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,
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.
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~