“You’re Filipino? Wow. I know people who married Filipino women. Filipinos are such a generous people. And the women are so exotic.”
No doubt the person who made this announcement within two minutes of meeting me meant well. But it made me distinctly uncomfortable. Especially when it was followed up with questions about where I was born and where I grew up.
Many Americans, especially those of the older generations, are not well-versed in social etiquette as it pertains to race. These people would never dream of asking in polite conversation how much you weigh or how much money you make, but for some reason they think it is perfectly acceptable to pry into one’s ethnic background.
Many of these people grew up in primarily white communities where they didn’t interact with very many immigrants, particularly non-white immigrants. It can come as a bit of a shock to such people when they realize that America is comprised of many people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. They have been in their white bubbles for so long that the wider world is a mystery to them.
This is precisely why representation is so important. This is why minorities need our voices amplified in the media, in society, and in government. People need to get used to seeing us so that we are accepted in our communities in the same way that white people are.
My Filipino identity is not some rarity that should illicit questions and wonderment. You never hear people say “Wow, you’re Irish?” or “Wow, you’re Polish” with such fascination. Because people have accepted these descendants of Irish and Polish nationals as totally American. Why can’t the same thing happen to us?
I am always happy to discuss my Filipino heritage with those who would like to learn more about our culture. But I refuse to be turned into some cultural curiosity.
I am an American citizen whose ancestors came from different lands as did every other single American’s. The fact that my bloodline is not purely European does not make me “exotic.” It should not mark me as “different” or “foreign” or any of the other labels that people like to use for people who are white.
I am not exotic. I am not foreign. I am Filipino-American, and I am proud of it.