Unpacked anger

I have been quiet these last couple months. I am trying to re-locate myself. I have not written because my axis of belonging has flipped — X has become Y, and Y has become X.

If you read my blog, you will come across the same themes: displacement, sexual trauma, the frustration of being unable to create meaningful connections, shame, a sense of longing for home, familial tensions, etc.

All of these are edges of the web that still pin me down. I am still trying to piece together the “why” of who I am, and these are major elements of that. I recognize that I am angry because there are still unreconciled pieces.

In this post, I will tell you more about myself, and highlight the parts that I am (still) angry about.

When my family moved to a distinctly different culture than the ones we grew up in, we took no time to process the transition together. I am still angry about that. We were all trying to survive. While my mother and older siblings were working night shifts at casinos and fast food places, I was forced to learn ‘ad-hoc mothering’, babysitting my 6-year-old brother and 6-month-old niece before school, after school, and until the moment I would lay down to sleep. I had to grow up quickly. I am still angry about that.

I was not taught the specific behaviors that would allow me to be more easily accepted by people my own age. Through mistake after mistake, I had to learn that on my own; none of my family knew what I was going through, or gave me the space to tell them. I am still angry about that. When I moved, I was 12. Because of my impressionability at that age, I was painfully aware of my social shortcomings, stumbling into interactions stiffly, uninformed on which conversational cues to use to continue them, helplessly unaware of how to make people comfortable with me. The question I constantly grappled with from the age of 12 to even now, is how do I make them like me? I am still angry about that. I spoke English perfectly — but I couldn’t speak “the language”. I could speak — but I couldn’t communicate. I became silent because my real voice was not acceptable. I am still angry about that.

I am now 25-years-old. Assimilation has become a science to me as a result of painfully nitpicking at myself for over two dozen years. I am angry about that. Assimilation has become my way of survival in whatever arena I am in: work, friendships, romantic relationships… I become whatever the other person needs me to be. I am angry about that. I have learned to observe interactions between people so acutely that interpersonal dynamics start resembling process diagrams in my head.

Seeing patterns between people like this has recently started weighing heavy on my heart. I am constantly at intersections where I recognize and empathize with the pain of people I care about, and find myself ill-equipped to positively influence them. Yet, I blame myself for lacking the courage to try. Every day has become an emotional battlefield. I am angry about that.

I have lost myself at the over-exposure of my heart and my soul (or is it that I never really found myself, and I’m only recognizing that loss more intensely now?). I am angry about that.

The only way I am now able to relate to someone is through their struggle; everyone else who has anything other than pain to share with me, I reject. Unpacked, unprocessed anger is such a contagious emotion, and it’s especially hard to fend it off when I harbour it within myself.

How can I be free of a habit that I have used to survive all these years? How can I accept anything positive when I have fed off of the melancholy for so long?

A close friend told me recently that I deserve to ask myself why I am so angry — why I choose to stay in that place of anger. Maybe this post is the beginning of that.


Daily Post prompt: Relocate

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The Miseducation of Meta-Theresa

I am a small, young, Asian, female immigrant. My exterior is expected to match my interior. I am expected to take up as little space as possible, while I bow my head in submission to your maturity and masculinity.

I learned these things and am burdened with the hyper-awareness that comes with constantly feeling subjugated. I learned.

When you are diminutive, you learn.
When prejudices against your generation affect how people perceive you, you learn.
When stereotypes of your race affect how people treat you, you learn.
When you have strengths, and it is “despite” your gender, you learn.
When you have weaknesses, and it is “because” of your gender, you learn.
When your life path did not start in the country you now live in, you learn.

When that is your reality, you learn.

This is not the education I wanted to partake in, as a child and now as an adult.

I have a full-blown world inside me; do they know this?

Fortunately, I have also learned how necessary it is to take up space;

to take dominion over conference tables and conference calls alike; to let my hand gestures and words consume physical and mental space —

to pull my audience into the world inside me.

This is me, eliminating doubt. I have learned to pick up a paintbrush and start painting something beautiful and badass over it.

ღ, ts

* * *

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Daily post prompt: Doubt

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.