For the longest time, I didn’t understand that I was part Filipino. I knew it, intellectually, but I didn’t know it. Neither did most people in Quebec City, where I grew up. When I was in 3rd grade, some kid in the playground called me the “N word”.
I wish the “N word” stood for something cool like “numen” (you damn numen!!) but alas, it does not.
Having an unfitting racist slur flung at my 8 year old self, was not only weird, it was downright confusing. Was I not even good enough to be hated accurately? Jeez.
After yielding puerile playground roughness (I might have kneed that racist kid in the face), and pubescing into my high school hand me down pants, my tough as nails mom blessed onto me the freedom to eat out with friends, sans chaperones. During one of these occasions, a friend of mine, who is Chinese Canadian, scolded me for not being able to use chopsticks. She hissed something of the likes of: You’re Asian, how do you not know how to use chopsticks! They will put us in the White People section!!!
This rhetorical utterance, only added to my confusion... Was I not a real Asian? My mother ate everything, even rice, with her hands!
I grew up hearing legendary tales about my grandmother, and how she laboriously cooked for all the poor people in her neighborhood. I reveled in those tales and dreamed of meeting her. However, the Filipinos that surrounded me growing up were not as easy to relate to; first of all, they were all adults, and second of all, none of them wanted to umbrella jump off the table and pretend to be Mary Poppins with me. Whenever my mom would host my auntie and her friends, they all sounded like chirping birds, scampering around the house. My vivid imagination usually led me to envision 5 female Big Birds waiting to peck my eyes out. This fancied threat usually prompted me to hide in the basement.
Under a table.
It wasn’t until I moved to New York that people recognized that I was Filipino. And it wasn’t until these last few years, that I’ve met Filipinos that were of my age group. I learned that the dishes my mom served at home had real names: they were not simply called “Yummy” or “Yucky”.
I found other people that disliked using utensils.
It was freeing to be able to tell people about an ex-boyfriend who asked me to not eat with my hands in public and have the response be a variation of WTFs? It was also consoling to learn that I was not the only person who ate the cartilage off of chicken wings, causing the vegetarians of the world to vomit in their mouths.
Coming across fellow Filipinos, and seeing the qualities we had in common, galvanized the pride I now feel for my heritage.
On November 8, the most vicious typhoon to ever make landfall, ravaged the Philippines, challenging the resilience of the country.
For those of you who can’t relate, the Philippines birthed gems like Manny Pacquiao, Enrique Iglesias, Joey Santiago (The Pixies), Hanni El Khatib, Arnel Pineda (Journey), Nicole Scherzinger…The lead from the original cast of Miss Saigon, the one that one that won an armful of awards, that was Lea Salonga, a Filipina. Check the labels on your Kate Spade wicker bags: Made in the Philippines.
Since that jerk Yolanda “shat on our shit”, I’ve been following the relief efforts, from the Jeepney/Jose Antonio Vargas hosted fundraising night (see archives), to grassroots groups like Volunteer Cebu (https://www.facebook.com/VolunteerInCebu) to larger labors of love such as the David Byrne Here Lies Love Benefit Concert (articles on the last two to follow, in the next few weeks)
Witnessing my lumpia pushing countrymen, their friends and loved ones, link arms to show love and blanket hope over to those affected by Yolanda has fortified my Pinoy pride. While in my past, this was made a source of embarrassment, today, I could not feel more ownership over this statement: I am Filipino.
I eat with my hands.