mudbloods, but make it worse

flag of Philippines
do i have my own photos? yes
am i still using these unsplash stills? yes
do i have issues? oh yeah

there’s a caste system in everything. the philippines is only one of many countries that employ one.

it starts with what we associate with success and fame and the “It” goal: being white. sometimes this can be replaced with being american on a good day, sometimes it’s just anyone with unbelievably fairer skin. either way, this ingrained goal, despite not actually being stated, is why the skin whitening industry is so successful and why most representation of filipinos is unbelievably lightskinned. or, in nicer terms, “fair.”

then it breaks down into being mestizo, which is a fancy colonizer way to say having mixed blood. if your genes are good and you’re “fair” then you have a pretty secure grip on the societal ladder. if you don’t, at least you have a “fair” parent. having mixed families is, for some reason, romanticised and fetishized, which isn’t cool, but somehow nobody talks about that? anyway.

the more melanin you have, the less you’re seen as equal to the “It” goal, or seen as equal, or even seen in general, and it’s this weird horrible phenomenon of internalizing colonial thinking that’s led filipinos to either:

favoring the system

or

favoring the exact opposite, which spurns anyone who isn’t pure filipino.

enter the anomaly that is having both biological parents mixed themselves, growing up in a different country, absorbing three cultures without really knowing where they come from, and finally, going back to the place it all started, and being unnaturally, atypically, ungodly, different.

enter me.

i don’t say all of this to the old guy sitting on the plastic chair by the street though. his confused reaction at my sudden spout of words would just confirm my point, and despite knowing it solidly for about all my life i’m not ready to hear it from another person. so i don’t say any of that when he says

“are you chinese?”

do i LooK like i want to scream, but i realize that i probably do.

“ah, my dad’s filipino, my mom’s chinese,” i answer.

i’m lying. my biological parents have so many different elements in both their dna, chinese included, that just transferred onto me. genetics people, genetics.

but i can’t bring out a punnet square and clarify to this interesting wrinkled person who eagerly waved at my camera just a few minutes ago, not to someone that probably doesn’t even know what genes are, not to someone who doesn’t know, period. easier for him and me.

that last bit’s a lie too. this sucks.

it’s a cruel world, one in which my skin isn’t dark enough to be oppressed and not light enough to be fetishized, in which i’ll still be asked if i have an accent or where i come from or applauded for having perfect english, in which i am a surprise because i’m not like “the others” but that just makes me an other. is that really much of an improvement?

being a token diverse person in the eyes of those who haven’t yet come face to face with the reality that a person can be so complex in every single sense of the word isn’t the worst thing ever, but it… isn’t fun. and it makes connecting with what little of this culture and of being a person of color i can call “mine”, because none of it seems to be, really.

like i can’t infringe on the specific opportunities for one people group despite not having those for mine either, or go to community centers created for priority neighborhood kids despite growing up one.

i don’t have any happy conclusion, but i imagine hermoine and all those other kids must’ve felt the same struggles in their weird fantasy world, somehow, in some strange way, must’ve related to not belonging. i don’t know much about fantasy worlds, so don’t kill me.

all i do know is we all have a bit of that magic in all of us, especially in the mixed and the barely there and the very much there that it makes no sense to divide ourselves by arbitrary lines that get blurred every single time.

and i wish i could answer this guy when he asks

“where do you come from”

and i wish i didn’t have to answer this question again.

~hey guys it’s me, the biggest disappointment you know, jo~

we get the job done

Statue of Liberty
unsplash, amazing. me, not so much.

if i had my words at the time,

if i had my mind collected to answer your casual conversation about the news of the world and the news of the country neither of us have an official citzenship to (yet) but both consider home,

if i’d known how far into your experiences you’d lean, how proud you are of how far you’ve come, who’ve you brought and who you came back for,

if i realized that a person can so easily be shaped by what they consider right,

perhaps i wouldn’t have stayed silent as you explained why you believed systemic racism doesn’t exist.

perhaps, knowing that your mind would not be swayed from your belief that the plight of the people with the same skin as you and i was nothing more than an opportunity presented as a struggle,

that surely, because you came through your experiences successful, proud, and happy, that is every immigrant’s story, that is every person of color’s life if they would only put their minds to it,

that this couldn’t be true because it didn’t happen to you,

that it was merely a shift of blame from personal failure to the system’s,

that all you needed to cure this horrible plague called racism was to merely keep your head up and make friends of your enemies,

i would’ve been more factual, more precise, less sympathetic (because you in all your kind words are surprisingly not),

but that wouldn’t have changed anything, would it?

no, realistically, none of our talk affects what we were talking about,

however.

it affects me.

you speak with pride of your past, of your thoughts, of your opinion. you came from soldier’s guts and the will of your last name. when old dad died in the states, everyone took the papers he didn’t sign and wrote them for themselves and they simply did. it was the family way. to stick together and to grab at any chance whatsoever together.

you were my age when old dad died. you were my age when old mom and your sister had chosen to move for themselves since there was nobody to move for them. you were the first of us to live in the projects, the first to fish around in the dumpsters, the first to try, the first to survive in this country. you helped bring most of the family here. you know this, you say, you know struggle, you have friends, they’ve struggled, that is how life is.

