Those of you who know me personally or who have followed me long enough know that I am of mixed race. Race is not only a hot button issue for many people, but it is also an important one because for many race is tied to cultural heritage. So what I’m about to share may piss people off. Again.
When I was young and taking a trip back home to Hawai`i to visit family and friends alone, a neighboring flyer asked me what my nationality is. “American,” I answered. I was correct in my answer because this is the nation of my birth. All of us who are citizens are Americans regardless of our racial makeup. In this, I share Amy Tan’s sentiment that Asian-American doesn’t really describe us. We weren’t born in Asia. We were born here. In America. Despite the cultural influence of our Asian immigrant family members.
If I were to go to the Philippines, I would feel completely out of place even with the assimilation of my family’s culture into my daily living. I am an American with a Filipino influence on my life.
However, society deems is necessary to put labels on us. To classify us based on our race of ancestry and not really where we are actually from. Misnomers. One of my cousins told me she had a friend from South Africa attend an African-American group in school only to find themselves grossly out of place. They were expecting other Africans and found themselves the only white person in a group of black Americans. And the choice of “white” is like a catch-all for everyone that doesn’t fit under all the other groups. It doesn’t tell you anything other than the color of their skin.
Then there is the fact that people will automatically assign your race without even asking. When Chaz and I got our marriage license, the woman typing up the paperwork didn’t ask either of us. Thank goodness I looked before we signed or paid for it. She listed me as “white” and gave me look of death when I made her change it. I wasn’t taking no for an answer either. It was unacceptable that she didn’t ask for that piece of information when she asked for everything else. You can’t assume just by looks.
You can’t assume by name either. My maiden name is Spanish. Thanks to the Spaniards that conquered the Philippines. Back home in Hawai`i, people know by looking at me that I’m hapa, biracial. Technically, I’m multi-racial, but I distill it down for simplicity sake or people start looking at me like I grew 10 more heads. Out here in the South and Midwest it was assumed that I was Mexican just by my last name. I can’t tell you how much junk mail I got in Spanish before I took Chaz’s name. I can’t speak Spanish or read it. And yes, I am sometimes mistaken for Mexican in person and people will start speaking Spanish to me. No habla español.
So, given the Filipino influence on my American life, you can probably understand why I always check Asian-American on stupid forms that make me identify my race. Biracial and multi-racial options were non-existent back when I first had to start filling out these forms.
My first semester of college I had a rather angry roommate from Colorado. She followed her boyfriend to Hawai`i for school and hated it. She complained about everything and it seemed like they were always fighting when he came over. I eventually took refuge at friends’ rooms and apartments to study instead of staying in my room and risk being hit by flying pizza boxes. Seriously. One night we were in a neighbors room hanging out with them and other neighbors and she went off on how hard it was to get into school despite her GPA and SAT scores. My GPA was higher than hers and my SATs were lower and I made a comment about that. She turned on me and seethed, “It’s because you’re Filipino.”
I was absolutely floored. I understood affirmative action, but it never occurred to me that I would get a job or a place in college simply because of my race. I was taught to always work hard and I want my merit to based on my work and not my heritage. I have no control over who my ancestors were or where they hailed from. I do have control over my work ethic and what I do.
I understand affirmative actions place, but it can be a hindrance. It is a hindrance. Especially when people like my ex-roommate feel that people are getting where they are simply because they aren’t white male Protestant heterosexuals. I hate that anyone would or could think that I got where I am simply because of a box I check on a form. That box I check is based on the choices given that I identify with the most. It’s not because I think it will get me farther.
I’ve seen people with just a tad bit of Cherokee heritage try to exploit the resources out there for Cherokees even when they have no ties to the tribe. I am 1/16th Cherokee. Or maybe it was 1/32nd. I can’t remember now. I’ve tried to learn about that part of my ancestry, but I’ve never tried to use what is out there my advantage. It’s dishonest since that part of my heritage is not a part of my identity.
I think that anyone wanting to use resources or gain positions using their race or part of their race need to show a real connection to it and not just that they have the bloodline. Harsh? Yes, Necessary? For the most part. But that’s just my opinion. And my opinion is I got into college and promotions at my various jobs based on my work and not based on a box I checked. I don’t care what that ex-roommate of mine said.