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I Wish You Called Me 'Ate'

I Wish You Called Me 'Ate'

From birth to 19 years of age I have always known my mom as ‘Mommy’, my dad as ‘Daddy’, my older sister as ‘Leah’ and my younger brother as ‘Jeremy’.

My mom’s sister who lives three streets away is Tita. Their father was Lolo. My older cousins on my dad’s side are Kuya and Ate.

I don’t know why I wasn’t raised to identify the members of my immediate family as Nanay (mom), Tatay (dad), Ate (older sister), or Ading (younger sibling). I identify extended family by their Filipino titles. (Admittedly, those I do call by their titles are notably older, and most were born and had lived in the Philippines for years, unlike me.) I don’t think it negatively affected my family to call my siblings by name. But I see no loss in having been raised to use proper Filipino titles in the US. I only see a gain: deep-rooted bonds with my family and culture.

The Filipino club at my school has an Ate/Kuya program in which upperclassmen are paired with underclassmen: female upperclassmen are Ates and male upperclassmen are Kuyas to their Adings, their paired underclassmen. Ates and Kuyas give surprise gifts and hang out with their Adings as a sort of mentor.

My Ate is Phoebe. We’re both quiet for the most part and have the same birthday. I guess that’s why we were paired. When the club executive board revealed the pairings last Halloween, we all started to form bonds with our Ates/Kuyas. This would start the tradition of taking pictures with your Ate/Kuya at club meetings, events, and gatherings. Naturally, I took part in the tradition and started calling Phoebe my Ate.

One day, my actual older sister revealed to me: “I wish you called me Ate. You call Phoebe that, but you’ve never called me that.” Up until that moment, I never thought of using titles within my family. I didn’t know being an Ate meant something to my sister. But recently, I’ve decided to make it up to her, myself, and my family.

I know Leah is my Ate but it seems odd to change my name for her after 19 years. Instead, I’ll wait a couple years and she’ll be a Tita. I’ll marry my handsome asawa and we’ll raise our bata to call her Tita Leah and my brother Tito Jeremy. They will call their grandparents Lolo and Lola and hope to be spoiled as well-behaved apo. If all goes according to plan my younger daughter will call her older brother Kuya.

I don’t know if I’ll suddenly feel fulfilled as a Filipino raising my children to use titles. I just hope they’ll form the familial and cultural bonds I didn’t have. Now to work on getting that asawa.


Alicia is a 19 year old college junior on a mission to complete self-actualization. She’s a psychology major aspiring to understand others and herself, and to help people want to become better people. Her life philosophy is constant improvement: physically, mentally, and intellectually. Her life motto is “You don’t owe anyone any emotions or reactions.” (Usually alone) she can be found reading (either behind a book or a laptop screen), [trying] to be healthy, and being seemingly indifferent to her surroundings 90% of the time.


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