My name is Erika. I am half-Japanese and half-Filipina.
I have always been proud of being Japanese, but it took my moving almost 4,000 miles away from home to truly begin to embrace my Filipino heritage.
My former shame can be attributed to my upbringing in a pretty, but prejudiced place. This led to my self-identity being shaped by low-key racist micro-aggressions inflicted on Filipinos by other Asian groups. In my experience, too many “Do you eat dog?” jokes and frequent comments of my “tanner” skin color, received from mostly from local Japanese folks.
This negative, one-sided way of thinking about Filipino identity has even become internalized within its very own community. I, like many others, tried hard to distance myself from being associated with my Filipino ancestry, from using papaya soap to “naturally” bleach my skin to hiding behind my Japanese name. It felt good whenever I was mistaken for being full-Japanese.
It wasn’t until I moved to Japan at 20 years old, and again living there in my late-20s, when I started to feel a real sense of worth and beauty in my Filipino heritage. An appreciation that could not have flourished within a framework of nasty stereotypes and stigams rooted in the plantation days but are still very much alive and perpetuated in Hawaiʻi’s contemporary psyche.
For the first time, I am celebrating Filipino-American heritage month this year by cooking kare-kare (also for the first time ever) and committing myself to learning more about my rich cultural heritage and what being Filipina-American means to me.