I graduated from college in May and am living in NY with my family. My mother is a Filipina immigrant who came to the US from the Philippines in the 80s to be a nanny. My dad is from Indiana and has been a preacher with a social work background for as long as I can remember. I’ve got Filipino connections and of course, white connections, but I don’t really know many mixed race/hapa individuals.
Being hapa for me has meant being “different,” knowing that I am unique, but often feeling like I am alone. I live with two cultures. Two cultures live in me. There’s this very emotionally driven Filipina part, and then there’s this mainstream logical/analytical part, and sometimes it feels as if they are conflicting. Then, there’s the communication differences that come with each part. Sometimes, things get lost in translation, and that’s when I’m just speaking English.
I’ve pretty much always known that my mother is Filipina and my father is white, but I didn’t realized that that complicated how I identified myself until I was around eight. I was enrolled in this program, so my mother was filling out a form with boxes. It came to the race boxes, and I guess it said “Check one”, because my mother asked my father, “Where does that put Marissa?” I guess I still get fixated on those boxes.
Most of my friends in high school were either white, black, or Filipino. Every once and a while, I would get into “multicultural” conversations in high school, and of course, sometimes they would get heated. I’ll admit, I would put myself in some quiet, neutral zone, where I wouldn’t have to say very much. I’ve lived in NY for most of my life, so the fact that I was racially ambiguous wasn’t really a big deal, because the area I lived in had (and still has) a fairly diverse population. Or at least I thought it wasn’t a big deal. I mean, if you can kinda get away with ignoring it, how big of a deal can it be?
I guess I really started thinking about my identity as a hapa when I went away to college. Don’t ask me why, but I decided to study social work in northern IN. Of course, there were massive amounts of conversations about race and identity. But most of my peers identified with one race, so I would usually throw in about five minutes in a conversation about how limited racial conversations felt to me as a mixed person.
I felt like a token person. People would nod their heads sympathetically, but I never could tell if they actually understood what I meant. They tried, and I guess that’s something. One time, a professor showed a video of a “multicultural group” at a retreat and told the class to say who they identified most with, but there were no mixed race people. She realized that I was troubled, and said it was ok if I didn’t want to talk about it. I tried to shake it off, but I felt some real tension, and as I spoke to my discussion partner, I actually started crying. I felt alone. I realized that in racial conversations, I could not just pick a side. I was in the middle, which meant that I would probably stand alone in my experience.
I’m really grateful for opportunities like this where I can see people that I can identify with and relate to, and somebody else can identify with and relate to my experiences as well.