Since moving to the States in 1997, over the years, I’ve had fellow Filipinos ask me if I’ve ever been discriminated, if white people have ever treated me differently. My honest answer – no.
Maybe it helps that I don’t speak with what some jokingly refer to as a ‘fresh off the boat’ accent, or with a Filipino English accent (whatever that is). Most people say that I speak as if I’ve lived in the States all my life. I obviously don’t look white, but regardless, I have never felt discriminated.
Guess where I’ve felt discriminated? In the land of my birth – the Philippines. Here are a few specific examples:
On account that I spent the first few years of my life in the States – From the age of roughly five to nine years old I grew up in Arkansas. My mother did not teach me to say po, opo, ho, oho, words inserted in sentences to show respect to elders or anyone who’s older than you. Neither did she teach me about pagmamano, which is the act of greeting parents & elders by taking their hand & briefly touching it to your forehead while head is slightly bowed.
My first experience of being discriminated was when I was at a beach party, just a few days after arriving back in the Philippines. I was around 9 at the time. After being introduced to a woman in her 50’s, I smiled & said “Hi! How are you?” I tried to engage her in small talk, asking her what’s her name, where she’s from & so forth, & although she answered, I could sense she didn’t like me. The old woman just looked at me disapprovingly. I later found out that after having learned I just arrived from the States, she said “Kaya pala bastos, lumaki sa Amerika. Di marunong magmano man lang. Ang mga bata nga namang laki sa Amerika, walang galang!” ( No wonder she’s rude, she grew up in the States. She doesn’t even know how to mano. Kids who grow up in America have no respect!)
On account of my skin color – I’ve been called negra, baluga & Amerkanang sunog. For the handful of non-Filipino readers of my blog, the word ‘negra’ is simply a pejorative term for dark skin color, & ‘Amerkanang sunog’ is ‘burnt American’. Baluga, on the other hand, refers to dark-skinned aborigines of the Philippines.
Now I am by no means that dark-skinned. I am what I’d consider a typical brown-skinned Filipina, whose skin naturally gets several shades tanner when I’m exposed to the sun a few hours. (This was during a time when using sunblock was unheard of). But in a country like the Philippines where being fair-skinned is a premium, where you’ll find all sorts of soaps, lotions, & even pills that claim to whiten the skin, where girls are sometimes discouraged from playing outside for too long under the sun out of concern they’ll get dark, & where the most popular local celebrities look either Caucasian or have very fair complexion, being brown-skinned can sometimes be a target — for those who are petty, ignorant & just way too superficial.
On account of my surname – My full maiden name is Gardenia Tucker. Now a foreign sounding surname always attracted attention on the first day of school. People would turn around to see who I am & some would openly snicker or whisper when they saw I looked just like them.
In the Philippines, people who had foreign surnames looked foreign, what we’d call mestizo or mestiza. If one parent was white, they’d look white; if one parent was black, the child looked black. There’d be very little trace of the brown Filipino color or features.
Since I was adopted, I looked just like almost everybody else. But I actually liked that people remembered me because of my name during those first few days of school. 🙂 As the days wore on though I would be remembered for something else, but I digress.
On account of being married – After graduating from college, I married & had a child before I started job-hunting. It was very frustrating to reach the last part of the hiring process & to be told in the final interview that although they were impressed with my college transcript & how I did on the tests & interviews, what they wanted was someone who is single, or married but with no kids yet. As if marrying & having a child automatically made me a moron!
I was lucky that my first regular job (the first two were ‘contractual’ or short-term jobs with little to no chance of being hired as a regular employee), I was hired by a group of people who were willing to take the risk on me & with a prestigious company at that. Since then I haven’t had that much difficulty landing a job. I will forever be thankful to Ma’am Delma & Mars for hiring me 🙂
So my experiences with discrimination, unfortunately, are at the hands of fellow Filipinos, not by white Americans, Italians or Japanese. Go figure.
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