Brianna’s Interview with Cirila Keel

Introduction

Cirila Keel is my best friend Audrey’s grandmother who was born in Manila, Philippines, as one of thirteen children. Speaking two Filipino dialects along with learning English, she has given us the pleasure of listening through what her life as an immigrant has been like. Immigrating at the age of twenty-nine, after finishing college in the Philippines, she talks about how challenging it was, at the beginning, to find a job and make connections. However, after working hard and applying to jobs, about six months later, she landed her first job. I found Cirila’s story to be inspiring because of how much she values the culture that she is a part of. Not only how much she values it but also the fact that she has now passed it onto the generations that came after her, which are Audrey’s mom and now Audrey and her siblings.

A few fun facts that I have had the pleasure of learning about Cirila is that she can cook almost any Filipino dish. However, her favorite dish to make is called Philippine adobo. Philippine adobo can be meat, vegetable, or seafood on the inside along with many other flavorful ingredients that get browned in oil. Another fun fact about Cirila is that she retired from her job to take care of her grandchildren. A main theme that you will hear throughout the interview is that she prioritizes her family over anything else. 

Something about the Filipino culture that Cirila taught me is superstition. For example, both Cirila and my best friend Audrey do not buy their loved ones or people they know shoes because they fear that it brings bad luck. They can give people money to buy the shoe or something indirect, but they are not able to physically buy the shoe itself. Along with this, they do not wear shoes around their house.

Through learning different fun facts about Cirila and getting to understand and know her Filipino culture better, it is interesting to see what makes her who she is today. Along with her story, it has been interesting to see how many connections and parallels throughout her life have been lessons that we have learned throughout this course.

Comparing Cirila’s life in Manila to the United States

I was curious to ask Cirila if she felt as if she escaped any form of persecution in the Philippines only to trade it for persecution of a different nature in the United States.

Cirila mentions how individuals who live in the Philippines are more inclined to a harder life, especially if they are not wealthy. Starting off with the Philippines, the main difference that she shed light on was the fact that the majority of the household and physical labor that they have to do is manual. Whereas, in the United States, it is a lot easier because a majority of the labor that is done, especially in the household is done by machines. She mentioned how in Manila, they did not have laundry machines to help them do work around the house, it is mostly done by hand.

This idea that individuals who are not wealthy are more inclined to a harder life can be seen throughout the “Gender, Race and Sexuality” course. The first connection that I drew was in a recent unit about education. As we were able to hear in the lecture about education, the more wealthy you are, typically means the better education you receive. Also, the better access you have to resources that ultimately help you raise children and live in a healthy and sustainable environment. Wealth unfortunately is the equivalent to an unfair advantage. Children who are not as wealthy might not get the same resources and excellent education that kids who are wealthy receive. This connects because children and families who are not as wealthy are typically inclined to a more hard life in the United States just as it is in the Philippines. 

Cirila also mentions how life in the Philippines is a lot stricter compared to the United States. Due to the fact that my knowledge on many other countries is limited, it is interesting to me to find that there are such drastic differences in the way that we live our lives. For example, she mentioned that you do not have a lot of individual freedom when you are young. Whereas, in the United States, as soon as you turn eighteen, you are considered an adult and are eligible to get your own place. 

 “The freedom in the Philippines, parents are very strict. And parents, even though you are married, you still allowed, you stay with your house, parents are still helping you. Um, things like that. But, in America, if you are eighteen years old, you can go get your own apartment, even if you are still single and you can, you enjoy life. Much more freedom other than, um compared to the Philippines.” 

Although Cirila had an amazing childhood, there are many push factors in other countries that push people to immigrate. In relation to strict countries, after watching the documentary Unsettled: Seeking Refugee In America, we are able to see how immigrants come from countries that make their living conditions unbearable and immigrating is the only choice that they have left at a chance of a better life. As recently as September of 2019, the Philippines government declared same-sex marriage unconstitutional. This discrimination against same-sex couples could also play a role as a push factor for some immigrants. Although Cirila did not have unbearable living conditions in the Philippines, she came to the United States with hopes of creating a better life for not only herself but her family and future generations. She did just that, through hard work and never giving up on her end goal.

Subconscious Racism 

In the book we read earlier in the semester called Such A Fun Age, written by Kiley Reid, we saw the main character, Alix, be subconsciously racist to Emira. Alix and even the man that Emira was dating named Kelly both put an emphasis on her race, which drove a lot of the conversations that they had with her to be transactional due to the overcompensation and guilt-driven innate intentions. After reading about this, I wanted to ask Cirila if she has ever had an experience similar to this, as an immigrant woman in the United States.

“Yes. I experienced that at work and sometimes they look down on you, on your decision and even though you’re, you are always adjusting the right thing to do, so that’s only thing that I experience.”

After reading Such A Fun Age, it makes me question my own personal self-awareness in terms of recognizing my white privilege. This novel touches on many different subjects such as privilege, racism, and towards the end, character growth. It also shows how if we overstep boundaries and try too hard where effort is not needed, it can actually end up making things worse.

The reading called “Ways to Interpret Racism and Microaggressions” asserts that it is our personal choice to make a commitment to being antiracist. Just as it is our choice to stick up for not only ourselves, but other people when we see them experiencing racism. Being a non-racist is great, but it is not enough if you do not actively speak up against it because it will live on the longer you tolerate it when it happens in front of you. 

Philippino Pride

“I do not experience the change my life even if I am Asian because I enjoy my life to be Asian. So, I act as an Asian and I don’t like to be a caucasian, to me.”

