We celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month during the month of May. This month is to recognize all the contributions made by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. The month of May gives me the opportunity to celebrate my own Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage in a way that I couldn’t before.
Many people look at me and they assume I’m just African American. I’m so much more than that. A huge part of my identity is my Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. My mom’s Filipino, Chinese and Hawaiian. She chose to raise us on those cultures. Everything about these cultures are amazing. I love the food, music and all the little pieces that make up the cultures I grew up on.
Unfortunately, some people don’t believe that I’m Asian or Pacific Islander until they meet my mom because she “looks the part” (at least in their eyes). It was hard for me to be proud of who I was. So many people were telling me that I wasn’t something I knew I was. When I would tell people that I was Hawaiian, Filipino or even just Asian, they’d say “Well, you don’t look Asian” as if that’s how it works.
Although I might not look Asian, I still am and that isn’t for anyone else to decide. I will not allow anyone to take my heritage away from me. Out of my siblings and I, Donovan looks the most Asian. People have mistaken random Asian children in public as my brother (my mom was notorious for this).
Honestly, I was jealous of my brother because I was tired of people telling me that I was just black. I love every part of who I am but there is more to me than just being African American. I grew up eating Hawaiian and Filipino food, they’re some of my favorite meals to have. When I got older, my mom actually taught me how to make them. Someday, I hope to share those recipes with my own children.
We should share and celebrate everything that each our cultures has to offer. Celebrating this month reminds me that whether I look the part or not, I’m still Asian American and Pacific Islander. I will never allow anyone to tell me who I’m supposed to be. I’m proud of my heritage and I am so thankful that I have so many cultures to pass on.
How will you be celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this year?
All my life I’ve had people tell what I am and what I’m not based on how I look. My race isn’t for anyone else but me to decide. Growing up, a lot of people would assume I was Black, or Indian because that’s how I looked to them. Looking at me, you probably wouldn’t know that I was multiracial. Just because I don’t look it, doesn’t mean that you get to decide what I am.
I often tell people that I’m a “mutt” because I’m not just one nationality and neither are my parents. My mother is English, Irish, Filipino, Hawaiian, Portuguese and Chinese. And my father is African American, West Indian and Dutch (you couldn’t tell that by looking at him though LOL). Honestly, you wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t tell you. To most people, my dad’s just Black and my mom’s just Asian because that’s how they look. Which is what a lot of people do to me.
To most people, I am just Black because that’s how I present but I am more than that. I am multiracial and I love each and every part of who I am. Aside from being Black, a huge part of who I am is also being Asian. Like I said, my mother is mostly Asian. She raised my siblings and I on a lot of Asian culture. She definitely cooks some of the best homemade Asian food I’ve ever had. While you can definitely tell my mom is Asian, I don’t really look it (at leas according to most people). In fact, when I tell people that I am, they’re often kind of shocked or don’t even believe me.
Once in middle school, I actually had someone tell me that being Hawaiian wasn’t even a real thing. I thought they were joking but they very much were not. When I was younger a lot of people would assume that I was Indian or Hispanic because that’s how I looked to them. I hated it. People would say things like, “You have beautiful Indian hair” or “Do you speak Spanish? You look Dominican.” I wasn’t those nationalities, I knew what I was but it still made me feel confused. Why would someone say something like that when it wasn’t true?
Eventually, I realized that it was because of how I looked. I didn’t look like all those nationalities that I listed before. Was I supposed to? Just to be clear, the answer is no. I’m mixed, I wouldn’t look like just any one nationality but I had dark skin and to a lot of people that would make me just Black. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. When I got older, a woman told me that I got hired because I looked like I could speak Spanish. I couldn’t believe it, they didn’t ask me that in the interview nor was it a requirement.
