I’ve always been an easygoing person, until I had kids. Let me rephrase that: I didn’t become a mama bear until I had my cubs to take care of. This post is probably going to sound rant-y, but whatever. The mama bear’s claws are out.
I’ve never thought of myself as an outsider, even though I was born and raised in the Philippines, a country located in Southeast Asia (for those of you who do not know.) Ethnically, I identify as Asian. Legally, I’m American because I swore an oath and everything, and I have all the rights an American citizen possesses (yes, I can and do vote!). I’m short in stature, has black hair, brown eyes, and I do not have vampirish pale white skin. I often get mistaken as Hispanic (because apparently, in the great U.S. of A., you’re either White or Mexican *rolls eyes*) or if people get wind that I lived in Hawaii for a short period of time, they think I’m Hawaiian. I get the surprised look and the comment: “Wow, your English is very good” when someone I don’t know hears me talk (Yes, your English is good, too. *high five*).
And yet, through all these misadventures, my response has always been a smile, a brief explanation (or sometimes I don’t bother correcting them), and a thank you. Because I was raised to be polite and kind.
I’ve always been able to shrug off stupid observations/comments because (1) I recognize that not everyone travels a lot and so therefore, their lack of world perspective makes them vulnerably ignorant to the fact that Hawai’i, for instance, is not a different country, but is actually part of America (true story: some woman at a furniture store once asked me if I like living in the US now, after I told her I just moved here from Hawai’i); (2) I have always been happy and confident with who I am, never mind where I came from; and (3) I know that sometimes, what may seem as a derisive comment is really just a person’s naivete and lack of education showing through, and has no bearing whatsoever on my self-worth and my intelligence.
I’ve always been able to laugh it off because I like to believe in a world that tries to be good. Never mind the embarrassing blunders.
But recently, when it came to my attention that one of my kids experienced discrimination at school, I became outraged. Because you see, my kid didn’t get it from her peers, she got it from her teacher. An educator. An authority figure. Someone who is responsible for influencing and shaping the minds of impressionable young kids.
Someone who should have been an example of rightness and fairness and equality, but wasn’t.
My children are half-white, half-Filipino. They are beautiful and wonderfully intelligent creatures who are incredibly proud of their heritage, and incredibly proud of being Americans. They were born here. They’ve been living a privileged life, but at the same time, have been offered insights to other cultures and other places through travel, books, and Mom’s personal stories. My husband and his family are no strangers to diversity — my in-laws lived in Japan for a time. I have a Japanese sister-in-law, and a Chinese brother-in-law. My nephew and niece are half-Chinese, half-Filipino. And if my sister, who lives in London, marries, I could possibly have a British brother-in-law. We’re an international family. We don’t think of ourselves as “other”, certainly not my children, and with the world being as diverse as it is now, it’s not a rare thing to know people whose parents/families come from different backgrounds.
We’re not “other”, unless someone points it out.
Case #1: While filling out a form at school that included a question of race, my kid was told not to fill in the Caucasian category “because you’re not White”, but to fill in the hole for “Pacific Islander”. My daughter, who did not know what Pacific Islander meant at that time, did what she was told, albeit with a measure of confusion and the vague feeling that she was being discriminated against the color of her skin. And to make matters worse, the teacher said this aloud, in front of the whole class (she also allegedly said the same thing to a Hispanic classmate) so that the kids who never once questioned my daughter’s race were now treating her as “other” because of this incident.
FYI, my kid’s not a Pacific Islander. Someone needs to re-learn World Geography. *facepalm*
Case #2: While the teacher was reading the story of the first female Hispanic astronaut, she made the comment that this Mexican lady had to work extra hard to attain her goals. She then, allegedly, turned to my daughter, and asked her in front of the class: “How does it make you feel that you’ll have to work extra hard to attain your goals?”
Wait, was she insinuating that my kid is Hispanic? And say that she is, how is that a bad thing? Why the condescension? That’s hardly necessary.
There are apparently many more stories like these, but my daughter said that she’s proud of who she is, and her heritage, and she wasn’t really bothered by the teacher’s comments. She was more bothered by the fact that these incidents were all very public displays, and how, because of this, her peers would treat her as “other”.
I’m extremely proud of my girl, but I’m also saddened by the fact that an early age, she’s already learned to tolerate such derisive, ignorant comments because what else can you do?
And to those who are on the other side of the equation, this is your question too: What else can you do? How can you avoid being THAT person? (whether unwittingly or not, take responsibility, why don’t you?)
Well, here are a few suggestions:
2. TRAVEL (Or if you can’t, take a look around you, and you may be surprised by how much you can learn from what’s beyond your own backyard)
3. GET EDUCATED
4. SHUT YOUR TRAP IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT
5. BE KIND
The funniest thing is that my daughter was the first one in her entire grade to earn the Great American award in her school. She finished all the requirements before everyone else (recite all 50 states and their capitals; recite the Declaration of Independence; recite/sing all the verses to our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner; do a service project; write an essay on Abraham Lincoln; recite the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, etc.)
Now excuse me, this mama bear needs to go back and hibernate. My blood pressure’s slightly elevated.
Something funny just because: