I was born in America. I am a citizen of this nation through the right of the soil. Yet through my mother, I am tied to the Philippines. I am a Filipino through the right of the blood.
My mother, like so many others, came to America with papers stamped “alien”, a word which separates and isolates, a word which marks immigrants as foreigners and outsiders. It is not a pretty word. To be an alien is to be alienated, to be lonely, to be marked as different. Even now, years after being granted citizenship, her tongue still carries the traces of her homeland. Through her carefully enunciated English, I can hear longing for the land of her childhood.
When I am with my family, my mouth shapes this same cry, my “v’s” softening to “b’s”, my vowels shortening as if in doing so I could shorten the distance to the Philippines. My accent mimics theirs, reflects an ancestral longing to be with my people.
It is not always easy to be an alien in this country because that is how people see us, even though we carry U.S. passports, even though our English is perfectly polished and our grammar flawless. That hint of an accent, that darker shade of skin, is enough to brand us as foreigners.
Long after my mother passed the U.S. citizenship test, I am subjected to my own:
[quote style=”boxed” ]“Were you born here?”[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed” ]“Do you consider yourself Filipino or American?”[/quote]
[quote style=”boxed” ]“Would you move back to the Philippines if you could?”[/quote]
My allegiance to this country is questioned on a daily basis. My successes are trivialized because it is assumed that if I am good at something, it is because I am Asian. Similarly, my flaws are viewed as a characteristic vulnerability in all Asians. Asians are good at math, but poor drivers. Asian can play the piano, but lack social skills. We are an ethnicity burdened by stereotypes.
We, as minorities, must work twice as hard to prove ourselves. We are constantly being examined by a panel of judges who are assessing our worthiness to be American. We are scrutinized by society, constantly walking a fine line between acceptance and ridicule.
In school, I had a close friend whose father, upon learning that my mother is Filipino, refused to allow his daughter to play with me anymore.
Such incidents are not as isolated as they should be in the 21st century. I have had friends, colleagues, even family members on the American side of my family, turn on me on the basis of my ethnicity. It can be difficult to be different.
When people constantly demand that I prove myself, to prove that I am worthy of being an American, to prove that I belong in this country, I instead resolve to prove to them that being Filipino is something to be proud of.
When I am discouraged, I remind myself that this is the trailblazer generation. Each ethnic group has one. The Puritans who came here on the Mayflower fled persecution in their homelands. Their descendants, in turn, persecuted the Irish immigrants, the Italian immigrants, anyone whose accent betrayed their love for another country. Gradually, these ethnic groups blended into the melting pot of racial diversity that is the backbone of America.
This generation is a stepping-stone generation on our way to enrich America with Filipino culture. One day, Filipino-Americans will not be seen as outsiders. One day, people will be less condemning of aliens. One day, we will learn to embrace differences. One day, we will be accepted.