Growing up, I never saw myself as beautiful.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror, looking at my small eyes and flat nose; telling myself I would never be pretty.
I was five.
It did not matter how many times people in my family told me I was lovely; I did not believe them. I saw the truth in the mirror. I was small and dark and foreign. I did not look like the girls I went to school with or the girls on TV or the dolls I played with.
Outside of my family, there was no one to tell me I was beautiful.
Whenever I visited the Philippines, people stopped and stared at me. As a half-white, half-filipina mestiza, I was considered attractive with my dark hair and light skin. I was offered acting jobs and modeling jobs; my agent tried to convince my parents to move to Manila and put me in the movies.
When I tried acting in America, however, there were no roles for me. It’s hard to put an Asian-American kid on TV because there are very few roles for Asian-Americans.
When I was 8, the Disney film Mulan was released. Here, at last, was a heroine I could look up to. Here was an Asian woman who shaped her destiny, who fought the Huns and saved China. When Mulan sang “Reflection”, she asked “when will my reflection show who I am inside?”
I wondered when my reflection would finally be acceptable to those around me.
Now, as an adult, I feel like I am forever on the outside looking in. People of other races may see themselves reflected in the media or in pop culture, but who is there to represent Asians, to speak for Filipinos?
I worry that one day I will have children who will grow up thinking they are ugly. I worry that they will not be able to find a place for themselves in America, that they will perpetually be foreigners in a country where everyone looks different from them.