If you’re anything like me, you’ve used the whole “I’m mixed so my identity is a struggle!” topic for pity points on plenty of English assignments. Not entirely your mom’s ethnicity, not entirely your dad’s, so where do you fit in? The answer is, most of the time, not on either side. I happen to be half-white, half-Filipino. But unless you see me in the summer, really tan, or next to a bunch of my relatives, not a lot of people are able to tell.
Let’s play everyone’s favorite game: guess Mandy’s ethnicity!!
I’ve been asked if I was Hispanic, Hawaiian, Indian, Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern, Indonesian, Mexican, Egyptian, or just flat out white. As I’ve gotten older, more people just perceive me as “not quite white;” like they know I’m partially white, but there’s something else there, too. I’ve actually had someone ARGUE with me that “no, you’re fully white.”
Take Olivia Rodrigo for example. She’s also half-Filipino, half-white. We’re in the same boat. Really though, until her, I couldn’t name one famous half-Filipino, half-white person. It was odd, trying to find exact representation in the media when I was younger. Sometimes I was able to identify with white people. Sometimes I identified with Asian people. But it just wasn’t exactly the same.
A separate issue is the lack of Filipino representation in American media as well. I can tell people that I’m “wasian,” and they’ll ask where I’m from, expecting me to say that I’m from somewhere in East Asia. Not knowing if you should check off the Asian box or the Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders box in surveys is one of the most common experiences Filipinos have here.
Even my own existence as a half-Filipino, half-white person is different than most. You’ll hear that most wasian families have the Asian parent as the mom and a white dad. My dad is actually Filipino, and my mom is white. It’s a slight disconnect from other wasian people, who associate their culture with their mom and see their mom exhibit certain Filipino tendencies that I get only somewhat from my dad.
I do actually identify as Filipino. Yes, I’m only half, but if someone asks me what I am I either say that I’m Filipino or that I’m half-Filipino, half-white. I never say that I’m white. My Filipino background is too significant to disregard. Do I still feel like an imposter when I acknowledge this? A little, yes. That’s what comes with being mixed: Imposter syndrome.
Going back to “never fitting in;” it’s overused, but it’s true. I feel too Filipino around my mom’s side of the family, and I feel too white around my dad’s. I can’t quite relate to the fishing, golf, and tennis talk with my mom’s family, but I can’t speak Tagalog with my dad’s. I’ve been a gold-star smile and nodder since I was younger. It’s harder with my dad’s side of the family, seeing my cousins not necessarily speak Tagalog, but understand it and have conversations with our relatives. Even though some of my cousins are also mixed like me, they know more Tagalog than I do. I just wasn’t raised to learn the language like they were.
I’ve also never had the chance to visit the Philippines, which is really important in my family. Not actually having been to my “place of origin” makes me feel like I’m missing out on a crucial part of my own culture. Having huge parties with my family and eating a ton of authentic Filipino food only does so much.
I also don’t have the “family name” anywhere in my name. My Lola’s (grandma’s) maiden name is the most common last name in my whole family; Camaligan. But because she married my Lolo (grandpa), I have his last name. My dad and Tita (aunt) have Camaligan as their middle names, though. It’s another small thing that I don’t share with my cousins, even if it doesn’t quite have to do with me being mixed. I have considered changing my middle name to Camaligan, though, to connect more to my Filipino culture (and because I’m transgender so I don’t like my middle name).
Springbrook’s junior Ila Benson is hosting a series of discussions titled “Exploring Mutiracial Identities.” Due to the recent COVID outbreaks, the first one on Jan. 25 will be virtual; you can email her at email@example.com for the Zoom link or if you have any questions. The official flyer can be seen below with more information.
This isn’t to say that being mixed is the source of all of my struggles in the world, because I really do enjoy both sides of my ethnic make-up. Sharing two different worlds means that I get the best of both of them.