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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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’

Breadcrumbs back to the Philippines

I feel like I’m trying to taste the ocean by eating a spoonful of sand. Like I’m not quite there yet, but maybe its closeness to the element at hand is good enough. Like licking little nuggets at a time will give me the full experience.

***

For the last week now, I’ve been trying to acquaint myself with my home country, the Philippines. I left it when I was three years old, and haven’t been back to visit for 12 years now.

I don’t know what prompted this powerful urge to familiarize myself with my mother culture. I guess all my life, I’ve been ashamed, but now that many aspects of my life are starting to solidify, it feels wrong not to know, and not to be able to relate.

I am heavy into context. So, of course, I simply started this reintroduction process by taking a crash course on Filipino history—the early days of island trading, the Spanish Invasion, the rebellions, and the US takeover. I’ve never been a great history student. I could never make myself feel the blood and struggle through mere words on a page—well, in my case, words on a phone screen. It felt human enough though, reading about José Rizal, feeling sympathy for one of the most beloved Filipino nationalists, struck down in his prime at Bagumbayan Field, fighting to free his country of oppressors. Imagining the love his fellow Filipinos bore for him made my heart sick.

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After hours pouring over my phone screen, going from one hyperlink to another, I decided I’d polish off my weekend making Filipino ulam, meaning ‘dish’ or ‘main course’. (No pics of the finished result! My mouth was too fast for my camera!)

 

My most recent connection with my Filipino roots was this evening, on my way home from work. A Spotify playlist of Filipino love songs. The app on my phone that usually detects lyrics didn’t work this time around; the foreign language rendered it impotent. So, I used Google Translate for what phrases I could catch.

 

And suddenly, it all became too much. I don’t know if it was the words I was translating, or my sudden realization of what I was doing, but I felt my face grow warm and tears form in my eyes. I half-recognized the futility of all my efforts and half-reminisced on what I could remember of my few visits back home.

I mentally shook my head at my naive attempts over the last few days. Did I really expect to know my country just by reading about it, eating its food, and listening to a few songs? I looked around at my surroundings.

Where’s the stiff, unwavering heat of Cebu City? Where’s that sense of being surrounded by family? Where’s my lola, fingering her rosary in mass? Where’s rice wrapped in coconut leaves? Where’s the bustle and honks of jeepneys, and the crazy backrider who spreads out his pesos on one hand like cards? Where’s the cement staircase of my father’s house in Banawa Hills, the zapote tree in the front yard?

 

I suddenly felt homesick. But, how could I feel homesick for a place that’s never really been my home?

***

As naive as my endeavors are, maybe this is how people do it. One bite, one song, one history lesson at a time, maybe I’ll find my way back to Cebu.

Tiny rebellion

This second piercing on my ear feels like a tiny rebellion. All my life, being Filipino, there is a sense of maintaining status quo and being the quintessential Filipino girl. We don’t shake things up. We’re not “edgy” or “angsty”. We are sweet and giving and lighthearted. Well, I am, I think. But I’m many other things, too. Being the good, dutiful girl your family always needs doesn’t allow for those other aspects to shine.

My first earrings were pierced into my ears when I was three months old. I had no choice. But you’re expected to keep it at that limit for the rest of your life. I have a boyfriend who has always disliked my mental flirtation with multiple piercings. He associates my one pair of piercings with “purity”. I’m not quite sure what he means by that, but it has nothing to do with me; that is all in his head and I finally decided I’ma do me. Nonetheless, he respects it and doesn’t grimace (too much) whenever he sees it.

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My second piercing feels like an homage to my music taste, a world where musicians and artists ornament their skin with vivid tattoos and piercings prolifically. It’s like with this second piercing now, I’m saying “hey, I belong to your world now” or “my externals are starting to match my internals”. And that feels good.

Nowhere am I close to looking like I belong on the cover of NME magazine or anything. In fact, I probably look no different from far awaydark hair, short, a grin on my face… But this little piece of penetrated real estate on my ear feels like progress, like I marched the streets in a parade, with the soldiers of Expectation and Tradition stoically standing at the very end… And I reached out to them, put a flower on their guns, and won. My very own minuscule revolution.