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I gazed in the mirror for so long that I started questioning if I was trying to convince myself of features that didn’t even exist, and the answer I came to was yes. If no one believed my ethnicity is what it is, then why should I?

Photo collage of the author and her friends by Rebecca Larkin, VOX teen staff

Half of a Whole: How I Learned to Embrace my Half-Filipino Identity

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I started calling myself white a couple of months into sixth grade and continued this through my freshman year of high school. I knew I was mixed and I wanted to claim that part of myself, but I felt if I said it out loud that I would be doing something disrespectful, something shameful.

I went to a diverse middle school and when I looked at other students with a similar ethnic background, I realized we didn’t look alike. They had more defined features, no freckles, and besides that, many of them spoke different languages. I was out of tune with my Filipino culture and no matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to catch up. Sooner or later, I decided that I was just too far behind to be an authentic Asian-American.

So, I embraced the label of “white girl” because, in my mind, that was the only way not to disrespect other Asians by claiming I’m in this community that I know nothing about. I didn’t know how to feel about this decision I made. I took a nickname that did not fully represent me and turned it into an epithet that falsely defined who I was physically and culturally.

For years I struggled with this feeling of being a fraction — part of a whole. There was my white side, my Asian side, and the side that wanted to please everyone else. I didn’t look like a blond, blue-eyed beauty on my left or like my cousins that grew up in the Philippines. I was in the middle, residing in a state of limbo.

My parents used to tell me all the time how people would compliment me for being a beautiful Asian-American baby. I knew they weren’t lying because I have those memories. I remember how random strangers would kneel in front of me and say I have beautiful features. They could tell that I am multiracial without seeing my parents due to the shape of my eyes, color of my hair, and structure of my face. I smiled and thanked them, but they weren’t providing me with information I didn’t already know.

I mean, the thing I admired most about myself was the fact I was half-Filipino. And not only did I love the fact that I had a unique look but also that I got to grow up with a blend of cultures and amazing food. In fact, many of my favorite memories with my mom’s side of the family and her friends are associated with food. It was very common for my mom to go to potlucks with her Filipino friend group which kids were often dragged along to. As young children who were scared of adults, we hid away from the crowd to avoid awkward conversations with someone we hardly knew. And to hold us over until our next meal, we would take a full plate of lumpias with a cup of sweet and sour sauce into the room we were hiding in. A lot of conversations happened between me and my closest friends while sitting around a paper plate of meat spring rolls. Even today, it still isn’t rare to find us, now as teenagers, sitting on the floor and sharing food we’ve loved forever.

As I aged and entered middle school, I began to be referred to as a “white girl” by my peers. I would correct my friends and tell them I am not fully white, but half Asian. However, my comments went unheard and I continued to be referred to as just another white girl. When I asked, the students in my class said I looked too white to be mixed, referring to my skin tone. After I heard that, I used to look at myself and ask, how do people not see the Asian in me? I wondered if I was the only one who saw my hooded eyes, dark brown- almost black glossy hair, and overall “Asian-looking” face.

I gazed in the mirror for so long that I started questioning if I was trying to convince myself of features that didn’t even exist, and the answer I came to was yes. If no one believed my ethnicity is what it is, then why should I?

Getting ready in the morning began to have two purposes: to prepare myself for the day and to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t understand what I was doing at first, and I eventually convinced myself my actions were out of vanity. I would study myself — the curves of my eyes, the freckles sprinkled on my skin, the fullness (or lack thereof ) of my lips.

For a long time, I never left limbo.

At first, I tried leaving, running into oblivion hoping that I would enter the real world again. It never happened. I tried breaking the metaphoric walls or convincing myself that if I begged hard enough, I would be released. Nothing worked.

Eventually, I had to accept the fact that I can’t force myself to leave this feeling of lost-identify behind, but that I have to fill it somehow. Today, I am a high school sophomore and I have begun to move out of limbo. I didn’t necessarily work hard to get where I am today, but rather I worked continuously on myself and my outlook on life to achieve this self-acceptance.

What motivated me the most to change this self-perception of myself is thinking about my Filipino mom and not wanting to disrespect her by disregarding the sacrifices she has made for me. With this thought in mind, I started correcting people’s assumptions on my race and I would make it clear that this distinction is important to me.

Regardless, sometimes I still live in limbo, feeling like a small piece of something much bigger, but I learned to accept who I am and that I was literally born for this life, regardless of if others, or more importantly I, think I “look the part” or not.

I know there are others that are in the same situation as me — feeling like they aren’t allowed to accept their own multiracial identity, and that has helped me accept my own. This isn’t something that can happen overnight or even over a few months. I won’t be surprised if it takes me a few more years to be 100% certain in my racial identity, but it will be worth it for the confidence it will instill in me.

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