Filipino Cultural Heritage Poetry Unit by Parker Burrows

Over the summer, I had the daunting assignment of preparing a lesson plan about the poetry of my culture. As I thought about my cultural background, I realized that preparing a unit on Filipino-American poetry would be perfect. Historically, Filipino and Filipino-American history have not been taught in most schools, and most people don’t know about topics such as Filipino immigration, and the Philippine-American war, which I believe should be basic history education. 

I also decided upon the lesson because of my own desire to connect with my culture. I haven’t met many Filipinos my age, and I hadn’t learned anything about Filipino culture before I began research on my lesson. I was feeling disconnected from myself, and by researching this lesson through the internet, books, and talking to family members, I began to gain a deeper appreciation for my family and my cultural background. 

The lesson itself was quite successful. I decided to focus on the late Filipino-American poet and activist Al Robles, a native of San Francisco who was strongly involved in pro-Filipino movements, such as protesting the demolition of the International Hotel, a popular shelter for many Filipino immigrants. Although the poetry was all from the same author, Robles writes his poetry from a range of voices and topics; one poem was about a wandering immigrant, another was about ethnic empowerment. Each of the poems had various cultural references, which I explained individually, using a slideshow. There was an overarching theme of desperation to assimilate and fit in to American culture, which I felt both related to the theme of my lesson (teaching about forgotten Filipino stories) and to my personal identity (feeling lost and disconnected from oneself). The whole class was engaged and participated enthusiastically in each of the poetry discussions. I wanted to help the class understand the different emotions that Filipino-American immigrants felt during their journey to America, so I gave relevant writing prompts. I asked people to write about a poem about a character who undertakes a difficult journey (like the Filipinos on their way to America), and a poem about feeling extreme desperation (like the Filipinos who are desperate to assimilate in order to have a prosperous life).

I was not the only one who shared my personal experiences. Assistant Principal Monette Benitez, and Spoken Arts head Aimee Suzara were both invited to participate in my lesson, and they spoke about growing up as Filipina women. They echoed similar sentiments as I did, such as feeling disconnected from their heritage and “whitewashed.” Suzara even shared poetry from her book Souvenir, including one striking poem about challenging her high school history teacher to teach about Filipino history. 

At the end of the lesson, many people wrote in their feedback cards that they previously had little to no knowledge about Filipino culture, and that my lesson was informative. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to educate people about important topics that I care about and are frequently ignored.

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