“Speaking Spanish with Pride” by Yara Simon connects to Cirila’s story in that speaking Filipina is an asset to her identity. It is representative of her culture and is a part of what made her who she is today. It is very unfortunate that there has been an innate fear created today when it comes to one speaking their native tongue. This is disappointing because the bottom line is, the United States does not have one set language. All of the cultures that come together make the United States the country that it is. 

Lack or representation of women and people of color has consistently shown to be a major issue within our media. As we were able to see in the documentary “The Illusionists,” by Elena Rossini, many of the multi-billion dollar industries as well as the media, profit off of an unattainable beauty standard being showcased to America. This insecurity stems from the beauty standard consistently not being representative of them. When they look at models, and ads for these companies and they are not seeing themselves in any of these people, it is incredibly harmful to their self esteem.

While on the subject of representation, women are heavily represented in Hollywood and the film industry. In the Ted Talk which was given by Stacy Smith called “The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism,” we learned about something called the “Just Add Five” rule. This rule is basically a solution for the inequality that happens in Hollywood. If you look back at the top one hundred films that were made this past year and added five females with speaking parts to each film, a new norm would be created for the standard in Hollywood. It would be taking a step towards gender parity which is incredibly important.

Off of the interview, Cirila talked to me about how important she felt Kamala Harris getting elected as Vice President is for the country. Not only is she the first female Vice President but she is the first woman of color Vice President that has been elected. Now little girls can look up at the screen or pages in a history book and see themselves in her. There can finally be meaning behind little girls saying “I want to be like her when I grow up,” because now they are able to see that it is possible.

Being A Minority Woman In Today’s America

As we have been living in a patriarchal society for quite some time now, women around the country experience sexism as they have consistently been discriminated against. Women are considered a minority group primarily because they do not share the same privileges and power that men do. It is important to understand that along with gender discrimination, there is also race and class discrimination. When these cross paths, it is a term that we have learned called intersectionality. 

However, this fight for equality between men and women is not as easy as sexism being the problem on its own. As we learned in Bell Hooks book, Feminism is for Everybody, early on in the feminist movement, only white women who held privilege were getting attention and the privileges, not the majority of women. This is a prime example of racial inequality existing within feminism itself.

I felt that it was very important to ask Cirila if she thought her life would be different as a white man. I was interested to see how she interpreted the privilege that a white man has in America.

“Yes. It will change experience because of course caucasian people, white people, this is their originated place. Of course, they are at the beginning, they were the top people here. You have to listen to them and this. But, now people are really learning everything, um adapting everything, um white people’s life and everything, so it’s really everything is equal.” 

There have been several examples given to us throughout this course that prove the gender and race inequality that exists in the United States. This systematic racism and oppression that has been going on for centuries in our country have been put in place to favor white men. There has been a narrative set by white men who want to maintain power that you are not allowed to openly showcase your culture, as it “ruins the country.” However, they are just threatened by your comfort with your culture, so they want to create an innate fear to maintain power through systemic oppression. White people know that their whiteness gives them a certain set of privileges, so when people fight for equality, they do not want to lose those privileges because it will no longer make them socially superior. A quote that I remember that applies perfectly to this is, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression” by Chris Boeskool. 

Privilege is such an important topic because many people who possess privilege might not think it is a problem because it is not affecting them personally in a negative way. This is an incredibly harmful mindset because if everyone who held privilege were to think like that, we would not progress as a country in any way when it comes to equality. 

Conclusion

Cirila Keel is an inspiring woman because leaving her life in the Philippines in hopes of taking on a better life in the United States is far from an easy task. Something that never came up in our interview was how she got married to a white man which was not typical in her culture. She was the only one out of her six other sisters to get married to a white man. Unfortunately her husband passed away while fighting in World War II which is an obstacle that is incredibly hard for anyone to face. 

Towards the end of her interview I wanted to make sure that I asked her if she had any piece of advice for myself or young kids who are around my age. The one thing that she consistently put an emphasis on throughout the interview was to study hard and work even harder in order to reach your end goal. I think that it is very important to realize that going to college is a privilege. Many of us, including myself, often take this privilege for granted. However, when I come across people struggling to pay for their education through student loans, and no one helps them out, I gain immediate respect for them. But, I also make sure to reflect. When it comes to choosing whether to stay in and study or go out and hang out with friends, most of the time I am tempted to choose the easier choice. When I hear a story like this I really start to check myself and it makes me so thankful and appreciative for what I have. 

Also, another main thing that I took away from this interview was how comfortable Cirila Keel was in her culture and identity. Even after being “looked down on” at her job because of her culture when she came to America, she made sure to pass down the same culture onto her family. I thought that this was incredibly special because now my best friend Audrey embraces the Philippino culture and the culture can live on throughout the generations. I was also curious to know if Cirila had any advice to give to her younger self. Again, she made sure to emphasize how important studying is. But what she said to her younger self also included getting a job that she likes. The ultimate goal in life is to be happy. She is a great example of how far hard work and dedication can get you. I am so honored that she took the time to sit down and let me interview her about her life story.

Audio File Of Entire Interview

Works Cited

Bells Hooks “Feminism Is For Everybody”

Unsettled: Seeking Refugee In America

Such A Fun Age, Kiely Ried

Ways to interpret Racism and Microagressions

Speaking Spanish With Pride by Yara Simon

Elena Rossini, “The Illusionists”

Stacy Smith “The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism