American | Filipino

Photo credit: @am.hamon

Photo credit: @am.hamon

I identify as both Filipino and American, have dual citizenship. My mother is from Manila, Philippines and my dad is from the Tri-state area of New York. They met on an army base in the Philippines, my mother was my father’s computer teacher (my father is nine years older than my mother). I grew up in San Antonio, Texas.

I initially thought as a child, that apart from there being a boy and a girl who loved each other to make a baby, I thought that parents also had to be White and Brown. So, I started to really notice that I was mixed-race when I would be at Filipino parties for my mother and her friends. All the other kids’ parents were both beautiful Brown Filipinos and could converse with each other easily without effort in my mother’s native tongue. Everything was a bit of an effort between my parents during the days I could remember. My supplemental family of my grandparents and my auntie and uncle (my mother’s mothers’ sister and brother in law) all helped the communication for better and for worse. For a while we even all lived in the same house. Back then it was my grandparents and my parents all taking care of me. It became even more staunch once I started attending kindergarten outside of the normal little Filipino community. Since it was both Catholic and in south central Texas, if you were not White, you were Latin. There were very few Black people and a few Asians. So, I didn’t see any other Filipinos; kids, families, not really that many Asians either, we talked about our families and not only was it considered ‘weird’ that both of my grandparents lived with me.

My parents tried to combine their cultures for a long time Maybe it wasn’t trying all the way through, but at some point, there was a certain amount of effort that was needed to make it, and then finally the effort just became too hard. So, my parents divorced. My mother missed being around other Filipinos, but she also just had some parental challenges with me, not that I was a bad kid, or that she was a bad mom, there was just a lot more effort with being a mom for her. For my grandma and my aunt on the other hand that was pretty easy, which is something my dad criticized my mom about. My supplemental family is and still was one of the reasons I didn’t become totally messed up. My parents divorced when I was five, so this is basically all I know. I don’t remember whatever interracial love they shared, the only trace of it is me. My dad is also one of, if not the best dad out there. He was never raised by the school-defined version of ‘the right way’ but he tried his best to take care of me. One thing was They always had me switching houses which I hated. It was mostly because my mom would want alone time to be with her friends or with her boyfriend at the time. My dad would always want to have me, but I was in my mother’s custody, so he would have to ask for me, but I still had my mother who still ‘wanted to see’. Growing up, even as much as my dad loved me, I would feel so sad having to be with him because then I wouldn’t get to be with my grandparents who were the main people who raised me, and my aunt and uncle couldn’t come visit me after work when I was with my dad.

It’s taken me about twenty years of life to realize it’s my dad who has done so much for me.

It was interesting to have pancakes, waffles, and cereal for one month and then have fish, rice, and spam another. That was breakfast, but lunch to school was the worse. The other kids would make fun of me for bringing in my ethnic Filipino food, so I would shamelessly ask my loving grandma to make me/pack more White food so that resulted in a lot of pre-assembled grocery store food instead of the wonderful food full of heritage that I will proudly eat in front of any audience today. She did it, because she loved me, but I think it really hurt when I told my adorable grandma that the other kids said her food smelled like dog food. So, we adjusted. My life has just been full of a lot of adjustments. It was almost as if there was a switch in my brain that flipped on depending on where I was at. It wasn’t until late in high school when I discovered I was a code-switcher, because one of my friends pointed out how clear my diction and pronunciation my voice was when I was with my dad compared to how soft fluty and melodic my voice would be when I was at my mother’s. It got to the point where my friend would make a kind of game out of it and guess which house I was at depending on how my voice sounded. Though I say I would switch off months, there would be some discrepancies still in scheduling, so this was a very interesting little game indeed because each time my friend would get it right.

My social environment does play a part in how I choose my friends & partners, but not for reasons concerning race. Maybe my upbringing makes me subconsciously seek out people who are open minded, who won’t make fun of the food I eat or the fact that I am close to my family. Who see those things and the way that I look and love me for who I am. That’s true for anybody, but I already know my life would be harder if I don’t surround myself with open encouraging people.

