As a 3-year-old walking into my first day of preschool, I didn't know what to expect. Prior to that point, I had never actually left the house without my parents' close eye watching me. I didn't know how to talk to people, how to dress, how to carry myself around peers. I was a fat, dumb toddler, and I certainly played the part. So, as any 3-year-old deals with uncertainty, I bawled my eyes out. I was in hysterics. Giant "alligator tears" (as my mom used to call them) rolled down my face, soaking into the pink button-up shirt that my mom had picked out for me, coalescing onto my Buddha belly as any 70-pound preschooler would have.
"This is the worst day of my life," I thought.
And I suppose that was a fairly accurate statement, as I had simply not lived very many days at all at this point in my life.
"They're going to make fun of me because I'm crying and I'm wearing a pink shirt and pink is a girl color and I'm fat and..." The crying continued as I spiraled further and further into my deep — albeit young — well of insecurities.
"DABIS!" My mother yelled in her thick Filipino accent. "I AM BERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU. I WILL SEE YOU IN ONE HOUR, AND IP YOU ARE STILL CRYING BY DEN YOU CANNOT PLAY NINTENDO TODAY."
"O-One h-h-h-hour?" I faintly croaked, obviously not wanting to give up a solid day of "Super Smash Bros. Melee" or "Mario Kart: Double Dash."
"Yes. I lub you, Dabis, hab a good day at school."
And with that, I gave her an adorable hug that only a 38-inch-tall toddler could give, completely oblivious to the blatant lie she had told me — I was going to be there for three hours, she just wanted me to shut up.
I watched her as she walked out the door. Once I saw her white minivan leave the parking lot, hitting the curb on the way out, I knew she was serious. I was alone. I wiped the tears off my plump cheeks, fruitlessly dabbed at all the wet spots on my enormous belly, and turned around to meet the other kids.
For the first time in my life, I was given the task of meeting new people, and I was terrified. They looked at me with their blue eyes, blonde hair, and pasty white skin. They reminded me of ghosts — the kind that still haunt me to this day. The teacher walked me to where they were congregating and introduced me. Once she went away to deal with another crying toddler, I faced a barrage of harassment.
"Why is your shirt pink?"
"Only girls wear pink."
"Why are you so fat?"
"Why were you crying?"
And finally, "What are you, Spanish?"
I was prepared for the first batch of insults, but I took the final attack personally. My mother despised being called Spanish or Mexican, and since I love my mother more than anything else in the world, I also adopted this trait.
"Actually, I'm Filipino," I kindly informed, trying to maintain my composure and avoid crying again.
"Filipino? Where in Mexico is that?" the opposing child asked innocently, genuinely not knowing that Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines quite literally could not be further apart than they currently are.
"My mom is from the Philippines, which is an island country off the southeastern coast of China. But my dad is white." (I didn't really know what any of that meant, but I had heard my mom say this a lot when I asked about her homeland.)
"Oh, so you're Chinese?" the naive toddler rebutted.
My blood began to boil with the intensity of a thousand suns. Not only was he so blatantly ignorant to the world and its various inhabitants, but he also overtly called my eyes squinty. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to summon the energy of my figurative cousins Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and kick his head into oblivion.
But rather than do that, I developed a new insecurity instead. I began to fear what other kids would think about my complexion, my hair color, and my own mother. This one was different though. It wasn't as simple to fix as my giant fat rolls or the pink shirt I was wearing — it ran deeper than that. I realized that not everything my parents told me about my heritage was inherently believed by other people.
Of course, I didn't know how to cope with this.
So I cried.