It still happens occasionally but I am truly proud to be multiracial. Because of my parents, nobody can place me into one racial category. I am so much more than that. I’m a blend of beautiful cultures and nationalities, I’m proud of that. I know that I may not look like those nationalities to you but they will always be a part of who I am. Nobody gets to tell me that except me. My race isn’t for you to decide.
For those of you that don’t know, I am multi-racial. I am a quarter Filipino, and while it might not seem like much, it is a big part of my identity. My grandfather was born and raised in the Philippines and my mom is half Filipino. It’s not like my Filipino genetics are generations and generations away. But, because I am for the most part white-presenting, a lot of the time, this part of me gets very invalidated. Because I look white, I am basically told “well you’re just a white person.” It makes me feel like I can’t talk about that part of my identity without pushback.
It’s really unfair because growing up, my mom always tried to teach me about Filipino culture and she even tried to teach me some Spanish words as a child. For those of you that don’t know, the Spanish colonized in the Philippines so there are a lot of Spanish Filipinos. For example, my grandfather’s mother was the Spanish Filipino and his father was native Filipino without any Spanish mixed in.
Not only did my mom always try to teach me about Filipino culture, but I had an array of things from the Philippines that I still have to this day. I have a dress and sandals from the Philippines that was once my mom’s. I have handmade purses and other trinkets from the Philippines. I even have a Filipino Barbie Doll. It was always something that was a part of my identity. It was always my favorite thing to tell people whenever I shared fun facts about myself. So, it really hurts when I’m just told “you’re just a white person.” It’s extremely invalidating.
I was not always white presenting. When I was younger, I was much darker than I am now. As I’ve aged, my skin pigment has definitely lessened. But when I was younger, I definitely looked like I could be a different race. What’s interesting though is my brother who is only 14 months older than me looked completely white. People never in a million years would have thought he was Filipino. He had blond hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. Me? Not so much. I had dark hair, brown eyes, and dark skin.
It wasn’t just my brother though that I didn’t look like. My cousins on my dad’s side all were very white looking so I always kind of stood out when I was with them. And, I was with them every week because my grandparents and aunt took us everywhere. I was the dark one amongst the fair-skinned children. Thankfully though, I did have cousins who looked more like me on my mom’s side (aka the Filipino side).
So yes, while I am 75% white, at the end of the day, I am still Filipino and it that will never stop being a part of me. Am I mostly white? Yes. Does that mean it’s okay for people to throw that in my face when I speak about my Filipino family and culture? No. You can’t tell someone they don’t represent a race just because they are white-presenting. Believe me, I am more than just a white person.
And even though I am not bi-lingual, that does not make a part of my identity invalid. Also, I would like to point out I wish I could speak Tagalog, but my mom had never learned. When I asked my grandmother why none of her children learned, she said they were not interested because yes, my white grandmother could fluently speak it.
I got the same answer from my grandmother on my other side who was an immigrant to this country from Germany. She spoke Polish and German and none of her kids were interested in learning either. I COULD have known at least 4 languages, but that is another conversation.
Regardless, just because someone is white-presenting, that does not give you permission to decide for them that they are or are not something based on what they look like to you. In this day and age, there are so many mixed people and really you’re better off just not assuming that someone is this or that just because they appear a certain race or ethnicity on the outside. It’s just plain rude. I know plenty of people who are mixed with darker skinned races who present white, but guess what, they’re other races besides white-European.
So next time you try to tell someone they are white just because they are white-presenting, don’t. Let them tell you for themselves what their race/ethnicity is. Bonus tip: don’t tell someone who is actually mixed race that they cannot present their race because they don’t look it, especially after they have told you that they are more than just white.
I’d also like to note here that not everyone likes to argue with me about what I am. There are a lot of people who do openly ask me what race I am because I really do not think that I look completely white. I definitely have features that some people have described as “exotic” (LOL, not even kidding). Being mixed is cool and unique. I definitely would not change it for the world. And if you are mixed and white-presenting, do not take shit from anyone, your identity is completely valid.
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