Creativity and innovation are born of a wealth of different perspectives and perceptions—and we’re celebrating some of that wealth this month. In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we’ve asked one of our Asian American and Pacific Islander colleagues to share her thoughts about how her family’s culture and customs helped shape her.
At Mallinckrodt, we aim to place inclusion and diversity at the core of how we do business and live our values every day.
Meet Milalie Francisco, a first-generation American born to Filipino parents. Milalie is Brand Marketing Specialist and Executive Assistant to Hugh O’Neill, EVP & Chief Commercial & Operations Officer.
My father grew up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines and my mother grew up in a more rural province called Ormoc. It’s interesting to hear about their childhoods because they grew up very differently. My father was used to the city life of Manila, but lived very humbly with two sisters and three brothers. My mother, however, was raised more affluently with nine sisters and three brothers. My grandparents, whom I called Mama and Papa, owned acres of land, had butlers and chauffeurs, and ran multiple businesses.
I was born at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens, New York. When I was an infant, we moved to Fort Worth, Texas for a new job opportunity that my dad could not pass up. We lived there for a while until my dad got extremely sick. Being so far from family, my mom was afraid to raise me without any support. So, we left Fort Worth for Manhattan to be near all of my aunts on my mom’s side. It wasn’t until I started kindergarten when my mom decided that the city was not where she wanted me to grow up. She had visions of me living in a more suburban home. We then moved to Central New Jersey, where I lived for the rest of my life.
Growing up, I was very close to my aunts, uncles and cousins, whom I saw almost every weekend when my family would have Sunday dinners and BBQs (Filipino style of course!). Having so many aunts and uncles, I never scoffed at seeing my extended family. In fact, every time we had a gathering, it always felt like Thanksgiving or Christmas. I have fond memories of hopping into our 1987 Pontiac with great excitement, knowing full well that I was going to see them.
While my mother and father assimilated to America pretty well, they still felt most comfortable around other Filipinos. Many Asian immigrants who come to the United States form tightly knit communities of others of the same ethnicity that they associate with often. My family was no different.
My dad would often drag my mom, my baby brother, and me to parties and gatherings filled with food, dancing, singing, and everyone speaking in different Filipino dialects. Being so young, I was always forced to play with his friends’ children, most of whom I had only met that day, or only had one thing in common with—being Filipino. It was a struggle for me to fit in with them because I was friends with kids I knew in my school—people of all races and ethnicities. I struggled with understanding and identifying with my culture while growing up American.
All my life, I’ve had to help bridge the gap to my parents understand how things operated in the Philippines versus America. Whether it was politics, education, extracurricular activities, or upbringing, it was always hard trying to be the best at living out both cultural expectations, and giving them background and understanding on their differences. One memory that sticks out in my mind is when I addressed elder people, I always had to refer to them as “Mrs. So-and-So” or “Mr. So-and-So.” While showing your elders respect in this way was very common in Philippine culture, if the addressee wasn’t Filipino, they would respond to me, “Oh, no, please just call me Jane or Michael,” or whatever their first name was.
Growing up, I always felt like I had to be more Filipino around Filipinos, and more American around Americans. It’s actually really amusing, though. If you Googled those articles of “Signs That You Grew Up in a Filipino Household,” many of them would apply to my family. In hindsight, I’m extremely grateful to my parents for raising me in such an open fashion, because in the process, I’ve developed my own core values and identity. If they simply gave me a set of strict guidelines on how to live my life day in and day out, I wouldn’t have that reinforced sense of self that I have now.
In 2004, I was a freshman at Rutgers University when I met the love of my life—a senior of English, Scottish and German background. When we were dating, I was so worried that he wouldn’t accept my Filipino background and culture—but was pleasantly surprised when he not only assimilated well into my family—but became better at cooking rice than me!
In 2015, we got married, and in March 2020, welcomed our first daughter. Meanwhile, the world was undergoing the coronavirus pandemic. Three weeks later, I lost my cousin suddenly to Covid-19, and our family lost a beloved key member of our tribe. To wrap our minds around the current events, and in an effort to keep our family safe, we stayed in quarantine. Late last year, we cancelled the holidays and stayed in touch through Zoom video calls instead. It was very heartbreaking to not be with my family and watch my daughter experience all her first holidays without them. Now, 13 months later, my daughter has yet to see a majority of my family due to the pandemic.
Without my family nearby, I am finding it hard to foster my Philippine culture and heritage to my biracial child. I have no idea what her racial identity will be. I just hope I can guide her along the way and provide the support she needs on her individual journey of determining what that is for herself. While I don’t have all the answers, I am going to focus on simple ways to integrate a biracial identity into our family language and culture, hoping that it serves both as an opportunity for my daughter to make connections to her ancestry, and to help her better understand all of her cultures. At the end of the day, I just hope that I will be able to keep that part of who I am alive for her, and for her to understand that being Filipino is part of who she is as well.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my background as part of AAPI Heritage Month. I am proud to work at a company that embraces and celebrates the varied identities and cultures of its employees.