I woke up to NPR’s Morning Edition story about the Race Card Project: Six Word Essays.
It got me thinking about my six words. Six words. All of who I am, my race, background, and identity, distilled into six words. I urge you, dear reader, to do the same. Take on the challenge.
I sat on my bed thinking about the past twelve or so years that I’ve lived in America: the experiences, the struggles, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. How do I identify myself? Is there even a choice in the matter? The following is what I have concluded:
I’m not simply where I’m from.
Let me elaborate.
Upon first meeting, people don’t realize that I’m a first generation immigrant. There’s barely a trace of my native tongue in my speech. I would even go so far as to say that I’m a coconut- brown on the outside, white on the inside. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not ashamed of my race. I’m just culturally Westernized. Some people would censure me for being so proud of being white-washed, and I can’t say I can disagree. I would argue though, that I am not, and should not be limited by the color of my skin or the country of my origin.
It’s been nine years since I’ve been back to The Philippines to visit. My mother and I spent two weeks rekindling the old flame of home. In the span of three short years, everything I remembered from my childhood were paved over. New buildings and structures stood atop the park where my cousins and I used to spent hours at. Manila was plagued with malls and the miasma of pollution. The years changed the people I used to know like the landscape that seemed all too strange. I felt like a foreigner in my own land. It’s not the same, it’s no longer home.
Although I was born and raised in Manila, there’s few links that hold me close to home. Memories of childhood are all I have tying me back. I can’t say that I have a faint feeling of homesickness like I once did. Maybe it’s because I left at an early age and bonds weren’t solidified like it did for my mother.
I am Filipino. There’s nothing else I’d chose to be. I’m grateful to my culture for teaching me the importance of family, values, and tradition. I’m grateful to be an immigrant, albeit there were times it wasn’t easy. Underneath all the westernization, and the veils I put to fit in, I’m still the family girl my mother raised me to be. But that’s not all I am. I do not want to be placed in a box solely on the basis of my race or my background. Does being Filipino confine me to the stereotypical traits placed on us? The formidable years since I moved to America provided the foundation to build my identity upon. My background will always be a part of me, it’s set a stage of who I am. I’ve grown so much as a person, that condensing who I am in one word just doesn’t seem right. The same goes for anyone reading this: does a word seem to fit all you of who you are?
During interviews, there’s a question that’s constantly brought up, “Describe yourself in three words.” Although most interview questions are loaded already, this is the most difficult for me to answer. It begs to ask, who are you? If forces a prioritization of your values, principles, and identity to be put in a hierarchy of importance. Most of the time I use adjectives that describe me as a worthy candidate for a desired position. The three words you chose speak volumes to the employer, but it’s all inference on your character as a person in general.
Who am I? How should I be? These are questions that constantly echo in my mind. I can’t say with complete certainty that I know the answers. I live a life that’s filled with uncertainty, and that’s okay. It would be presumptuous to say that I know anything at all. I’ve changed so much over the course of the years, especially since college, that I’m not sure what my true self is anymore. I can blame my twenty-something inexperienced youth as an excuse, but older people are still figuring it out too. One day I’ll probably return to my native land knowing more than I do now. Maybe I’ll even have a solid answer to the questions looming my mind. I suppose that a reason I loved Don Quixote so much was because he was so sure of himself despite of the critics telling him otherwise. He had a tenacious grip on his identity, which I truly admired. I hope that down the road I’ll come to a moment of lucidity, come to an conclusion, and have the definitive answer I seek. Until then I refer back to Don Quixote’s advice to Sancho, “… you must look at who you are and make an effort to know yourself, which is the most difficult knowledge one can imagine.”