Raw

The Conversations That Make Me Cry Every Tuesday

I’ve just attended another session of ‘Reclaiming My Time’, a 6-week facilitated dialogue with the goal of building community to dismantle oppressive systems.

I feel unsettled, vulnerable, rattled… like my foundation has shifted slightly. I feel inaccessible to people close to me, and I think I know why. Some of the people closest to me are white, or look white. They do not look like me, they do not walk in the world like I do, and therefore, don’t understand my experience. And that is very alienating. It feels lonely. I feel lonely.

It makes me question where my alignment lies. My experience has been white-washed. And I’m starting to discover the healing power of being around people whose experiences are similar to mine. It is healing for me to see faces like mine, and to talk about concepts like being the perpetual foreigner; being an immigrant; being constantly viewed as the “other”; internalized racism; internalized oppression; what colonialism has done to us, and how it has shaped our narrative and what we tell future generations.

But the question remains: why do I align with whiteness? It’s a question I ask now, and will keep asking. If you are reading this, and are white, and feel uncomfortable, please don’t take it personally. Please take the time to educate yourself and understand it’s not about you.

The deeper I get into this, the more alienated I feel, like there are less and less people who get it.

I feel this sense of urgency because I want children. But I feel like I’m not learning enough, like I’m not learning fast enough, like I’m not prepared enough to teach them the beauty and complication of what they are inheriting. I want my children to feel whole. I don’t ever want them to feel like they’re missing something.

I feel the hole left behind in me where my roots used to lie. I feel it in the clumsy way I speak my native language. I feel it in the contradiction of being with a white man (historically, “the oppressor”) and loving him. I feel it in the way that I often feel like an imposter; someone who doesn’t deserve to be here, and who shouldn’t be here.

* * *

This Is What I Want To Tell You, My Children

You are Filipino.

Your mother is Filipino, but at times, has not felt Filipino. Your mother has been dragged from country to country, each time, leaving little pieces of herself, and trying to glue randomly-found pieces to herself, in an attempt to fill the holes. Your mother is a puzzle put together by pieces that don’t quite fit.

I want you to feel the full weight of your combined identities, and to not take them for granted. I want you to feel all dimensions of yourself and feel the healing pride that comes with that. I want you to feel the weight of your ethnicity, your culture, your appearance — and how people treat you as a result of your appearance. I want you to know that there is a difference between gender identity and sexual preference. I want you to recognize that in this instance, you are able-bodied and mobile.

I want you to be self-aware and to constantly think about how you think. I want you to know the patterns of your mental and behavioral habits. I want you to be a more empowered thinker.

I want you to have options—real options—in who you are, and what you do. I want you to not be constrained by expectations often pushed so early and so often on children.

If you are born a biological female, I don’t want you limited by the color pink or white Barbie’s or the phrases “you look so pretty today” or “boys pull your hair because they like you” or “don’t ask questions”.

I want you to hear the phrases “you can be anything you want to be” or “you are so curious and smart; I love it” or “you know you can say no”.

I want you to have full range of motion, to not wear constricting and form-fitting clothing, so that your perfect arms and legs can reach for the sky and plant themselves firmly on the ground, and in general, take up as much space as possible — so that when you are grown into your body, you are not held back by the very clothing you wear, or the voices inside your head telling you that you are not worth the space nor the time. You are free, you are worth the space, and you are worth the time. Don’t let anybody tell you any different. You’re my baby, and for as long as you live, I want you to feel empowered to pursue happiness in whatever form appeals to you.

If you are born a biological male, I don’t want you constrained by the color blue or plastic toy trucks or the phrase “don’t cry; it means you’re weak”. Right now, that is all I have for you, my unborn male child. It doesn’t mean that I love you any less, because you are also my baby — and I acknowledge that I just have less to say to you at this point in my life. And that is all I can do right now.

There are only three things I want you to be. I want you to be kind, I want you to be honest, and again, I want you to be self-aware. Be kind, honest, and self-aware.


Daily Post prompt: Focused

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Letter of apology to my skin & soul

Dear Skin & Soul,

I’m sorry for introducing so many changes to you at a time.

Skin, I’m sorry for getting excited when I get my paycheck and start spending it all on new skin products. I know that instead of blowing my money on such frivolous things, I really should take a preventative standpoint, and buy good and healthy things for my body to consume organic fruits and vegetables, that spirulina shit my chiropractor recommended to me once… and yes, I shudder as I say this, but… even brown rice. Now, you’ll know I’m getting old when I buy that instead of white, which I so dearly love.