(and you call me the pessimist.)

“assimilation” you say, raising a glass of water, “is something everyone has to do. otherwise, why bother coming to the country?”

this from the person who fears losing the family history, always comments on the new kids being born with english names, insists on learning our native tongue, always prepares a mix of foreign dishes with a side of rice because otherwise that is not a meal, this is coming from a beautiful, kind, unknowing hypocrite. you have made yourself presentable to be treated regularly (and boom, who defines what’s regular? you just admitted it’s not us), but the culture that flows in you is the culture they do not want, and so you say assimilation is good.

i refrain from mentioning residential schools and the similar mentalities even now as you comment, “oh, and the docs said i was a monkey, but that’s just one bad doc, that’s all it is.”

see, you had me til “all” and “just”.

i’m quiet, but not by desire. i need to hear this, i need to know how you think, and it is… it is like every other human who has ever thought. they are strong thoughts, brave thoughts, misguided and sad thoughts, adaptable, survivalist, idealistic, and human thoughts. i have similar ones, and all of them just echo one repeating line:

beating the system doesn’t mean the system doesn’t exist. beating the system doesn’t mean the system doesn’t exist. you’re not supposed to push through an unforgiving system, that system is supposed to help you, not hold you back

you deny this. at this point, it’s rather ironic. no, it’s just how you make the most of this opportunity, no, it’s what you choose to make of it.
and you are right, of course you are.
but you’re wrong when you say that it’s just. it’s not just. and it’s not just. both definitions.

are you so content with pushing to exist in this space that you find the cries of people just like you doing the same thing on a larger scale than you did meaningless? have you accepted that your experience has got to be every other immigrant, everyone other person of color, every other human’s experience, and therefore your outlook on life will be everyone else’s too; to just reach for the grapes that are enticingly dangled above you? to jump and jump and jump even as every time you get closer they’re whisked out of reach? that nobody can check to see who’s holding the grapes and can’t stop jumping and jumping and jumping?

perhaps you grew up to survive a life of striving. you and the hordes of older folk who think just like you, proud in their success, reluctant to see the struggles of others without giving them the same advice you gave yourself.

but i grew up without the same pride of our story, our culture, our skin. because in pursuing the “It” you boast of, we lost what the significance of who we are, and no amount of your mourning for our generation will bring it back. that’s assimilation baby, when you win, you lose.

i grew up aware of the cultural gap among my people, i grew up aware of the cultural ignorance of my people, i grew up aware that i didn’t have a people. i grew up in similar housing, similar dumpsters, not so similar struggles. it’s easier to see what’s wrong when you’re not basking in the glow of your rightness.

it makes conversations like this more painful.

like how can i tell you that our success, the filipino growth, is largely thanks to the brave Black americans whose slurs, insults, and limitations we once shared, and to feel like you have an opinion on whether lives matter is to be ignorant? that even now we have this privilege known as the model minority that hurts everyone involved, us included? that you are proud of something that shouldn’t have been as hard as it was? that we shouldn’t– and we can’t– just push for a right to exist?

i can’t tell you that. that’s something that you need to learn in as much as you have said you know.

“i’m like a puppy” you said. “you can hate me and push me away all you want but i’ll make you love me and annoy you into caring for me, and that’s how we can end racism, by making our enemies love us.”

you grinned and launched into how you started providing for old mom at 17, and i merely looked at you.

no <3.

that’s not how you treat fellow people, fellow humans, like pets. you treat them like people, worthy of care and attention and human decency by existing.

and that’s what your optimism fails to cover. people are not being treated like people, people are being treated like pawns in a game, and what we’re saying is the game isn’t fair.

for someone who insists on seeing the good in people, surely you should see the bad as well.

but i didn’t have words. perhaps i still don’t.

when i do though, i hope you give my words the same weight i have given yours, because your thoughts are important.

and so are mine.

