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  • Cultural Whisperer: Scarce Commodity in America

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    What are the roles of a cultural mediator in the Filipino culture?

    Sheila had a major blowout with mom. She got married four years ago and no child to show for. Mom has asked the irritating question-” oh, wala pa ba” (there isn’t anything yet (baby)? Not once, not often but every time they’re under the same roof.

    Sheila, with her heart pounding in one of those potluck,  picked up dishes in the sink while telling mom how she feels about THAT QUESTION before the relatives start coming in. She washed the dishes gingerly as she clears her throat, “ Mom, we’re trying, please stop asking me if I’m pregnant. You know you’ll be the first to know.”


    Mom gave Sheila a break…for a month and then she was at it again, like an itch that can’t be relieved by the highest dose of hydrocortisone.

    The exchange ranged from irritating to explosive. Sheila feels mom doesn’t honor her boundaries and mom thinks Sheila is too sensitive. Sheila let go of a scream she’s been holding on for years and mom was utterly surprised by her behavior, a daughter she raised working two jobs.

    Mom and Sheila has not spoken for a couple of days.

    Sheila’s phone rang. RRRrrrrrrng!

    It’s Uncle JunJun (mom’s younger brother).

    Listen to the Pinoy Love Language Podcast on Cultural Whisperer: Scarce Commodity in America Here.

    Pinoy Love Language Podcast

    Click the image to listen to the episode



    “Kamusta kayo ng mommy mo?” (how are you and your mom), Uncle JunJun began.

    “Did you speak to her,? Sheila pries.

    A little bit. Tell me what’s up.” Uncle JunJun continues.

    Sheila began to lament her story to Uncle Junjun, the uncle she has confided with in the past.

    He listens on.

    Alam mo naman yang mommy mo may pagka-tsismosa, (you know you’re mom, she likes to gossip (be a gossiper) then he lets go of a quick laugh.

    *Excited lang yun magka-baby ka kasi nung araw lagi siyang nalulungkot na busy siya with work and how she wished she was able to take care more of you more, Uncle explains.

    *she’s just excited because when you were younger she was always sad because she so busy with work and wished she had more time taking care of you.

    “So, I should be guilty?” Sheila asks sharply.

    *Hindi, anak. Pagpasensyahan mo na yang tsismosa mong mommy, ha, Uncle Junjun coaxed.

    *no, my child. Just bear (excuse ) your mom for being a tsismosa.

    Sheila isn’t sorry but she does feel better after speaking with Uncle Junjun.

    In this example, the cultural whisperer acts as a buffer and a source of validation for Sheila. It allows her to feel that her story is heard by the mediator calling it out- mom is tsismosa or simply to make light of things.

    filipino tsismis

    The cultural whisperer also provides an explanation on mom’s behavior whether it’s justified or not. We, humans enjoy explanations of any type. And, especially in the case of the parent-child dyad, it’s easier to  continue to love someone who acts hurtfully when we can see the source of their distress.

    It’s safe to assume that mom has feed information to Uncle JunJun,  information she would vehemently deny beyond her grave.

    In  distress, mom had called her younger brother complaining about Sheila. She would’ve shared how disrespectful she was for screaming and that she can’t believe she’s raised such an ingrate child.

    Uncle Junjun listens on.

    Iba na ang mga bata ngayon. They want privacy. Bakit kasi tanong ka ng tanong (kids are different nowadays. Why do you keep asking  anyway (the same question)? Uncle Junjun remarks.“O sya, sya, “ I’ll call Sheila.



    This same scene can play similarly in America but Uncle Junjun may also be busy working two jobs like mom. 

    It’s also possible that you may not have fostered a close-knit relationship with your uncle like Sheila. The close knit is not a requirement for someone to play this role. But each party needs to see the cultural whisperer as credible, impartial and not subservient to the other.

    Although Uncle JunJun is younger than mom. He can reason and disagree with mom and Sheila has seen this at play.

    Uncle JunJun provides Sheila information and a perspective difficult for her to come up with on her own, or at least at that time. He does the same with Sheila’s mom offering an explanation that would lighten up her rigid expectations of Sheila.

    Without the cultural whisperer, such a exchange can be pervasive, a trigger from old wounds and a generational resentment brewing under the skin. Although, Uncle Junjun can’t change Sheila’s mom, he can give both her and Sheila a taste of both perspectives.

    One difficulty of being in America/diaspora is that the presence of an Uncle Junjun is scarce. If Sheila finds a collective that has similar lamentation about their mothers, two possible scenarios can occur: 1. Finding space to vent and to be seen is a deserving space for anyone but if the group is unable to reconcile and interpret their mother’s untoward behavior, her brewing resentment gets deeper and she is likely to set rigid boundaries from her mother, or 2. She feels heard by the group and they become her second skin/family allowing her superficially interact with mom knowing that she has a group to turn back to.

    Of course, there are a myriad of possible scenarios from the ones mentioned above and setting healthy boundaries is essential to a healthy relationship. But a premature, setting of rigid boundaries can create a havoc in the relationship, no different from the love withdrawal strategies that toxic relationships perpetuate.



    In the Pinoy Love Language Podcast #7: Cultural Whisperers: Scarce Commodity in America, I talked the different roles a Tagapamagitan (cultural whisperer) can play. If you prefer, listen to the Pinoy Love Language Podcast here.

    In this podcast episode, explore the following:

    • What is a tagapamagitan and why are their roles scarce in the diaspora?
    • The role of cultural mediators in the everyday life of a Filipino
    • How the breakage in communication between immigrant Filipinos and their offspring can be harmed or bridge by a tagapamagitan
    • The different roles of a tagapamagitan
    • Learn ways to demystify Filipino cultural nuances

    One of the most complex of the Filipino core values is understanding the word Pakiramdam (Pakikiramdam when activated). It’s a core value in juxtaposition with the American core value of expressing directly one’s inner state or need. Many Filipino families in America and interracial relationships stumble with this cultural difference. Many immigrant Filipinos, despite of their bilingualism, continue to speak their native language in deed and thought a confusing endeavor in the West who prides itself with their linguistics accomplishments.

    To learn more about Pakiramdam, check out the Masterclass here.

    filipino cultural mediator

    Final Thoughts

    Culture is beyond speaking a different language or looking different from other cultural groups. It is more about how family, society, and even your geographical location shape the way you view the world.

    A plant who needs more sun than shade does not just change its sunlight preference because it was simply moved from a different pot and spot. All these prospective changes,  evolutionarily, takes time.

    In the meantime, a gardener must observe nuances in the way its transforming, even a withered leaf provides access to what a plant is going through. A careful eye that is slow to judge but quick to reflect is helpful. 

    Both the gardener and the plant goes through the changes. As the plant transforms so does the gardener.

    Who is changing who?



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