But see, Skin, these products you don’t understand! Here I am, my obviously dispensable cash just dragging heavy in my pocket every two weeks, waiting to be spent on creams that could imbue my skin with the dewy quality you so often find on Korean YouTube bitches.

And to add to it, I lug these tubes and bottles home, and expect you to be able to take all of it simultaneously on comes the new soy cleanser, then the new rose petal toner, then the new royal jelly bee night cream. None of that incremental approach. Just a “FUCK YES” in front of my bathroom sink, and away we go. Then I stand there smiling like an idiot, layers of goop on my face, waiting expectantly for my skin to transform, right before my very eyes.

And really, I am doing myself a disservice applying all of it at the same time how the fuck am I supposed to know which product caused my Monday morning T-zone breakout? Gahhh, I’m in IT and I should know this how do I troubleshoot what went wrong if I don’t go about this methodically?

Soul, I know you’re getting impatient and rolling your eyes at me, and believe me, I know I’ve done you wrong. I’ve done you so wrong.

But see, Soul, I’ve always been like this. I constantly put my life (and effectively, you) in upheaval, setting things on fire in yearly cycles. Dumping my boyfriend? Hellll yeah! And while we’re at it, why don’t I:

  • move to a new apartment by myself,
  • and get a new boyfriend who just so happens to be my ex’s roommate,
  • and just multiply my social life by a thousand,
  • and finally tell my family about my history of sexual abuse?

Yeah… that will go over well, right? I’ll become a better, more well-rounded person before I can even blink!

I just get so impatient with myself. I don’t do this in the slow, deliberate pace needed to give you time to heal. I go all in. I put you through so much heartache and loss at a time, sacrificing your well-being for my short term sense of fulfillment. Now, because of what I have done, you think yourself a lost soul, almost comparable to those wretches you read about in Dickens books and the BBC world news section. I’ve put you through a war, sending you off with just a day’s training and a pitchfork as a weapon.

I have to apologize to you. Because of me, you feel like an attention-seeking creature spawned from betrayal, deception, duplicity, impulse, detachment… all sorts of ugly things. I’m really not trying to make an excuse, but Soul, in order to survive, I have had to detach us. I’ve had to keep guilt at an arms length,  so that when I hurt somebody, you are insulated. When I betray somebody, we’ll cry but only for a short amount of time… just enough to give you a healthy taste of that guilt and still walk away intact. What I’ve feared all this time, and what’s been confirmed recently, is that you are incomplete, missing chunks of your flesh like the soldier you are.

I haven’t protected you the way I should have, Soul. Maybe I should  take those preventative measures I mentioned with Skin. After all, aren’t you more important than she is? (Sorry Skin, it’s true, and you gotta make peace with that. Looks aren’t everything.)

But I don’t know, Soul. I can be as disciplined as possible to protect you, but life isn’t supposed to be calculated like that, and as the Shins say in “Girl Sailor”:

You are not some saint who’s above
Giving someone a stroll through the flowers,
You’ve got so much more to dream of
Oh girl, sail her, don’t sink her
This time

Sometimes, change happens quickly and overwhelmingly. That’s how you and I grow stronger. We make mistakes in this accelerated pace. But I think you and I deserve a chance to pursue happiness, don’t you think?

And really, you’re being a drama queen, really you are you’re not as bad off as you think. Your human made a mistake. Other Souls’ humans make mistakes all the time. Aaaallll the time. Sometimes, we make them as a nation, as this year’s election results have certainly proved.

Anyway, I digress. All I can do now is make amends to you, and get you up and hobbling, and work on these ugly things that you seem to think you arebetrayal, deception, etc. and make you realize you are not those things. You’ve definitely gone through them, because your human decided to act that way… but I take ownership of that. You shouldn’t need to.

So Soul, please just focus on recovering, accept my long overdue apology, know that I love you, and know that you’re strong.*

* * *

*Just a disclaimer though, you will be less insulated from now on, because I will try my best not to detach myself from other people’s pain, especially when I’m the cause of it. I know you’re ready for that, and that you’re strong enough now. We both are.

Betrayed by a “maybe”

The-sad-thing-about-betrayal-is-the-fact-that-it-n

Sometimes I think, did my mother really allow her daughter to get molested?