~this immigrant’s keeping us all on our toes, jo~

so don’t tell me that it’s just a show

so don't tell me that it's just a show.png

“what are YOU doing here???”

i’m swung off my feet by deej and two of her friends that i barely remember seeing but know from how often she’d talk about them.

we’re at the temporary learning shelters of the high school in yapak, which are really just old wood and metal scraped together into sheds. the school is like all the other schools on the island, sorely lacking in any advancement for its kids but still maintains a nice cover that satisfies the people here without actually changing anything. which i know because i’ve been volunteering at the elementary school feeding program since i started living here. it’s a rather small town, everyone eventually finds out who everyone is.

“bel’s play. i wasn’t going to just miss it.” i push off and shrug, grinning at the smattering of kids who recognize my face and start saying my name, adding “ate” even though we’re in the same grade. i’m not that old you guys. sheesh.

my guitar student/friend/kindred spirit has been talking about her school-required disney descendants performance since we started hanging out, so i picked up on her, deej, and lenny’s interest in musical theater pretty quick. i mean, it’s not your average trio of high schoolers that just belt all the songs to high school musical and make disney references in normal conversation. that’s a specific phenomenon called theater kid. (my current goal is to win them into dear evan hansen before i jump town. lenny would probably instantly fall in love with ben platt’s existence.)

so, y’know, it seemed wrong to not show up. even if that meant running down steep roads in a pair of dusty flip flops, a blister, and the worst boracay heat. and i thought texas was bad.

“but you’re here!” they thump my back and escort me into one of the sheds, talking animatedly about jo from canada who is homeschooled and can understand tagalog but speaks english, yes maria, they know what magandang babae means so shut up because they’re not either.

they’re so excited that i’m here, that i feel bad that showing up is the bare minimum for being a good person. i mean, i can relate, but still.

pitch perfect and mamma mia are the other performances being shown and from the enthusiastic, if not misplaced last minute rehearsal i saw in an empty classroom kate invited me into, they’re very serious about this.

it would be cool if it wasn’t just a group of kids playing pretend for a grade.

i don’t say that.

i can’t.

their grades really do depend on this.

bel and lenny come out in costume, dragging a prop out to the plaza. “JO?” she squeaks.

she looks good. in the whole dress and makeup and tiara. and we both hate those things with a passion. i smile.
“you’re gonna do great!”

“i sure hope so,” she says anxiously, tossing her costume bag to deej, who protests vehemently.

“hey! i still have classes!”

jessa, lenny, and the rest of us walk to the plaza. they’re nervous. it’s endearing. the last play i’ve been in was ages ago, so all i really can do is hold their props and wish them well as i walk over to the other side of the covered glorified basketball court and wait for the shows to start.

deej and her friends sneak up and casually sit down next to me.

“i thought you guys had classes.”

they share impish looks. “we, uh, skipped.”

“but the guard didn’t let you out the first time.”

“we took the back entrance.”

for reference, these kids are the honor roll students in their grade. the duality is inspiring.

it finally begins with a grand intro dance by all three groups to “we’re all in this together”, which, well, they definitely tried to be. i try not to notice that they used an actual clip of the scene instead of a backing track to the song, but the applause from the movie contrasts sadly with the thin row of grim teachers and students who also skipped. i bet that poor guard probably wants a lunch break right about now.

astig (cool),” deej whispers, watching lenny cartwheel down before doing a jump. everyone agrees with her. it’s cool. the pitch perfect group is cool. a bunch of boys trying to be sexy and sing while failing at both is cool. the quick changes are cool. at least i can agree on the last one.

in the flat reality of it all, this is nothing more than some children trying to pretend that they’re people they are not in a place they they probably never will be. in their minds, they actually are the bellas and the treblemakers, and this is the height of the glory they’ll get, and this it it.

i don’t know what’s cool about that.

but i clap anyway because they really did try.

bel and lenny’s group are up next, and for a split second i freeze, watching quiet, shy, introverted bel jump over a table as confident, bold mal, strutting in combat boots and fingerless gloves. she hands one of the judges an apple as she winks at the audience, and for a split second i question my existence.

they’re theater kids. they’re absolutely theater kids. it’s not even funny. they shouldn’t even be here, they should be in a good place with an actual drama program and quality material. they deserve so much more. this entire island does.

does north america realize the gravitas their cashcrop stories has here? do they see that the franchises they create for kicks and giggles are some kids’ actual worlds? do they not know that they set the standard people in “third world” countries will die by?

i overhear one of the few white people living here. “so they can’t get jobs, but they can dance. sounds like messed up priorities to me.”

well

listen

here

you

privileged

asterisk

when you’re not even the people giving jobs, what else can you do but dance?

“what did you think?” bel ask breathlessly as i help pick up props backstage.

“it was amazing,” i answer honestly. “you did a really good job.”

i only wish i could see her go forward in it.

bel smiles in relief, and we walk to her house to cool off and chat about who’ll win. i mention how impressive the splits were, and she takes off her tiara and sighs.

