With May being Asian Pacific American Heritage month, I wanted to post some images of me back in the Philippines to celebrate, however, there was something holding me back. I think in order to understand this, I need to give some of the backstory.
You see, I’m biracial. My father is American and my mother is Filipina. Before I go any deeper, I want to say that my father is a good guy who makes a lot of mistakes and poor choices but has very good intentions behind them. When he made these choices, they were based on his American Nationalist perspective that he cultivated from the 60’s/70’s/80’s with no sight into what the future of America would be. Dad/Family, if you’re reading this, I don’t want you to think that you’re bad people for how I feel. I don’t want you to think that I blame you for any of this internal conflict. You guys did the best that you could with what you knew and that’s all I could ever ask for.
That being said, I grew up in a predominantly American household. We spoke English for the most part, aside from the times my mother would speak to her family back home on the phone. We didn’t get Filipino television or media until I was in my late teens. We didn’t do much to incorporate my mother and my heritage into our lives. My mother tired, but I feel that she was always met with some pushback from my father. He didn’t think I needed to learn Tagalog because I lived in America and English would be more important.
This is why I said he had good intentions. He didn’t want me to be an outsider in the country I lived in and I think that he didn’t want to be an outsider in our home. If my mother and I were able to speak to each other in a different language, he wouldn’t be able to speak with us. He would become the outsider. Now, I’m not saying that’s right at all. I know for a fact that that’s the wrong way to go about anything. What I’m saying is that I understand. Understanding doesn’t make it right.
The furthest we ever went was food because that was something we could all participate in. And even then, it was only a few dishes of things that my father knew that he liked. The only time I was able to fully embrace the Filipino culture was when I was there and surrounded by it. But, once a year for a few weeks at a time is not enough. You can only learn so much about your roots in that amount of time.
But this isn’t about my father’s or my mother’s choices at all. It is about me trying to find validity in who I am.
I am rightfully half Filipina but for some reason, I feel like that’s not enough to celebrate my own heritage.
The first time I felt this way was a few months back. I was browsing through twitter and I saw a hashtag circulating that was very similar to #melaninmonday and #blackgirlmagic but for Asian people. It was meant to embrace us and show out beauty. Initially, I was super excited. Finally, there was something for me to showcase myself and a part of my heritage that makes me who I am. But, there was that fear. I was worried that I didn’t have the right to post anything because I’m not fully Filipina. I didn’t want people to be mad or feel as if I’m taking away from their spotlight because I’m not fully Asian.
My experiences with fellow Filipinos has been as mixed as me. Growing up, there wasn’t a big Filipino population around me, at least none that I knew of. For a while, I was the only Filipino person that I knew aside from my mother. I’m not saying there weren’t other Filipinos in my town, just none that I knew of. It wasn’t a large community. That changed a few times during grade school when a few kids transferred in throughout the years. I would be so excited because finally there would be someone who I could identify with on a different level than the rest of my other friends. However, once I told them I was half Filipina too, they would immediately start speaking Tagalog to me. Of course, I never learned the language so I could speak back. I don’t think they meant to do it but in return, they would give me a dirty look as to say “if you Filipina why don’t you speak the language” as if that was the only way you could be a part of the culture. Again, much like my father, I don’t think they meant it that way. It was just how it came off. Other times, Filipino kids were very welcoming and wanted to know my experiences in the culture: the places I’ve been to, where my family lived, the foods I liked. But even then, I always had this doubt that I wasn’t Filipino enough.
That was my constant struggle. For some reason, I always felt that I was never enough. I was never American enough no matter how hard I tried and I would definitely never be Filipina enough. And I can’t speak for other biracial people, but for me, it always felt like I had to pick a side. I had to pick whether I was going to identify as a White American or as a Filipino. I know that sounds ridiculous, trust me. I’ve fought with this my entire life.
By having to pick a side, there’s always this guilt that you’re not enough, that you’re lying to everyone and yourself. But, by not picking a side, you’re a traitor. You’re distancing yourself from your roots and a part of your family.
No matter what happens, it’ll never be enough.
No one ever outright told me that I wasn’t enough or that I had to pick a side, at least not yet. But what people don’t realize is that your choices and your microaggressions impact the people who hear them, regardless of the intent.
For people who are not apart of the culture hear those microaggressions and develop this understanding that it’s okay to act like that- that it’s okay to ask people where they “really from” or that they have the right to say “well you don’t act____” which is a whole nother deal in itself. Telling people they don’t act the Western expectation of what heritage continues to perpetuate the stereotypes of that culture. You’re pushing them into one small box when the culture is not something that is boxable. It’s so broad and beautiful.
For people who are a part of the culture that hears those things lose a part of themselves and continue to have this eternal struggle. I’ve had people tell me that I’m not Filipino
because I don’t look like what they expect Filipino’s to look like. I’ve had people fetishize me for being Asian. I’ve had people ask me to speak on behalf of an entire country. I’ve been told I look “exotic”. I’ve been looked at like I’m adopted when I go out with my white father and white aunt. People have made assumptions that my mother was a gold digger and was marrying my father for a green card. People have even looked at me like I was the gold digger married to the older white man who is actually my father.
When I’ve gone to the Philippines, people thought that I felt superior because I’m American and speak English. I’ve had other people from the Asian diaspora treat me lesser once they’ve found out that I’m Filipino. I’ve had people ask me why I was doing media and not being a nurse. I’ve had people be disappointed in me for not being a nurse. People have made assumptions about me based on what I ethnically look like. They assume I’m Latina and I’ve even had people refuse to believe me when I tell them I’m not. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t know what ethnicity to check when you were only allowed to check one. Do you know how much pressure that is?
It’s hard when you feel this constant struggle to maintain balance within your own identity.
It’s even harder when you feel the need assimilate and go along with the stereotyping and microaggressions. That is part of the self-hate and the identity crisis.
I’m very guilty of this and I want to apologize to myself. But, I think with the way the world is going, it’s about time to stop feeling like I am not enough.
I am Filipino. I am White. I am both. I will be both. I will embrace being both. I do not have to choose to identify as one or the other. I do not need to feel like I am not enough because I am. I love my roots and my culture. I am who I am. I am enough to celebrate this month and every other instance.
This Asian Pacific American heritage month, I will embrace that part of my identity and show it off to the world.
To all the other biracial people out there who are struggling with the same wild identity issue, know that you are enough and no one can tell you otherwise. You are your validation.
We are enough.