Memoir

24Oct12

From childhood to this very day, I’d describe myself as ever-observant, thoughtful, insightful.  I have alwasy been the type to closely watch everything around me.  What I see shapes what I think of the world, and there is much to think about.  Even now, the wide-eyed, curious child is still alive inside me.  Unfortunately, from my twenty years of constant observation the society I see falls quite short of the ideal.  I believe that I have suffered from the shortcomings of a discriminatory, limited society as a second-generation Filipina. This is my story.

I was born to John and Nancy Mendoza, two Filipinos, on June 18, 1992.  It is not so coincidental that my parents married one of their own background because both my mother and father were part of a tight-knit Filipino community.  Their connection was a Filipino Baptist church.  My grandfather, my mother’s father, was the pastor.  I grew up in this community made up of many extended family members, family friends and their families, and numerous cousins and other children.  This Filipino bubble was all I knew for a couple of years.  We were church-centered, family-oriented, conservative, and as I was later to discover, very different from typical white Americans.  This was my world, and I was happy in it, small as it was, because I had been exposed to nothing different yet.  That would soon change.

Elementary school brought my exposure to people of different ethnicities.  There were children who looked different than me, which was a change from being surrounded by the usual brown-skinned, dark-haired children I played with at church. 

I do not know exactly when I began to resent my heritage, but it showed in my choice of friends.  While asian girls in my classes would usually bond with each other, I chose to associate with the white girls instead.  To me they seemed better, prettier, and more desirable than the others.  I prided myself in choosing difference and diversity over racial familiarity.  This was something I kept up for many years.  It was difficult to maintain these relationships at times, for I had two things the white girls did not- a foreign heritage, and a Filipina mother.

While my white friends would have play dates and sleep-overs, my mother would keep me at home, justifying her decision by telling me I could get raped or murdered at my friends’ houses.  In her mind it was not safe for me to enter another family’s house.  My friends’ invitations would come, I would have to refuse, and then they just stopped coming.  I have heard other Filipina daughters complain of this over-protectiveness of Filipina mothers.  They too had mothers who did not let them hang out with other children.  I am sure this cultural tendency is rooted in the notion that Filipina daughters are to be protected and shielded from the dangers of society.  I know that it has set a great difference between me and more Americanized children.  I was outcasted and alienated from ongoing playground discussions of last night’s sleepover or last weekend’s birthday party.  I grew jealous and came to pity myself.  I had a strong longing to be like them- the white girls whose parents were not so conservative.

My eyes were opened to even more cultural and personal differences as I watched these girls I called friends day after day.  I became a jealous observer, self objectifying and self-loathing due to the differences I saw between me and the other girls.  Shea wor pretty, form-fitting clothes while my mother dressed me in matching outfits with my brother.  Taylor was talkative and the life of the party while I felt I had nothing worthwhile to add to the conversation.  Melissa got her nails done while I had never even heard of a nail salon.  Cassie’s mother taught her how to shave her legs while my mother had never shaved her legs in her life.  The differences piled up and I started to realize I came from a totally different world than these girls– my mother’s world– a world where good girls would dress modestly, and stay quiet; a world where no one could afford to indulge in luxuries such as manicures; a world where Filipina women just didn’t shave their legs.

I was different from these girls and I knew it, hated it.  This self-awareness led me to turn a critical eye upon my foreigner upbringing.  I blamed it for my suffering.  For my early teenage years I was an angry, resentful person at home.  I remember being disgusted with their unassimilated immigrant parents and their uncivilized Filipino ways.  The sight of my mother eating with her hands, as is custom in the Philipines, would repulse me.  I would object to attending Filipino gatherings as well, hating the Filipino men who typically stare too much and use the outside house walls as bathrooms.  To me, Filipino culture was inferior to white American culture.  Little did I know, that is the way every foreign culture is perceived behind the veil of political correctness. 

Would this self-loathing have ever occurred had their been less differences between myself and my white peers?  No, I do not think so.  As a child I took on a negative attitude based on my observations.  It is a part of my history that has greatly shaped my self image.  I admit that there were days when I would think life would be easier if only I had been born white.  This self-damaging thought actually has some truth to it because it is easier for white people to be accepted into society.  Whether it be a job interview or being picked for a team on the playground, it is more likely for the white girl to be chosen.  Society favors white skinned, Americanized people.  My ever-observant eyeing of white girls has led me to believe this.  I cannot help but wish to be white when wherever I go it is advertised to be the ideal.

Yet, here I am.  A short, thick-boned, dark-haired, brown-skinned Filipina struggling with haunting thoughts of self-prejudice.  There are many more challenges ahead of me.  I am ever watchful for them, still intrigued by what I see before me, a wide-eyed child who sees it all.

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