When I was 5 years old, I was the only White kid on my street. That changed as I moved neighborhoods, but it didn’t matter because I was the only White kid in my house all the time. My single mom, brother, and sister are all full Filipino and I remained the outlier.
When I was 7, I went to the grocery store with my mom. “She looks so much like you!” the cashier exclaimed to my mom as she scanned our vegetables. I looked up, hopeful that maybe she was talking to me. Instead, she was smiling at my little sister who rolled her eyes, more than used to hearing this comment from strangers. I looked to my mom who smiled at my sister, stroking her hair. I wanted to look like my mom, too.
When I was 10, my siblings and I went to the community pool. “Don’t play too long or you’ll get dark!” My mom shouted to us before she went back into the house, but not before giving me a long glance. I knew what that glance meant, and I wondered if she knew that I knew also. I can get dark, too.
My half-Filipino heritage never seemed like enough when standing next to my dark sister with her Filipino nose. My half-Filipino heritage never seemed like enough when my brother walked further from me on the way to the bus stop so that people wouldn’t ask questions. I was the only White kid at the family parties and the only White kid in the Jollibee* line. I was always hearing the gossipy Filipino ladies whisper “puti”* and getting stares whenever I entered a room. I’m Filipino too, though.
When I was 12, I made friends by asking three words, “Are you Filipino?” I purposely attempted to surround myself by Filipinos throughout middle school, hopeful that if I had more Filipino friends, then I would be more Filipino as a result. One day, however, when someone said, “ching chong” to my friend, I suddenly didn’t feel so Filipino anymore. Looking at me with ashamed eyes, that friend said, “You’re lucky that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to you.”
I am a walking borderland. I am a contact zone that shows up to Filipino parties followed by confused stares and questioning looks. I stand by the food and eat calamansi* with my pancit* the way I was taught. I spot an obviously White person across the room and all of a sudden I don’t stick out so much. At least I’m half.
My race as a Filipino American is an invisibility cloak I hide behind, a megaphone shouting out “check your damn privilege,” a deafening silence full of potential, a safety pin that speaks volumes but takes little action, an officer position in the Filipino club that does nothing but make PowerPoints. Check your privilege. Check your oppression. Check that Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Caucasian box all at once. But make sure you check the Asian one first.
But wait…why am I hiding?
Why am I hiding and making myself invisible? Why am I throwing myself against a White background for the purpose of standing out? I don’t want to be plain old white in a world of beautiful colors. But I don’t know what it means to lose my voice against the blinding white. The people that are visible to me, my fellow Filipinos, are so often forced to be invisible without a say in the matter. My mom worked at the same job for 10 years despite being more than qualified. My brother was bullied on the bus and the bus driver did nothing about it. My uncle worked all sorts of jobs for ten years just to move his family to America. Meanwhile, I am more than visible simply because of my phenotype, but my mom gets the lower paying job because of hers.
I am a walking borderland. The two borders that I am separated by, white and Filipino, clash within me in an attempt to find a perfect middle with one another. In my past, I chose to create a border where borders have already been imposed by forces so much bigger than me. I enforced those borders that Filipino American activists have worked their whole lives to tear down. “I’m more Filipino than I am white,” I used to say with such ease without realizing the true harm it caused within myself. What’s wrong with being who I am—confused. Yes, I am Filipino. Yes, I am white too. But even I have trouble finding where the line begins and where it ends. And I don’t want to find that line. I’m okay with blurred lines that, although they may confuse me, result in a representation of my two cultures filled with pride.
When I was 18, I learned what it meant to take off my invisibility cloak and embrace my mixed race. By embracing myself, I have a voice. Even without embracing myself, I have a voice. The point is that I don’t need a megaphone to be heard or an invisibility cloak to fit in. My fellow Filipinos in hiding, they work so hard to be found. My mom quit her job for a higher paying one with a much shorter commute. My brother took karate to learn how to fight and is now in the Navy fighting for our country. My uncle reunited with his family this year and has enrolled his daughter in college. As I begin to embrace myself, I recognize that even when I chose to hide, I still had the power to represent the stories not so often heard. As I finally come to terms with who I am, that power is realized.
When I was 19, I learned what the term “oppression” truly meant. I learned my position in working against oppression and that my voice as a White American speaks so much louder even if it is just a whisper. I have power where power is limited.
Jollibee: Filipino fast food franchise
Calamansi: Filipino citrus fruit
Pancit: Filipino noodle dish