Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let Me Be.

I don't mean leave me alone.

I mean, let me be who I am. Please.

Most of you won't understand, or say that I'm imagining things, but being so recognizably cross-cultural can be hard. You see, people like me are caught in the middle between what they ethnically are (for me it's being Filipino-American), and what they culturally are (American with just a pinch of Asian thrown in).

Yes, I know I'm American. I am most definitely American ethnically, socially, mentally. I'm just hiding behind my Filipino skin. And I feel like an impostor.

I used to feel proud to be half Filipino -- even more proud because I looked the most Filipino out of my siblings. I was the different one in my extended family -- certainly the "loud and proud" Asian in a sea of white faces. But with so many comments correcting my ethnic proclamation "No, you're only half-Filipino," has made me feel like an impostor; as though I'm trying to hide my American-ness. Or that by being half-Filipino, I am somehow less than a pure Filipino or pure American (which, by the way, does not exist).

The truth of the matter is, I know I'm American. It's obvious to everyone I meet (except for those who think I'm Mexican). I know I'm half-white (but thank goodness it doesn't show until winter!). It's shown in the way I speak, the way I dress, in the way I act, and the way I carry myself. So what's wrong with trying to recognize my other half every once in a while? The half that is obvious to the eye, but not to the heart. What's wrong with identifying my ethnicity with my skin color rather than my upbringing? By recognizing my pinoy side, I am struck again with being a fake. As though the only thing I have to show for being bi-racial is my skin tone. Why should I be made to feel ashamed because I claim both sides of my ethnicity?

Please, let me be as Filipino as I can possibly be. I didn't get the chance to be raised in a heavily Asian culture. I was raised in a bi-racial home with a full Filipino mother and all-American white farm boy father. My mother, bless her heart, was eager to raise us in the "American way," and although we got a good taste of Filipino culture through her natural upbringing, she also shielded us from other aspects of her culture. I didn't learn the language. Oh sure, I got bits and pieces of the language, but I can't form a complete sentence to save my life. In many respects, I am a first-generation American born on American soil in the midst of true Asians. My mom was born and bred in the heart of the Philippines: Manila. She didn't meet America until she was nearly thirty; so it is from her that I become first-generation. My father was, and still is, in love with Filipino culture. For someone so white, and raised in the middle of nowhere on a farm, he sure has a thirst for adventure in far off lands.

But it was inevitable: I became white on the inside, even though my skin refused to believe it. I don't know which is worse -- being white on the inside, in the heart of who I am, and brown on the outside for all to see and wonder; or brown on the inside, in secret, and white on the outside to be seen as I truly am. The only chance I get to embrace that secret part of me is proudly proclaiming that I'm Filipino without mentioning that I'm only half. People can tell I'm American, why should I need to mention that? When they see my skin and ask what I am, I know they're referring to the reason my skin is brown instead of the typical whiteness so often associated with Americans. I give them what they want. And I do it with hesitant pride. Sure, I really don't know the nitty-gritty about my other culture all things considered, but does that matter? It's hard enough saying I'm Filipino and feeling like a fake Filipino, than going through an in-depth explanation of my genetic makeup.

I'm still trying to sort out how much liberty I have to say I am Filipino without having anything else to back it up -- no language skills to help connect me to other pinoys around the world, no historical knowledge to show my interest in the heritage of my people, and no geographical understanding to show that I even know about the country I claim.

If I can't have anything else Filipino, at least let me have the ethnic label. America, I will not deny you, but please Americans, don't make me deny my other half. I feel lost between two cultures already; don't make me choose one over another.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So far:

  1. I teach 8th grade English full-time
  2. Coach soccer (V/JV) in a volunteer capacity
  3. I give voice lessons twice a week to prepare a student for the Fall musical
  4. I tutor a student once a week on their essay-writing skills
  5. I advise the middle school worship band to prep them for MS youth group
  6. I help lead the soccer team's Life Group (accountability/bible study-ish thing)
  7. I juggle a multitude of emails and meetings that are fired on me every day (which could almost be a full-time job)
  8. Create lesson plans, grade assignments, and figure out ways to keep my students awake
  9. and somewhere in between the cracks, I try to have a social life. It hasn't happened yet. I'm hoping it hasn't disappeared completely.

Life is stretched so thin, I don't have time to muster any energy or motivation to be a real asset to students, co-workers, or even myself.

Lesson to be learned: