Friday, June 17, 2011

The Post Where I Write About How A White Person Told Me I'm Not Asian...

You know, it took me a long time to get here. To the place where I was really interested in being a Filipina, where I proudly identified as Asian/Pacific Islander.

I grew up with a mother who wasn't really proud of her heritage. We never really discussed it but it seemed to me that being Filipina, in her mind, was equated with being poor, dirty, classless. I don't know if this belief system developed after moving to the US when she was 18, realizing that speaking English with an accent and having to access public services was a way that "othered" her in the minds of the dominant culture or if it was a belief she always held. I know that she was well off even by US standards of wealth, I know she was spoiled and use to getting her way when she was growing up in the Philippines. I am betting that it was the move to the US that really made her ashamed of her heritage and roots. But, of course, I'm just guessing at this point. I know from many of the things I've ready that immigrants often feel pushed into two different ways of coping with a new country: to completely assimilate, meaning leaving behind their birth cultures/languages/rituals or they can isolate and only surround themselves with other immigrants from their homelands. I've also read that the more an immigrant is able to effectively navigate between both cultures, the easier time they seem to have adjusting, mental health-wise.

So I was raised by my heritage-hating mother and my racist-as-all-get-out stepfather. We lived in a very diverse area of Virgina Beach. It's a big Navy town so there are many cultures represented there. I ate Americanized Filipino food but all my mother's relatives lived in other states so I didn't have that meaningful interaction that can really help young people develop their identities. I didn't meet my amazing Auntie Lita and Uncle Bob and all my crazy (and I mean that in the most beloved of ways) cousins until I was 10 years old. So I had no frame of reference or guidance about what it meant to be Filipina, what the culture was all about. I rarely heard Tagalog spoken in my home and I usually just giggled about it with my sister. We made fun of my mom's accent mercilessly. We were assholes.

But now, here I am...A Honky-Pina, trying to continue to grow in my knowledge of what that means and how I can make sure that my son, my American-Ethio-Pino son, knows about his mama's culture and, most importantly, his own. (His dada identifies as New Mexican but he is white and I know that my son will be schooled in the ways of the white world his entire life, lessons that won't always be easy ones, so I'm not particularly concerned about that. The New Mexican indoctrination has already begun, however.)

So when a white person whispers, "It's the *Asians* in their *Mercedes* who are really bad drivers" THIS Asian gets her hackles raised.

I said, "Why are you *whispering*?"

White co-worker, "Because it's politically incorrect."
(I hate that term so much. SO MUCH. Again, politically correct is the term people use when they want to be jerks and are about to say something completely offensive or off-putting. You're either respectful or a racist/classist/sexist/homophobic jerk. There's nothing correct or political about it.)

I say, "We're ASIAN." (My Honky-Pina co-worker was standing next to me. What are the chances that there are 2 of us in Portland, Oregon who happen to share an office? Someone, do a survey, please.)

White co-worker, "No you're not."

We both say, "Yes. We are."

White co-worker, "Oh Filipino. That's not Asian." (I think she said "That doesn't count" but I can't be sure.)

Me, "Yes. It is. And I'm a very good driver." (I'm not, I'm a HORRIBLE driver but fuck her.)

I walked out of the break room at that point. My co-worker came into our office and we just shook our heads. This white co-worker has said other things, nothing this blatant, but ignorant nonetheless. She also sent out a pretty offensive email mocking Asian names (I will note here that she didn't send it to any of the Asians in the office, I just happened to be shown it by another co-worker).

What could I do? I had already given a culture competency presentation the week before. Ms. White Co-Worker was SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO ME during it. What more could I do? The reason I was asked to give the presentation in the first place was that my manager thought it would be a good response to some of the things (the email being one of them that I brought to her attention) that had been happening in the office.

If I wanted to pursue it I'm sure I could. This health system is really gearing up for a big cultural competency intiative, which I am pleased to say that I am a part of, so I know they are taking things like this seriously (unlike the other health system where I work at where they could give a crap about their managers displaying racist jokes). But you know what?

I'm tired.

I just want to sit in the sun and play with my baby and husband and for a few days not think about how many horrible things are rattling around in the minds of people in this world and how they lack the filters on their mouths that prevent them from blurting them out.

Clearly nothing I say is going to change her mind. So I said nothing. I'm picking my battles and this one just isn't worth the fight.

But you can bet your ass I'm not going to be chumming it up with her any time soon.


Lani said...

As your fellow Honky-Pina, I agree with your post. It's an exhausting line to walk, what to say (or not say), trying to figure out someone's intent, and whether, in the end, it's worth it or not (as far as changing any attitudes). I find the older I get, the more I hunker down with the family and spend my time and effort on the two who's minds/attitudes I have (the illusion, at least)more control of, my kids.

Posy Quarterman Photography said...

I love this: "You're either respectful or a racist/classist/sexist/homophobic jerk. There's nothing correct or political about it."


And this - "I'm not, I'm a HORRIBLE driver but fuck her." made me laugh out loud.


Semi-feral Mama said...

I had lived in Vancouver, BC exactly one day. I was driving. I was lost. I was going very slow. Some kind leaned on his horn, pulled up next to me and shouted out his window, "you are driving so bad, I thought you were Chinese!". My immediate response was to yell back, "My mother IS Chinese.". My mother isn't Chinese and I had never heard the stereotype before. Of course my immediate reaction to a racist confrontation is to jump right in even if I don't have any idea what the insult means. You sure work with a lot of idiots.