By Mike Guevarra
Growing up in America, I always felt as if I was floating, like a drifting ghost, searching to find a place in a foreign world. Even as a naive child, I questioned why I never saw anyone on TV shows who looked like me, or why I couldn’t find a Filipino box on an ethnicity form in kindergarten. For years, I wanted to know if there was a single voice inside of me. It took growing up a conflicted individual with no bearing on who I was to realize how my identity is intertwined with being a 2nd generation Filipino American.
As I grew from a small boy looking for a box to check, my confusion with race and culture in America proliferated. During 2nd grade, my mother, sister, and I abruptly moved into the suburbs, different from the urban neighborhoods of Kent and South Seattle that I knew. And what was most strikingly different was the white habitus I encountered, a social world where I couldn’t bring my mother’s “nasty” lunches to school, where I was constantly discriminated, where I was the other. Feeling the pressure of Asian stereotypes, as well as being ambiguous as a Filipino, I was compelled to look elsewhere for a way of presenting myself. So I began passing myself off as other races or as mixed. However, this only led to me experiencing more of the boxes there are for people of color.
By 8th grade, my search for identity and meaning seemed hopeless. In trying to reject the boxes I was put into, I became spiteful and cynical. Hostility gripped me outside of school and at home, while underlying resentment proceeded in the classroom. I indulged in vices that disconnected and numbed me from the world and its difficulties.
I fostered animosities, ridiculously disassociating with whatever I saw as whiteness. Ultimately, as a negative reaction, not only was I not growing as an individual, but I was uncaringly detaching myself from any answers to the shared struggles others also faced just like me.
Only through enlightening experiences and deeply connecting with others was I able to climb out of this parasitic way of life. Some were profound, such as reuniting with my family in the Philippines. Some were gradually changing, like spending school lunches in the library to reading stories of other Asian Americans. And lastly, some were fleeting moments I’ve come to internalize, the words of those who believed in me when I didn’t believe in anything.
After I first thought I had brushed off the world’s pressures, I realized there were negative paradigms holding me back – so I let go.
Now living in America, I again feel as if I am floating, but it’s not a rootless, ghost-like feeling anymore. It’s the light sensation of freedom. The path to this place of possibilities wasn’t smoothly paved. I first identified and rejected the boxes society put me in. However, in doing so, I wrongly became a negative reaction, an angry slave still stuck under a dominant culture. I had to completely purge myself of any parasite on my identity in order to properly build a true one, enriched by both my family’s culture and American culture, helping to culminate a world that made sense to me. I’ve come to find my voice and my direction, and the truth that no matter what, I hold the final say in life. We each have the voice and freedom to say who we are and how we live. Nothing can take that away unless we allow it. (end)