This post is going to be a little different from everything else I’ve posted on this blog. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while now and I haven’t had the chance to fully express it. And as I was trying to go to sleep I kept thinking about this thing that has been troubling me so I figured it was time to write about it. What is this thing that I can’t stop thinking about? It’s this whole idea that being Asian is something to hide, something to be ashamed of. I didn’t realize my feelings until about a year ago, and it came to a surprise to me. I guess I’ve always been a little ashamed, but it didn’t seem obvious to me. This is going to be difficult to write about because I am not even sure how I feel.
My mother is Filipino and moved to the US in her early twenties, and my father is Italian and is third generation in his family. I’ve always made a point to make sure people knew I was only half Asian, like I had to make up for it and apologize that I am not 100% white. And the thing is, it’s not like I can hide it, I don’t look Italian, I look Filipino. And sometimes my dad will say things like “Oh but see? You have a little of my nose! And your eyebrows!” It’s true I suppose, but looking at me you don’t see Italian, and it is what it is. It’s not bad or good. I mean, it’s me. I wanted people to know I was part Italian not because I was super proud of being Italian, it was because I wanted them to know there was more to me than Asian. Kind of a “don’t worry, I’m not all Asian! I swear!!” I didn’t realize what I was doing back then. Looking back, I feel horrible for feeling the way I felt.
I remember this one time, when the feeling of shame was especially strong for me. Me and my mom were driving downtown and I had my window down, just relaxing, it was a lazy day. A car full of white guys, probably in their early 20s drove up besides us and one of them yelled “konnichiwa.” They laughed and drove away. I remember the extreme shame and embarrassment I felt. I’m not going to lie, it still kind of hurts. Why did I feel embarrassed? It was probably the way they laughed and drove quickly away. I’m not even Japanese, but because I’m Asian it’s funny? Hell, if I was Japanese it’s not funny. Why was it funny?? What possessed these guys to yell out a Japanese greeting to random Asian people for “fun?” I felt like I was caught in the act. I don’t know if I’m making a big deal out of this, but this small event has stuck with me for years. I was so upset that they saw me as an Asian. How messed up is that?
Elementary through high school, I have had to deal with friends saying random words to me, like “ching chong,” words like that. Or things like “pork fried rice” and “dumplings.” Nothing else involved, just those words. They said it because it was funny to them. And I didn’t help the situation, I laughed. I encouraged this behavior because I didn’t know what else to do. I laughed, smiled, acted like it was no big deal. These friends knew nothing of Asian culture. To them, all Asian is the same Asian. Even in photos posted on Facebook, I had friends leave comments with those dumb meaningless words. “KONICHIWA, SAYONARA, NI HAO, KAI-LAN, PORK FRIED RICE RICE RICE RICE, CHOPSTICKS,EGG ROLL, CATS, MORE RICE !!!!!!!!! (^__^ me luh you long time)” That is an actual comment I received once. I had to go into the depths of my old Facebook to find it. I wish I was making it up.
There was a project I had to do in Middle School, where we had to do a project on the country our family was from. I had a choice, Italy or The Philippines. What did I chose? Italy. Why? I didn’t want to be the only Filipino. I wanted to fit in and join the other European countries. One of my friends told me they wish I did the Philippines, and I agree with her. I didn’t want to learn about my mother’s country, I didn’t want to showcase it to all of my classmates. It was embarrassing. I’m still disappointed that I chose Italy. Italy is great, don’t get me wrong. I just wish I felt the same about the Philippines.
Half of my family is Filipino, and because my grandfather on my dad’s side remarried to a Jamaican woman, the other half of my family is Jamaican. I do have some Italian relatives, but I don’t really know them. Now, on my mom’s side, everyone is Filipino. I don’t talk to the majority of my relatives on both sides of my family, but there are some cousins I speak to on my mom’s side. I’ve been to Italy with my mom one summer years ago, but I’ve been to the Philippines a few times, and spent time with family there. So now I connect more with my Asian side, sometimes I even forget I’m part Italian. My dad doesn’t speak Italian, his father didn’t. The most Italian thing he does is cook pasta (and my dad cooks some pretty AMAZING pasta). I eat a lot of Filipino food, and so does my dad. He even cooks some dishes sometimes. I love love loveeee Filipino food. Kare kare, pancit, sinigang, dinuguan, pinakbet, longaniza, bicol express, apritada… I could go on forever. I wish Filipinos were represented more in the US… and just in general. There is a large Filipino population in the US. Where are all the Filipino restaurants?? Me and my mom have to get our fix in Queens, NY because there’s a lot there.
Now I know that being Asian isn’t something I should feel the need to conceal, because it’s who I am. I’m Asian, I look Asian, my family is Asian. I’m still waiting for a Filipino character to be in a Disney movie. The majority of the main characters in Disney have been white, and yes I know they’re not all from the same European country, but bring in more diversity. There are great stories from countries in Asia, Africa, South America… Mulan was such a powerful character for me because she’s Asian. I’m not Chinese, but having an Asian “princess” made me happy. I’ve been called Mulan by my peers my entire life, not because they saw qualities in me that reminded them of her, they called me it to be funny. “Haha, Mulan is Asian, you’re Asian so you’re Mulan!!” They didn’t say that, but that’s basically what they meant. Mulan is great, so whatever. I’ll take it as a compliment and ignore why exactly you’re calling me Mulan. Acknowledging different races is important. Don’t be color blind. See the differences, don’t ignore them. Ignoring makes it part of the problem. I ignored myself for years, I know what it’s like to try and hide yourself. It sucks, don’t do it.
And just another thing that bothers me. I hate it when people act like my ethnicity is a guessing game they want to win. “You’re Asian. Chinese, right? Wait, don’t tell me. Japanese! Thai? Vietnamese? Korean? Indonesian? Malaysian??” “YOU’RE ASIAN! SAY SOMETHING IN CHINESE!!!!!” Just. Stop.
I feel better now.
Sorry for the overuse of commas, I should sleep now.