Stolen to be Given
By Amihan del Rosario-Tapan
Stolen to be Given is a piece connecting my name and religion. Two things that were chosen for me and their role in shaping my identity.
My name was given to me as a way of taking back what was stolen. I’m more American than anything else, but according to Ancestry, I’m 86 percent Filipino. I’ve only been to the Philippines once when I was 3, but I can only remember glimpses like a dream. I eat the food and laugh at Jo Koy, but at the end of the day, my knowledge of Filipino culture comes from stories, not experience. My name is Filipino, but it represents the Philippines after colonization more than it does before.
The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain in 1521, naming the 7,100 islands after King Phillip II. This period lasted about 377 years, ending with the Philippine Revolution; however, throughout this period, Spanish culture was weaved through Filipino culture, bringing Catholicism to the islands and creating similarities in the language.
My parents chose my name from a pamphlet of Filipino names deciding on Amihan, meaning harvest winds. The tradition of choosing Filipino names came from my Ninang C (aunt and godmother), who gave her son a Filipino name. When I asked her what started it all and why she decided to give her kids a Filipino name, she told me,
“My identity as a Filipinx was something that defined me. When we were growing up I didn’t have a lot of people around me teaching me about the things that were beautiful and rich and impressive about our culture prior to colonization. I chose names that reflected the culture prior to colonization because I felt like that colonization process convinced a lot of generations to forget the richness and the beauty that we had before whiteness became the dominant culture. So for me it was a radical way of not just being nationlistic but trying to excavate the magic and the intelligence and the wellness of what our community had prior to white supremacy.”
Today, 76 million people in the Philippines are Catholic out of a total of 106.7 million people. My Lola (meaning grandma in Tagalog) went to an all-girls Catholic school in the Philippines taught by German nuns. So did her mom and her aunts. Her Lola went to church three times a day. According to her, this means that they were all “good catholics.” So when she came to the states, she insisted that her daughters follow in their family’s footsteps and put my Mama and her sister in St. Josephs in Demarest, New Jersey, for 12 years. They attended church every Sunday, every holy day of obligation, and every holiday.
On my Papa’s side, my Grandma, while raised Catholic, went to public school because she couldn’t afford private school tuition. When she immigrated to America, she put her kids in Catholic school out of practicality. She told me it was because the teachers always go on strike in public schools, and they have so many holidays. In her words, “What will they learn if there’s never school?”
They were raised Catholic and still believe in God, but as my parents grew older, they slowly distanced themselves from the Catholic church. But I was still baptized before I could talk. I was still enrolled in Sunday School. I still awkwardly confessed three sins to a priest for reconciliation and walked down the church aisle in a little white dress my Mama also wore for her first communion. The only things I chose for confirmation were Saint Pudentiana and my sponsor.
A baptism is an act of welcoming people into the Christian religion. One of my close friends was baptized when she was 8 in the ocean. I was baptized when I was less than 1-year-old. In her religion, Christianity, she is baptized when she believes Jesus was a savior. She got to choose whether or not she wanted to be a part of the Christian community. I did not. Like my name, my religion was given to me.
It began with a man dressed in a purple silk robe coming out of a mansion filled with jewels. On his way to his brothers, he is stopped by a man on the floor. The man is dirty, his teeth are rotten, and his hair looks like a ship’s rope. The barefoot and filthy man begs for the food scraps that fall off the rich man’s table. With a smirk, the rich man asks, “Then what will my dog eat?” as if it was preposterous for a poor man to ask such a thing. The scene transitions back and forth between the men, where each of them passes into the afterlife. For the poor man, he finds himself in an oasis filled with beautiful green fields and architecture. Set with a feast for him, so he never has to go hungry again. Paul greeted him with open arms explaining to him he was in heaven. The poor man hears screaming for help. As he turns his head, he sees the rich man dodging sparks in a dark, rocky hell. “Ignore him,” Paul told the poor man and guided him to his seat. His silk robes were ashy now as a large fire chased him through hell, which eventually ended with a cliff. He screamed all the way down.
The thing about this concept of Heaven means there is also Hell. In CCD, we were shown a video of what happens if you break God’s wish, and it completely terrified me. I thought talking back to my parents would give me a one-way ticket to eternal torment (I wonder what 8-year-old me would say about me now), but my Mama told me children don’t go to hell. Still, 8-year-old me knew this was not Neverland.
The guilt that comes from hell is one of the reasons my Mama took such a big step away from Catholicism in the first place. I would feel guilty for missing church, skipping nightly prayers, everything I did that my Sunday School teachers told me I shouldn’t do. Then again, God does not expect perfection.
According to those same Sunday School teachers, the only unforgivable sin was not forgiving. As long as you prayed to God for forgiveness, you could repent from your sins. However, According to my Grandma, her faith and relationship to God is not as strong as my Lola’s because she did not walk a straight path. Her windy path is what makes my Grandma, my Grandma. It is the mistakes we make and learn from that contribute to our character development. Why should we have to apologize for our faults if they are what help us grow as human beings?
If God’s slogan is forgiveness, then have the priests that sold tickets to heaven gone to heaven? What about the ones that have molested children? From eighth grade till now, I’ve been learning about the corruptness that is the Catholic church. The power-hungry men and the control of entire countries through The Churches connection to The Crown. There has to be some sort of limit on which sins are unforgivable and which aren’t because otherwise, hell would be empty.
