SAN FRANCISCO — “I grew up in a small village in Sangat, M’lang, Cotabato where television was nonexistent and there was no electric power,” recalls Pearl Alba-Donapel, 41. Now she is raising her kids in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she stands up to any form of discrimination by being proud of her heritage and challenging herself to be armed with knowledge.
Growing up in a farming village without electric power at night did not hinder her education. Pearl walked five kilometers to attend a Catholic high school in Cotabato. After college, she went to Davao City to work. In 2001 she met her husband, Steve, now 46. Eventually, they became engaged. Pearl flew to Philadelphia in 2002 where they got married on October 12, 2002.
Marrying an American does not make an immigrant an instant citizen. It took five years before Pearl got her citizenship. She was a full-time mother to Chynna, Stephen and Christian Matthew. Her husband owns a commercial plumbing company and rents and sells flipped houses.
In mixed marriages cultural differences cannot be set aside. Pearl has to struggle on this too, but in the end mutual respect and love tend to prevail.
“My husband likes to express himself and (is) straightforward. I am not used to it. In our culture if you have a displeasure with something, you choose your words wisely and sometimes, we, Filipinos tend to hide it to avoid confrontation and argument. It’s different in their culture. We agreed that if I don’t feel like talking about my feelings he is going to leave me alone so I can communicate better when my mind is clear,” says Pearl.
Struggles of an Asian woman
“My race is Asian and my gender is female. I belong to a minority group and the discrimination sometimes doubles. Well, first being female is perceived as weak, and we have to always prove ourselves that we are as intelligent as men–and equal to any race,” Pearl says.
She has also experienced discrimination on the streets.
“One time we went to an Asian restaurant in Philadelphia and my daughter and I had a coffee. But because it was so hard to get into the car, I put the coffee on the ground before entering the vehicle, to pick it up once we were inside. A middle-aged man approached us and told us that we should pick up the coffee cup because people like us ruin the neighborhood. I was so nervous because I could see the anger in his eyes. We didn’t say anything because I was worried that he might do something bad to the car. So we decided to drive away,” relates Pearl.
Pearl admits that discrimination is hard to pinpoint, but she says that “accent” gives you away and and often places you at the bottom. She also experienced some people making faces at her or just ignoring her when she has something to ask. When this happens, Pearl gets the person’s attention and asks when he or she plans to entertain her, or asks if something is wrong. This way, she shows her strength to stand up against subtle forms of discrimination.
She is not discouraged. Instead, she challenges herself to improve and to be more open to others’ perspectives. She reads extensively on the history of America, the society, religion and philosophy. Pearl believes that the best way to fight any form of abuse or discrimination is with knowledge.
Pearl’s experiences do not give her negative perspective on Americans. She says that she has experienced worst treatment from fellow Filipinos.
Pearl decided to study nursing in 2011. After she finished the pre-requisites in another university, she enrolled in nursing with a minor in philosophy at Gwynned Mercy University (GMU). Aside from reading novels and assigned readings in her nursing subjects, she also invested in a writing tutor to polish her writing skills.
Pearl’s hard work pays off. She is consistently on the Dean’s List and has earned scholarships. She is in the Honors Program at GMU and expects to graduate in December.
When it comes to raising their children, the Donapel kids are disciplined.
“We decided not to indulge them too much. For example, they can only buy what they want such as toys and gadgets during their birthdays and Christmas. We don’t throw birthday parties because we want them to think that celebrating birthday is not only limited to parties but by spending quality time. We go to their favorite places like Hershey amusement park or the beach,” explains Pearl.
Having a Filipino heritage, respecting the adults is important. The kids are allowed to reason out, but not to raise their voice. Pearl also sees to it that her kids are respectful to her Filipino friends. Obedience as a Filipino trait is also important, but the kids must also stand up for themselves and for what is right.
Pearl emphasizes that learning Filipino culture is a must since it is a part of her kids’ identities as persons. To further expose them to their heritage, the Donapels visited the Philippines in May 2015 which left lasting memories of their mother’s life in Mindanao.
Raising them as voracious readers is an advantage. Her eldest, Chynna, a junior in high school, is already taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which are credited when she attends university.
Badge of identity
Pearl says that her children are very much aware of their difference mainly because of her looks and her “Filipino accent,” which she proudly wears as a badge of identity.
“I am very grateful that I live here in the States because of the opportunities and a better life. It never occurred to me that I would be raising my family here. From the interior village with a primitive life and to the greatest country on earth, I would say, God is good because my path changes and leads to a better life,” Pearl says.
“Do not just be a wife and a shadow to your husband. Pursue things that will enrich yourself. As judge Judy Sheindlin said ‘beauty fades, dumbness stays forever.’ Seek things such as education, skills that can help you land a job, and you will be happier and flourish as an individual,” she ends.