I wanted to share with the community a story - my story - on finding "who" I am, my family's history, and how it has changed my life.
I'm going to start this story at about where I started on my journey - it won't be strictly chronological, but I'll try my best. So, let's get started:
Since I was young, maybe 7 or 10, I've been "white". That was about when I moved here, to Arizona. Well, that is what my family would tell me, anyways. I really didn't think anything of it. Any time I needed to fill anything out at school that asked "What is your race", I would always check "white". I wasn't Mexican, I wasn't black. I didn't even know anyone who was Asian. So I was "white".
When we moved here, I wasn't able to see or talk to my dad or his family. I won't go into the story there - it has no bearing on what I want to talk about. But the fact that my father, and his family were absent does play a role.
Growing up in rural Arizona wasn't too bad. Not much to do but explore the desert around the house. The community itself was a dichotomy. A farming community, mostly, with some middle class professionals who worked at the local power plant. Low-tech, high-tech.
In school, there were just us kids. Well, until we started getting older. At around 12 years old, all of a sudden we were "white kids", or "Mexican". I was "white". Some of my best friends though, were Mexican. Kids we played with just a year before were now somehow off-limits.
"Why are you hanging out with him? You don't speak Spanish."
"You like her? She's Mexican."
The mid-1990's. The first experience I had with race. But I was "white". That's what everyone told me.
It only lasted a year. The next year, it got better. By the time we went off to high school, the stigmatization stopped. Or the separation became understood.
In high school. The year 2000. I didn't grow up with these kids. I was different. White, but different. Not from the "right" town. Not from the prominent families. Eh. I got along. Joining clubs, doing sports. Because of my last name, I was mistaken as Italian. Well, that and my skin tone. I didn't know better. Italians are white, right? I went with it.
It is at this point that I not only let people define me by how I looked, but also on what they perceived me to be based on my name. Looking back on it now, I just can't believe it. Who are these people to define me? To strip me of my heritage? I had been "white-washed".
The first time I learned that I was not just "white" was in a conversation with my mom about college.
Me: "So I don't know how I'm going to get into these places. There's so many qualified people."
Mom: "Well, you are part Filipino. Why don't you put that?"
Me: "I'm part Filipino?"
Mom: "Yeah- I didn't tell you? Your dad is."
I started college shortly after. I didn't quite know what to make of "who" I was. I still checked "white" when I needed to. But the idea that maybe I had an identity that wasn't what I had been told over the years started to pique a curiousness. And, it just so happened that I needed some humanities and social science classes to graduate. So I signed up for the introductory Asian/Pacific American (APA) course my sophomore year.
The course material was mind-blowing. Learning about the experiences of so many communities here simply amazed me. The Japanese immigration to Hawai`i; Chinese experiences in California; And the uniqueness of each and every community (and family) that came to this country.
It had such an impact on me, I took two more classes the next semester. APA portrayal in media and APA & multicultural/multiracial experiences. And then two more.
One thing that does stick with me though is that through taking these classes, I still had to deal with the assumption that I was white. People were surprised to learn that I was part Filipino. Except for one encounter I had my junior year.
Excuse me, I don't mean to be rude, but are you part Filipino?
This came from a Manila-born-and-bred young woman. I don't know why, but this was my final validation. Someone didn't just define me as white. I was Filipino. To Filipinos. From that day on, today too, I don't mind correcting someone who wants to define me. "No, I'm part Filipino, too". Check the boxes "white" AND "Asian/ Pacific Islander". Both are my identity.
As I continued to study what was ostensibly, something that was a part of me, part of my history, from the perspective of an outsider, I wanted to have that personal connection to the community through my family. The denied part of my identity was also the denied access to an entire part of my family.
A year later, I decided to try to reconnect with my Filipino side of my family. I learned of how my great-grandfather came to this country, and settled in Wyoming. Wyoming. What he (and my great-grandmother, who was white) had to endure. I experienced Adobo for the first time.
Am I Filipino enough? A fourth generation descendant? I know I am. It doesn't matter what others think now.
What I worry about is my son and daughter. To appreciate my heritage, I had it withheld. Will they want to know more, so far removed from the islands my great-grandfather left? I can hope. They will surely be told that they are "white", by those who wish to strip them down to what they look like on the outside. But, in contrast, I will always try to help them keep the identity that they have as a part of the Philippines.
I just want to thank anyone who managed to wade through this. I hope this in some way helps the community, to see a perspective I have not seen here.