I recently listened to a podcast episode titled "Asian-Americans Talk About Racism, and We Listen," where different people called in and shared stories and experiences that affected the development of their identities as Asian-Americans. As I listened, I found comfort in knowing that so many people carry the same sentiments as I do in regards to my racial and cultural identity.
Although I have never felt endangered or discriminated against because of my race, I do feel a disconnect with my heritage. This affects me in ways that are difficult for me to understand because at times other people will pass judgements on a part of me that I can barely identify with. I want to explore this inner conflict in terms of my upbringing, fetishization of Asian women, and having to prove who I am as if the act of my being isn't proof enough.
Both my parents are Filipino. My mom was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. when she was eight and my dad was born in Mississippi. Their entire adolescence - or at least a majority of it - took place here on American soil, and I was brought into the world on that same ground.
I wouldn't say that my parents didn't expose me enough to Filipino culture because they did. We have tons of family and friends, we eat the food, we watch every Manny Pacquiao fight like it's our job, but aside from that, I do not know the national traditions nor do I have much knowledgeable on Filipino history. Even though I feel this dissonance between me and the Filipino part of me, it does not limit my ability to connect with my family members.
At times, however, I feel so un-Filipino when older relatives at family gatherings try speaking to me in Tagalog and I have to tell them I don't understand what they're saying. The looks that I've gotten are of disappointment. Or when other Filipino kids growing up would ask me why my parents didn't teach me Tagalog, that made me feel like I was missing something in myself that apparently - in the eyes of other Filipinos - I was supposed to possess.
"He probably likes you because you're Asian"
You know how many times I have heard someone tell me, "He probably likes you because you're Asian" ?? And how many times I've heard it from someone who's supposed to be my trustworthy friend, AND who is also Asian. When someone who I comfortably identify with in certain aspects of our childhoods and upbringings is using one of the things we have in common to discount my character? To listen to that nonsense – to hear it multiple times – tells me she really believes that one of the sole reasons men value me is simply because I'm Asian. Maybe I'm just a really cool person.
I think it's also important to note that men love coming up to me at parties saying, "You're cute, I like Asian girls." I've even gotten a "I've never been with an Asian girl before." My favorite, though, is when I was having a normal conversation with a guy and he had to tell me, completely out of context, that his ex was Filipino. That one made me laugh, a lot. Now, obviously people have "types," and some people are attracted to specific groups of people, but I'd prefer not to be approached in such a uncomfortable and sexually charged manner.
"You're basically white"
It's weird, the way young people now have an overwhelming amount of various cultural influences and still must find categorizations for who we are and how we define ourselves. I've had people of all races tell me that I'm "basically white." Which, while I can see where they pull that point from, only perpetuates ideas that the middle-class suburban lifestyle of living nice houses, owning the latest tech products, and doing brunch and going wine tasting is reserved for white people only. If you go off of where I grew up and how I grew up, you could say that most of my childhood friends who aren't white are basically white too then.
I am not the way I am because of a lack of exposure to Asian culture; the Bay Area has a broad Asian presence. I just don't feel that my race is a significant factor in how I define myself. I don't need to prove my American-ness or my Asian-ness, all of me is made of these parts whether I feel like it or not. When I think about what makes me who I am as a person, being Asian would not be anywhere near the top of the list and yet, it is something that I am still discovering on my own.
Listen to the podcast "Asian-Americans Talk About Racism, and We Listen" here: