouldn’t have the chance to experience them again like I may have or I will be able to
A: “Was there any significance with the pear and why the pear was the fruit given?”
Informant: I think often times a pear is a symbol of royalty. Ya know how apples are associated with knowledge and giving that to teachers? I think the pear is a symbol of royalty and nobility. Especially in Asian cultures because I feel like everything is a pear versus an apple in Asian cultures.
Within Chinese culture, respecting your elders is one of the most important things. I think what this story is trying to tell children is to always respect those who are older than you because they have more wisdom and also to cherish them. This story also teaches children the joys of sharing with others and giving more to others than yourself. This is therefore then instilling children not to be selfish and care for others since you should want them to experience the best in life as well. Children’s stories play a large role in shaping who they are to become as they learn through examples. This story clearly had a large impact on the informant and has reigned true to present day.