I feel that by being mixed-race I have this inherent need for communicating and finding things that are lost in translation. As an artist of stage and screen I feel like it my duty to tell a story from a new perspective; whether that means it’s for a single character, a storyline, or the whole arc and tone of a piece. I have been acting for a couple years now and being mixed-race gives me different cultures and perspectives to draw from. When I’m writing, as for most writers I also draw from my perspective to either create a world I know well- or a world I never got to see as a young half-Asian kid. I produced and wrote a script just so I could place myself in it, because before ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ came out, seeing Asians celebrated let alone in media that way was not prevalent. People just didn’t know what to do with Asians honestly. That’s sounds laughable but it’s so true. I have also directed work, and I purposefully cast people in one of my favorite era’s the 1950’s because you never see all that much about anyone besides the White perspective of that time, although it’s more than certain that there were other people out there in the world who weren’t just White. Not that I’m anti-White, I’m half White after all, but there needs to representation out there. No matter what. And not tokenism, actual representation. I also produce shows for theatre, and sometimes that is what has to be done to make sure representation for any person of color can happen. Being mixed-race has made me appreciate how people admire our beauty and ‘exoticness’ but that is not all that we are. We are people in need of a voice and a face and a story out there. That is what I hope I can bring in the industry.

I can understand everything in Filipino (aka Tagalog), however I cannot speak it fluently. It makes me feel not Filipino enough more than I already am, but because of how I look I also don’t feel White enough either. I do speak English rather well though. So at least that is a plus.

I connect with the open brash culture. I don’t know if it is an Asian trait, but I do know that Asian parents and families are more ‘judgmental’ than the normal nuclear American family would like to be. But I appreciate the openness that can come from clearing the air. There is a fine balance between that and being close minded, but I love that because they care they will have these expectations for you because they only want the best for you. For a while because I chose to go into the arts instead of the usual beloved medical field, this was a hard reality to accept, but as they saw me working really hard they began to apply their same concern but in a way that supports me instead of tearing me down. They are asking the same questions I am asking for myself in this industry that does not have any real solid path, but I’m asking them too.

When people ask where I’m from I would usually say San Antonio, Texas. If they were obviously asking to ‘know what my mix is’ then I’ll answer it so they don’t have to ask. But for any guys out there, a girl’s race is not your calling card or your way to drop a line and make a move on her.

I like that I can be ambiguous at times, it helps me to play many roles where they are looking for someone Brown and ambiguous, but definitely Brown. As for everything else, I now like and appreciate my expanded knowledge of different foods and travel. My background and my family always encouraged me to try different foods and go different places. To be open to different experiences. That in turn just enriches my experience and my existence as a human.

We are like men without a land. People without a people, and when we do find people, they are normally never your ‘mix’. Even if they are, very rarely is their story even truly just like yours, but it’s comforting to even find other mixed people because we already cling to what we got. Well now my ‘look’ in Hollywood is in, I guess, but what if that’s a ‘trend’? Isn’t that a sad thing to think about? That a whole group of people based off of race/races could be a trend? But it is. It’s wonderful and challenging, because I hope that after the lovely of the non-traditional wears off, that then we just become the normal and that there will be only more opportunity for us.

If I had the opportunity to be reincarnated I would want to come back as a rich person’s dog. Not the purse kind, but definitely the kind that is over groomed and over spoiled, maybe I compete in dog shows, but that might make me a purebred which I am definitely not now.

That being said, I guess I would sadly want to see what would have happened had I gone through my life White, and then maybe even another life to see what it would be like to be entirely Filipino. But beyond just the fascination of it all, I wouldn’t want to come back any other way because I love who I am. As conflicted as a life mixed could be. I love being mixed and wouldn’t have it any other way.