A debut memoir of a life painfully, but successfully, devoted to cultural assimilation.
Long was born into abject poverty in the Philippines and learned the value of hard work from his grandmother, who largely raised him, as well as an abiding sense of gratitude for what he had. When he was young, his mother moved to the United States to start a new life, and later, he reluctantly emigrated there to join her in California. He was immediately confronted by the stark reality of a dizzying cultural divide that challenged his then-meager English. Long had been raised in a tradition that valorized meekness, humility, and obedience, as well as self-sacrifice and nearly limitless forgiveness. He immediately found Americans, though, to be brash, self-aggrandizing, and rude. During years of living in the United States, Long reflected deeply on the distance that separated American individualism and Filipino collectivism, acquiring an eventual appreciation for the former that fell short of abandoning the latter: “My Filipino upbringing naturally lends itself to the pursuit of the virtues of self-restraint and humility….Americans, however, have no qualms about making waves.” He later joins the Army, becomes a cook, and endures backbreaking work that provides him with a modest income and allows him to support his wife and children. However, his spouse was plagued by mental illness and drug addiction, and their marriage dissolved in the aftermath of her infidelity and prostitution, he writes. The author continued to press on, attended college, and became a successful businessman. His self-improvement, he says, was ultimately the product of both a Filipino work ethic and American industriousness. Although Long introduces the book as a reflection on cultural difference, it meanders far too long through the details of his personal life, especially his numerous romantic dalliances. The prose, thankfully, is simple and unpretentious, and the storytelling breezy and sometimes very funny. Long’s tale is an affecting testament to the ways in which his upbringing saddled him with disadvantages and gave him helpful virtues. It’s a timely contribution to contemporary debates about the cultural impact of immigration, refreshingly unencumbered by political ideology.
An excessively long but edifying meditation on the power of culture.