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


Emotional nomad


I had the suitcase with all the books, I remember. Recipe books, my mother’s accounting books, romance novels I had secretly read just for the naughty parts. I was 12 years old and immigrating with my family to Canada… leaving my island, my haven in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I think out of all my points of identity: Asian, woman, heterosexual, millennial… the one that has created the most powerful ripples in my life, ripples that still affect me as much as they did 21 years ago, is my identity as an immigrant.

I have been an immigrant most of my life. From the time I was three years old, I have only ever lived in places other than where I was born. And that has had such profound repercussions on me, my approach to life, and my relationships with people.

It’s not my fight.

That has been my mother’s mantra for as long as I remember. Don’t get involved, just mind your own business, stay quiet, do your work well, and you will be successful. After all, we are just passing through, right?

In today’s world where everything that can be said aloud can be taken the wrong way, it’s hard to maintain that veneer of impartiality. And the more I grow up, the more I can’t avoid putting down roots and standing up for something. For me, being raised to think like an immigrant meant things like: not maintaining friendships after moving; not exploring the place I lived; not developing a relationship with my environment.

It’s difficult for me to imagine knowing an area like the back of my own handI’ve never stayed long enough in one area to do so. I hear people refer to a particular shop on a particular street as if they were lovingly describing an old family friend, with comfort and certainty in their voices.

And oh, how I do envy them, and the easy camaraderie they enjoy with fellow locals. Becoming an adult, I’ve discovered that knowing the in’s and out’s of surrounding neighborhoods provides lubrication to your social life. But I can’t force myself into those crowds. I’ve never really been good at bullshitting. I only remember a place by how it made me feel, not by what I did there or who I knew there. They’re just flashes of color on a globe.

People are easier, I think. You get wrapped up in them and fall in love with them. There is history, context, pain, lingering stares, direct touch. But with the exception of ex-lovers who have changed me irrevocably, these tendrils of people will eventually pass and slip away to the wind. I know it makes me seem heartless and fickle to those whose lives I just disappear from. But trust me, I do have a heart. It’s just been spread thin, I think, from living in too many places or leaving too many people, I don’t know. Most of the time, like a parasite, it knows its time with its host is limited and temporary; it will just move on.

This will change, I know. My heart’s passiveness will cease once I have children; I will then be forced out of necessity and sanity to know the in’s and out’s of surrounding neighborhoods on the way to music lessons and shopping trips, and I will grow to love the place I’ve settled into like an old family friend. No social anxiety. No restlessness. Just a love for the area and knowing it loves me back. I look forward to that.

It may sound romantic to think and feel like an emotional nomad, but it’s really not. It gets pretty lonely sometimes. Next time you read a less-than-positive article about immigrants, or see a group of unfamiliar people congregated somewhere, I plead with you to be generous, and to understand that they are far away from home and are trying to make the best of it.