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Utang na Loob: The Future or the Retirement?

Utang na Loob: The Future or the Retirement?

Utang na Loob: The Future or the Retirement?

Utang na Loob is a value in the field of Filipino psychology which is believed to characterize the Filipino people. It translates to a “debt of gratitude”. The idea is that Filipinos feel a drive to pay others back, whether in terms of money, effort, or time. At my stage of life, utang na loob means paying my parents for the opportunity they’ve provided me to receive a valuable education. I strive to receive good grades in order to get a job and contribute to my family income.

My Filipino peers also embrace this mindset of working towards paying our parents back. We’re challenged -but motivated- by this goal. Our parents worked for decades to move their lives (and the lives of their parents and siblings) to the United States, and they continue to work for decades in order to support us all in the U.S., as well as relatives back home in the Philippines. Now, it’s our turn to provide for our parents. We see them aging over time and wish they could stop exerting themselves for others. We embrace the collectivistic attitude of utang na loob, yearning to help those who helped us, well... exist!

On the other hand, some young Filipinos resent the idea of utang na loob. They feel offended that they’re considered the “retirement plan” for their parents. They yearn for a future of their own, without obligations to tradition or a “respectful deference”. Understandably, it’s hurtful to think about being pushed towards success for the sole purpose of providing for someone’s comfort and livelihood other than your own. Some Filipinos experience a guilty individualism when prioritizing their own future in motivating success, rather than their parents’ future.

I understand the utang na loob conflict as one between traditional Filipino and modern American mentalities that reside in many young Filipino Americans. I’ve found my own American identity bitterly reflecting on late nights pored over textbooks, flowcharts, and multicolored pens - and for what? So my mom can stay up until 3:00 AM watching Netflix? I didnt choose to be born. My parents chose to raise children. Now I’m making my own choice to make my own future. Then, my Filipino identity thinks of those study sessions as evidence that I love my parents and wish for them to have a happy life, all the more happier than their lifetimes of hard work were rewarding because they raised three children who contributed to their comfort.


Utang na loob proposes a great struggle for young Filipino Americans (and Asian Americans, in general) who are facing conflict between identities, particularly during late adolescence and early adulthood. The source of motivation for success can greatly impact educational and career decisions. The consequences of such decisions can serve to either strengthen or damage the relationship between parent and child.


Alicia is a 20 year old senior at The College of New Jersey, with a major in Psychology and minor in Women's and Gender Studies. In addition to writing for Her Culture, she is a writer and editor at The Prospect and Vice President Internal of TCNJ Barkada (Filipino culture club). Her interests include reading, desperately trying to romanticize her unglamourous life, wearing black, and balancing her identity as Filipino and American. After college, she hopes to devote her life to living simply, establishing a meaningful career in mental health, and repaying her parents for their lifetimes of sacrifice. 


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