Not to mention all of these are bizarre by themselves. How was I supposed to just believe in God if there wasn’t proof? What if Jesus was just high? On top of all these contradicting beliefs, I didn’t even understand how the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are all the same thing? If witches and unicorns weren’t real, how come Jesus was? My Lola told me these detailed stories from the bible with so much confidence while I was struggling to comprehend the Holy Trinity. My doubt made me feel guilty. And guilt, as we know, is a theme in religion.
For a long time, I didn’t like my name. I was tired of having to emphasize the “Uh” when teachers called me “Ah-me-han”- and I always had to correct them. Whenever we had a substitute teacher, and my name was mispronounced, my friends would tease “It’s UHHHH-mi han” in unison as I had done so many times before alone. I hated it when people asked if they could call me “Ah-me” as a nickname. “No, it’s not my name, and it would be ‘Uh-me” anyways.”
I had one friend who gave up correcting her PE teacher every time he mispronounced her name. She decided she wanted to be named Emily. For me, I wanted to be named Lily. Amihan sounded unnatural and weird, but Lily, Lily was delicate and simple. No one would ever mispronounce it. It was common, so people wouldn’t follow up with questions like “oh that’s pretty where’s that from?” or “huh I’ve never heard that before.” It would just be “Hi, my name is Lily,” and that would be that. I chose Lily because I was reading Harry Potter for the first time, and I loved Harry’s mom’s name, Lily. I would make up scenarios where I was a Harry Potter character named Lily, who looked like Fleur Delacour, a blonde white girl with a sharp french accent. A girl I was nothing like.
I felt far away from my name. At this point, being a third-generation Filipino, my family had successfully assimilated and adopted American customs. The act of assimilation sacrifices part of your origins and where you come from. You lose something. I lost something I didn’t even have, yet I was the one stuck with the Filipino name.
In many ways, my name is symbolic of my family’s journey. It represents our ancestry and what we’ve been through to get where we are right now. Maybe I am more American than Filipino, but my name gives me the connection to my roots that I lack in experiences. My name is different, and people will always mispronounce it on their first try, and I’ve accepted this. And even though it’s tiring, I just have to correct them because it’s important that they say it right. The uniqueness of my name does not make it any less elegant than the name Lily. It makes it more beautiful to me because of the culture it represents. My name is rich in history and culture. I’ve grown into my name. Amihan “excavates the magic and the intelligence and the wellness of what our community had prior to white supremacy.”
My thoughts on my religion are constantly adapting. I am always questioning and exploring what religion means to me and how I want it to play a role in my life. At this point in my life, I still consider myself Catholic; however, I have created my own sect of religion that works for my beliefs and values. I have discovered my own relationship with Catholicism.
I still incorporate God in my life because I need some kind of higher power to feel less lonely in the world. The one thing that has remained from my religious upbringing is prayer. I used to pray every night, talking to God like he was a homie I was trading food within the Cafeteria. I would say, “Hey, if you make the Eagles win, I won’t curse for a day.” Other times I would feel guilty for asking for things from God instead of appreciating what he did. This is unhealthy. Now I pray when I have to. Praying inconsistently is okay. I choose to believe in heaven because otherwise, the fear of death would take over my life. I believe that you don’t need to go to church to be faithful, nor do you have to go to church three times a day to be a good Catholic. It’s okay to have your doubts, and having them doesn’t make you any less Catholic. Religion is not a competition.
The environment in which Christianity spread was full of power-hungry men, and to this day, people are still looking for ways to climb up the power ladder through Christianity. Just recently, the Pope said that the LGBTQ community deserved respect, and while Catholicism isn’t quite there yet, it’s beginning to get there. If you study any religion or country, it is clear that complex human emotions have driven abhorrent events. These dark parts of history can be used to create a better future. Any person who uses religion to excuse hate is not in agreement with the values of Christianity, whether it be discrimination or persecution. Women should be allowed to become priests and have high roles in Catholicism’s complex power organization system. I may have radical views of the Catholic religion, but at the end of the day, religion, in general, is all about how you interpret it. My interpretation in simple terms is that God’s preachings on kindness, equality, and growth should be applied to the practices of Catholicism itself.
The things that are given to us are what we build on as the basis of our identity. We explore them and choose to identify with them or not. No matter what, they shape who we become. Something like your name, your religion gives you certain characteristics. The other characteristics come from yourself. It’s like half and half. Every other part of your identity surrounds the parts given to us, which contribute to ourselves individually and add on to family legacy overall. My ancestors were strict Catholics. They embraced their religion and followed it strictly. I simply interpret and incorporate it differently than they did. While the roots keep it from falling, our family tree only grows closer to the sky.
For this personal essay, I started with family research. I interviewed all my grandparents, my parents, and some aunts and cousins. From here, I was inspired to create an essay that went back into family history, entering a timeline before I was born. As I wrote these events, I began to weave in pieces of my life and story, and they have all come together.
Amihan is a writer and artist from Harlem. She spends her free time creating art, singing and playing guitar. She’s written pieces on identity and societal change. Over quarantine, she’s been spending time with her family and puppy in her vacation home on a lake.