Half to Whole: 004 - Identity

My whole life I’ve asked myself “what am I?”. Even now in my mid-30’s I find myself looking in the mirror and trying to piece together my face that’s made up from 2 completely different cultural backgrounds. I try to see where I could belong.

That’s what I’ve truly wanted. To belong. To feel accepted by either side and when in reality I’m rejected by both.

You see, it’s not easy being mixed. My dad is from the Philippines and we grew as a family on the west coast of BC, Canada where there isnt’ a lot of Filipinx representation. My family is mainly white here so even in my own family it’s a major challenge to find ways to connect with my Filipinx side.

In high school I wasn’t friends with the Filipinx kids because in their eyes I wasn’t a real Filipinx. I don’t speak or understand the language and my looks are deceiving because my mom is white. My option was to be “more white” and try to fit in with the white kids. I listened to punk rock, I learned how to skateboard and almost all of my friends were white. The ones who weren’t white were doing the exact same thing I was doing. Appearing to be more white to fit in. I laughed at the jokes made towards Asians and even made them myself. I was a self-proclaimed “Token Asian” because if I could claim that phrase for myself maybe it wouldn't hurt so much when my friends called me that too. I’ve been called a “Halfer” for as long as I can remember. A reminder that to society I am not whole, but half. Not quite white enough to be white and enjoy the privileges that come with it, and definitely not Filipinx enough to make that claim either. Just half.

Looking back I absolutely didn’t understand the depth of being mixed-race and what that means for my identity. We didn’t talk about being mixed much at home, I mean, how could we? Other than my sister it’s not like either parent could ever understand, which is to no fault of their own. I didn’t know or understand the intricate layers of racism and how Anti-Asian and Anti-Black attitudes is such a deep part of it all. I didn’t realize the years upon years of racist microagressions I experienced growing up was going to impact my mental health as an adult. How could I ever accept myself if I’ve spent my life trying to justify my existence as a mixed-race person. Do you know how many times I’ve been asked “what are you?” - neither do I. There have been days where its been asked over and over again. I know it’s meant as a harmless question about my heritage but it’s turned into an internal narrative for me asking myself that same question “what am I?”, not to mention the negative feelings and social anxiety that come with being put on the spot because complete strangers feel they have a right to ask me that. They feel they have the right to ask me where my parents are from. They feel they have the right to ask me where I was born and “no, where are you really from?”. Why does the colour of my skin and my dark features mean people get the right to pry into my family history like this.

As I dived into my 30’s our lifestyle started to drastically change from drinking and partying on the lower mainland to being new parents on Vancouver Island. As I worked through some awful postpartum depression and anxiety I peeled away the layers of myself and realized that a lot of my insecurities and anxiety triggers were linked to my cultural identity. Or more like the lack thereof. It felt like I was leaving my Filipinx side behind and now that I have a white-passing child I couldn’t ignore that tugging feeling inside of me saying “don’t let her forget where her family came from”. I feel so behind on my education about the Philippines, my family and our traditions. I know an embarrassingly little amount about all of it. How can I possibly pass down this vital piece of my dad, my sister and myself to my child if I don’t even understand the culture itself?  

Sometime last year I told my partner (who is white) that I felt a sense of relief that our child is white-passing. It meant to me that she would be spared the same experience I had growing up, and still currently in today’s climate as I have experienced more racism in the last 6 months than many years before that combined. But the relief isn’t met with a sense of happiness, its met with a sense of shame and sadness. I’m sad that she doesn’t look more like me. I feel shameful that I’m relieved she doesn’t. I also recognize the deep privilege that I have as a parent of a white-passing child that parents of Black and Brown children don’t have. Knowing she will have a level of safety in public and that her voice will be more likely to be heard. I know that not every parent has that same privilege.

This past summer was the first time I allowed myself to claim my identity as a Person of Colour. It may seem like a simple statement to some, but for myself as a mixed-race person it was like I was finally accepting myself as such. Accepting that I am not just 2 halves that struggle to coexist, but a whole person in its entirety. It felt so empowering to allow myself to accept that my cultural blend is as connected to my identity as my ideas, my creativeness, my thoughts and my emotions. Being mixed-race has given me an unlimited source of resilience and has installed a level of drive in me that I don’t think I would have otherwise. As a family we’ve started making bigger efforts to bring my Filipinx heritage into the home. We’re cooking more traditional meals. We’ve asked my dad to teach our child how to speak Tagalog (and hopefully she can then teach me). I feel a strong desire to learn everything I can about where I came from. An education I will have to seek for myself as an adult as I didn’t receive it growing up.  

Being active in educating myself on anti-racism and putting action into practice has been a vital part of my healing journey. Giving myself a voice in the fight against racism, I hope, will help others feel they have a voice too. For too long I stayed silent on the topic of racism, a survival tactic I know now did nothing but support the oppressor. I was told I didn’t get a say in racism because I am half-white. I know now this to be wrong.

For any mixed-race folx reading this please know - you are seen. You are whole. It is not your fault for being raised in a community where you don’t visually fit in. It is not your fault if you don’t know a thing about your heritage. It is not your fault that you may have conflicting views and feelings about yourself. It is not your responsibility to please those wondering what you are with their intrusive questions. This is a safe place for you. If anybody has a story they want to share with me please feel free to reach out to via DM on Instagram at @napping.wolf - I am here for you.

Thank you for reading and giving me space to share. 

~ Tehani

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