Sometimes I think, did she know the extent of the harm she was causing by allowing this to happen?

Sometimes I think, did she know she had inflicted permanent scars upon me the very day she found out and made silence her response?

* * *

I remember the day I confronted her. We were in my stepdad’s office. We were glowering at each other. I had done something despicable to her, and I, stubbornly unapologetic, thought that moment opportune to turn it around on her.

I said, “Ma, did you know what [he] did to me?” I paused and tried to read the expression on her face. She gave nothing away yet. “Did you know he was touching me inappropriately back on the island?”

Her lips pursed, and she looked sideways, almost as if the memory could be found splattered on the wall or something. Then she looked back at me with searing eyes and said, “Maybe. I think so.”

I was rendered so numb by her answer that I forgot I was staring at her. It was like I blacked out with my eyes wide open.

All I could do was think back to all the little hints from my childhood that possibly implicated her:

When he would pick me up right in front of her and jokingly tell her I would have the body of a porn star when I got older … When he would keep asking me to give him a forehead massage right in front of her … When he would stay home while she would run errands …

* * *

Sometimes it feels like a bad dream. But I knew it was reality as soon as I heard my mother confirm my worst fear. Screw her half-assed “maybe”. She knew. And over the course of my childhood, she let it happen.


Daily Post Prompt: Maybe

To my mother: An explanation for my behaviour

Dear Mama,

A couple days ago, I told our story. And it made people break out in tears.

May is Asian and Pacific Islander (API) month. My company wanted to hold a tribute of sorts to it, and so, asked me and two other Asian and Pacific Islanders to speak about our experiences. And I thought to myself, this is something I could finally own.

To prepare myself, I latched on to the word “experience”, thankful it was not something more structured and contextual like “culture” or “heritage”. “Experience” — less defined, and more open to the sense of not feeling tied to any one country. After all, I am a Filipino-Canadian who grew up in Micronesia and lives in the States. The phrase “where I’m from” means almost nothing to me.

I say it’s our story because all along the way, it’s always been you and I. Sure, there were other family members, but they were either born into the family or they had their own lives prior to rejoining us. We were always in the core, the Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of our group.

tumblr_l3dtypNLFz1qa4s0qo1_540I’ve been attached to you all my life — I am, in every sense of the word, your child. Your values taught me what was important, your reprimands taught me right from wrong, your strength is the one I try to mimic.

I told the crowd of the immense sacrifices our family had to make.. That you had to make. And right then and there, in front of 100 people, that’s when my voice cracked, because I knew I would not be standing there if it weren’t for you, bullying me every step of the way, and forgiving each and every one of my mistakes.

You had to be a single mom for five children, three of whom you were away from most of their lives, and you had to bring them all to a strange country where we knew no one. Because of all your sacrifices, I stayed quiet in my anger, of being displaced frequently, of your criticisms, of having to grow up quickly. I was very Asian in my teenage rebellion. Though I didn’t have the right to be angry, I was.

You and I, we never had the kind of friend/confidant relationship some mothers and daughters fondly speak of. You were never my friend. You were my strongest critic; your tsk-tsk-tsk was the sound of my childhood. Your words were never of encouragement and support; they were always words of warning, of caution, of chastisement, taking my hope and enjoyment hostage in return for my obedience.

I understood, even back then, that your roughness was a byproduct of your will to control the outcome of our family’s success. I understood that back then, and I understand that still now. The difference is, back then I resented you.

Our relationship today, as amicable and pleasant as it is now, skirts around our lack of closeness. There are elephants constantly occupying the rooms we talk in, and as much as I enjoy visiting you, it’s always business as usual. I can’t hug you without mentally squirming in my seat.

No, we can’t get past this stage. Too much has happened. We have bruised each other too much. We are reduced to the friendliness of acquaintances. You now respect my autonomy and I now respect that you did what you thought was necessary. The restraint and fondness you now display with my brother was not shown to me. And that’s fine. I am a wilder, more contemplative breed because of it, constantly aware of the emotional dances people partake in.

I know someday, I’ll understand the type of creature you are even more. Our journey as enemies is over. You are no longer the antagonist of every obstacle in my life, just a bystander. I’m caught in the strange middle ground of acknowledging all we’ve been through together and yet, feeling like you are a stranger to me. I hope one day, you and I can begin to open up, finally start processing all that has gone on between us.

Sincerely,

Your ‘inday’