Whitewashed Mestiza: My Biracial Identity Crisis

"Why does it matter?" My mom asked. "You know English, that's all you need." 

Her tone indicated this was the end of the conversation, and I retreated back into silence. 

I am a 26 year-old biracial woman, and this "conversation" has been on repeat my whole life. Whenever I express interest in learning more about my Filipino heritage, this is the resistance I am met with. I thought perhaps it was unique to my home. But when the American system values whiteness over everything else, are we really surprised? My own mother was taught that her history was riddled with "paganism" and therefore dirty. Unchristian. Undesirable. Unnecessary. And in effect, worth forgetting. 

 I think this is part of the reason why I've always felt a barrier between myself and this half of me. It was never a priority to teach me anything but whiteness. And to a lot of the social circles that surround me, they wonder how that could be anything but a good thing. 

THIS is the bubble of thinking I was raised in. I was never taught how to understand the contradictory emotions I felt - instead, it was suppressed. Denied. Invalidated.

"Why does it matter?"

Every time we would visit the Philippines, I was a foreigner. But simultaneously, I was told this was my family and second home. Mom would slip back into her native tongue, have no patience to translate, and it became painfully obvious the burden I presented as the only non-Ilocano speaker. My cousins would attempt English around me but were often too shy or embarrassed to continue. I spent much of the time we were there in silence. Observing but never a part of things. I would cover up my frustration with smiles, because that's what I was always taught to do. I swallowed the hurt and anger to simmer in my belly for years, incapable of even knowing how to put into words what I was feeling. These periods of times in my life were spent as a foreigner learning how to love a culture that I was told was mine...but was given no tools of ownership over.

I felt like a fraud. 

When I took one of the trending DNA tests that had started circling around, I almost felt nervous. All my life I would tell mom: "I wish I looked more like you..." Because instead of looking like a petite, Filipino woman, I had always been large. Pale. Tall. Was I really even half Filipino? There were moments I felt like it wasn't true. That I would not only culturally be denied, but genetically as well.

When it came back to show I was indeed 50% Filipino & Austronesian (the indigenous seafaring people that become known as Igorots), I felt a wave of relief. And it was then I committed to teaching myself more of my heritage. Because obviously, no one else would do it otherwise.

Slowly, I am learning pieces of this side of me that still feels like a stranger. To confidently be able to say: "This matters to me," despite constantly being told it didn' is freeing. It's as if I am finally peeling back the yellow caution tape telling me to stay out. All the questions and feelings I was told to toss aside and disregard...that this didn't matter. That questioned why I cared or bothered. That invalidated any of my desire to even BE Filipino. 

Perhaps I am a living example of the result of colonization that has done it's job properly. Because that is what happens when whiteness has done it's job the way it was intended. It colonizes, keeps the best for itself, and throws the rest out with the garbage. 

But with a new awareness, I can choose to sift through what was deemed invaluable. Unnecessary. Undesirable. And with each piece I find, I will hold it up to the sun so that it will be seen once again. Because the truth is that it is unbearably precious. Valuable. Absolutely necessary. And beautiful too.

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