It seems we don’t talk a lot about it, but to be sure, there are distinct pains, complexities and privileges associated with mixed heritage people. And I’m realizing that these distinctions can be quite fruitful to discussions of race and gender. For I realized that mixed heritage families are a perfect example of “families on the fault lines.” In other words, mixed families undergo a unique experience that may reflect and deify notions of privilege and hierarchy. At the same time, they hold vast potential to resist narratives of the normalized body.
In my case, I’ve experienced both privilege and oppression with my identity and family background. For instance, while folks in the Filipino community might easily classify me as one of them, this isn’t the case for those outside this community. Filipinos are so underrepresented in the media and other forms of public representation that people don’t seem to understand what it means to be a dark-skinned Asian. They seem to only think of East Asia when they hear “Asian” (as if the region of Southeast Asia doesn’t exist!). I’ve gotten Latino, Chinese, Indian–you name it. (And to be fair, I’ve inherited some of my father’s bi-racial characteristics which further confounds people.) There’s a sort of erasure and concomitant exotification that occurs just by virtue of being Filipino or any other underrepresented ethnic group.
On the other hand, there is a distancing from this Otherness that happens through my last name. I’m clearly not white, but my name–Anna Sterling–sure does sound white. It never fails as a conversation starter; by rote I explain that my paternal grandfather was an American soldier stationed in the Philippines during WWII. My father was bi-racial, hence the last name. I know for a fact that this last name has conferred privileges onto me throughout time–everywhere from fitting in with my white suburban friends a little bit more than those with more traditional names like Magpantay or Danganan to perhaps having eyes linger on my resume in job searches a few seconds longer.
Then again, I’m brought back to my physical appearance and the significance of it. My father married a full-blooded Filipina woman when he got to the states and as my mom says: “he fell in love with my native Filipina beauty!” My light-skinned father and “native-looking” mother (read: dark!) created a rainbow-colored spectrum of children. My other two sisters obtained my father’s light skin while I inherited my mother’s dark skin. It’s really sad to think about the policing I went through as a child: my own sisters would say I was dirty and that I needed to shower; family friends had the audacity to ask immediately upon seeing me “Did you just come from the pool? Why you so dark?!”; I’ve had people “compliment” me with, “You’d be so pretty if you weren’t so dark!” Even more, if you flipped your TV over to the Filipino channel, you’d be shocked at the total whiteness of those given space in the media. No matter how many times I watch Filipino TV, the almost geisha-whiteness of the actors and personalities continues to astound me. It’s made strikingly clear– whiteness is beautiful. (In fact, so many of the most popular actors are half-white that I’m beginning to think it’s a prerequisite!) I absolutely hated my skin color growing up (and no wonder!). Another dark skinned friend of mine would literally wear turtlenecks in the blazing summer heat. And I’ll never forget the time I bitterly told my mom through clenched teeth, “I hate you for giving me this dark skin.” My mom wasn’t defensive and angry, but instead replied in the most gentlest way, conveying sadness and deep disappointment. Thinking of that breaks my heart.
—by Anna, excerpted from “Dark Skinned White Girls.” Read the rest at Feministing.
I identify as Filipina and black. I do this to give honor to the struggles both my Filipina mother and my black father have had to endure. I give respect by learning both heritages and never denying one or the other. My identity is heavily influenced by both society and my parents. Both influences intersect to make me who I am. I feel that both my parents have endured a great deal due to society’s conscious and unconscious views on race and class. The way society works has developed my parents into hard working people that took the only paths offered to them. For my father, it was entering the military and escaping the harsh life of Jacksonville, Alabama. For my mother in the Philippines, it was working at an Air Force base. Their paths would cross and they would marry and have four children of which I am the youngest.
My parents are still together and talk openly about racial issues that they have to deal with. The funny thing is that they do not connect their struggles. My father understands about black oppression, but not about Asian and Pacific Islander struggles and vice versa for my mother. While my mother is coming to a certain consciousness about not wanting to be called “Oriental,” my father has to be gently reminded that the term is rather offensive.
—by Lulu, published in “Blended Nation: Portraits and Interviews of Mixed Race America.” Read the rest at Filipinas Magazine.
(Image Credit: Lulu Carpenter, Filipinas Magazine)