“well, it’s just a story. it’s over now.”

i want to tell her that it’s not just a story, and i know because i see the gleam in her eyes that hasn’t dimmed yet.

instead i nod and tell her, “you told it well.”

i could be wrong. i hope i’m wrong. maybe somehow they’ll take their skills to the storytelling world and beat the odds. maybe they’ll resist the well-meant, poor attempts of the grownups to push them into working at the sm mall and the tourist traps and actually f l y out for themselves. maybe one day they’ll shape the stories that they grew up hearing all their lives.

and i’ll be here for that.

because that’s what i’m doing here for.

“hey, i’m gonna head back to oasis. i’ll see you later, aight?”

“okay. wanna watch episode 8 this weekend?”

“absolutely.”

~musicals tell the impossible, they evoke the philosophical, jo~

i want the world to see color

i want the world to see color.png

i am five years old when i notice that the other kids are lighter than i am.

i am six years old when i feel alienated at church and school and every other public place.

i am seven years old when i learn what the word “immigrant” means.

i am eight years old when i try to change my accent to fit in.

i am nine years old when i start crying because i don’t want to cross the border back to canada.

i learn to cringe at thick accents, learn to hide at bad english, avoid watching filipino things, avoid being “too filipino”. i learn that at white people’s houses, they don’t eat rice, they don’t take their shoes off, and they don’t say “ate” and “kuya”. i learn that white people write all the books and make all the headlines and take all the awards. white people are best. but not us. not the flips. we’re the jokes of the world. we’re so many things we don’t even know what we are.

i wander into a small town american diner and instantly feel like i don’t belong. i desperately look at comics for someone who looks like me, but the only people who do are horrible and i decide that i am alone.

i learn that asians can be geniuses. asians can be talk show hosts (of stereotypical asian shows), asians can be engineers, asians can run the local chinese store or wok of fame. that’s asian. that’s okay. but only that is okay.

i learn that asians can only be chinese or japanese or korean. asians must be fair and beautiful and thin, but they can’t be too brown. too filipino. even though filipinos naturally have their own shades of light to dark brown, but we only ever see the fair ones.

i learn that i don’t belong here even though i was born here and i need to remember my culture, but then i learn that i shouldn’t learn from my culture because it’s too “backward”.

i learn that my skin isn’t accepted and i will always be that “asian kid”.

plant2-2

all of the above is terrible. it might not be true for everyone, but it was true for me and it is true for a good many other people. and, yeah, it’s still a problem but i wanted to ramble about because guess what?

we’re changing homie. we’re changing.

in the past year alone, i’ve gotten to talk and listen from people of all walks and cultures and everything and i think that’s amazing. i can understand a few signs in montreal and talk about matzo competitions with jews and accidentally be too curious about the hijab (sorry bay i truly mean well tho!!) and sing o canada and play hockey and sympathize with mexicans because we’re so similar, like what– and groan at the asian genius filipinos AND chinese people have to be typed into.

and here’s the even crazier thing.

i’ve learned to love my own culture. i’ve learned to enjoy the people and foods and customs, the dances and the music and the language and to be a proud filipino and to see everything that comes with this weird, messy, halo halo culture that comes when you’re a second gen.

why now though? why all of this color now?

because i’ve grown up colorblind.

all of this beauty was held back by people who were, honestly, scared of the world they now lived in, who grabbed their kids and said “anak, you remember our cultures” but that was it.

colorblindedness is the worst okay. it’s the worst.

yes, we have issues. every culture has issues. dangnabbit, everyBODY has issues, but that doesn’t make them less valid. hey, maybe it makes us more valid, because in this collective agreement that we are messed up we can let go of the things that held us back from really getting to know each other.

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so all of this who knows how many words is my response to something i heard once.

“we haven’t learnt to be colorblind yet.”

good.

i don’t want the world to be colorbind. that would be absolutely terrible. I WANT THE WORLD TO SEE COLOR AND I AM WRITING THIS IN CAPS BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT and because honestly, life is so much more beautiful when you don’t just care for your own. i want the world to realize its own beauty in its individual uniqueness and own it. i want people to be accepted and not worry about not speaking good english or having a thick accent or being too dark or not dark enough. i want to make gOoD culture jokes and enjoy my friends being curious about where i came from and hearing the same from them. see? color? *chef’s kiss*

plant2-2

there’s too many “i” in this post. there always is. i tried hard for there not to be.

but i kinda like thinking about the day a scrawny weirdo in the future will look at something like this and say “wow. we’ve come so far.”

like, hi kid.

yes, we did come far.

are you enjoying the color?

~turn around, look at what you see, jo~