Sunday, August 1, 2010

You don’t look Filipino

While chatting with a Filipina woman in the Spanish consulate the other day, the topic of ethnicity came up, and when I said I was Filipina, she said, “You don’t look Filipina.” 

I wonder how mixed people are received in the Philippines.  I don’t think ethnicity is solely determined by how one looks.  For me participation in a culture, ancestry, and self-identification are all that are needed to consider one’s self Filipino, or whatever else ethnicity one is talking about.  I might not “look Filipina” but I also don’t look just white.  I guess I’m what you might call “ambiguous.” 

At another period, my mother said that I’m “More Filipina” and that my sister was just “American” because I like a traditional Filipino dish, dinuguan, which she refuses to eat.  I’ve noticed that, for myself, a big part of my Filipinaness comes from eating the food because to me it’s like tasting my other home.  As I was growing up my lola would cook for me when she watched us for our mother who worked a lot.  I remember the smells of her cooking and the sound of TV Patrol on the television when it came on for that one hour a day until the Chinese news program afterward.  This is about the time my mom got to the apartment which would then be filled with the sounds of Tagalog until my mom brought my sister and I home.

But this “more Filipino” thing, does that even make sense?  Do you have to like all the food to be more Filipino or not like it to be American?  I participate in the culture available to me here, but not looking Filipina is enough in some strangers’ eyes to declare me not Filipina.  On the one hand I want to be proud of where part of my heritage comes from, but on the other, it does hurt to be rejected by the people you identify with, and feel alienated when you’re surrounded by people of the other part of your heritage.  e.g. In a recent trip to Washington I was in a fairly conservative area that was, by majority, made up of white people with a couple of Latinos here and there.  It was almost like culture shock.  I didn’t realize how important it was to me to be surrounded by diverse peoples like I am in the bay area until I had to leave it.  I wonder how I’ll fare in a more homogenous place like Spain.  Hopefully I can try to surround myself with diverse and accepting people. 

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