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The Spanish Speaking Asian and the Asian Looking Latino

"Are you Chinese?" "No, I'm not." "So are you Mexican?" "Nope." "Then why is your last name 'Reyes'?"

Throughout my childhood, I've been asked these questions. My basic response was to explain that the Philippines was once colonized by Spain. People would respond with an apologetic "Oh".

Since I was small, I've had issues with the way that I racially identified, being that I mainly ethnically identified with my Filipinx heritage. The question of whether the Philippines was located in Asia or the Pacific Islands followed me constantly, but I never even thought about identifying as a Latinx. Even though there are SO many similarities between many Latinx cultures and Filipinx culture (Also Guamanian culture since Guam was colonized/occupied by same countries), I've never felt like I belonged within the Latinx community.

While in elementary and middle school, I felt like the token Asian girl because the schools I attended were predominantly Latinx and African American. It was fine. I liked being known as something different. But the "othering" got to me at some point. I remember trying to relate to some of my Latinx peers through things like language or food. Somehow we would still find ways to make the differences clear and distinguished.

There were very little to no Asian students going to school with me when I was in elementary and middle school, but things changed when I got to high school. There was still only a very very small community of us but I liked being around people who accepted my cultural heritage. I guess I felt more at home? I bonded with some of my fellow Asian students -- most of them Southeast Asian and Filipino -- one of them was even related to me. We bonded over a love for white rice, cultural factors like parents not letting us go out if they didn't know each other, having to take off our shoes inside a house, etc. I felt really Asian. I even started a Pacific/Asian Club my senior year It was honestly one of my proudest moments. (All the Asian identifying students in the club identified as South and South East Asian.)

Going to USF was a totally new and strange experience for me because I've never been surrounded by so many Asians before. Here, I wasn't Asian enough. Here, my identity was questioned more than it ever was before. I joined the Filipinx Club on campus and felt like I didn't belong. Is there such a thing as not being Filipinx enough? (I won't go too much into this because I wrote a piece on my experience -- http://www.tabithareyes.com/blog/2016/1/16/how-moving-to-san-francisco-changed-everything )


Source: https://www.buzzfeed.com/kevinnadal/fil-am-history-facts?utm_term=.ynVWpv6ZQ#.ghlb7XYoD


When I learned that only 45% of Filipinos in Los Angeles identify as Asian American (Buzzfeed), I was surprised and not so surprised. Filipinos have constantly been left out of the Asian/Asian American narrative -- due to differences in colonial histories and colorism within the community. Southeast Asians, South Asians, Middle or Central Asians have always been set aside and marked as "lower" than our East Asian counterparts, used as a political pawn to offset negative stereotypes against the Asian community, such as the Model Minority Myth.

If the larger Asian and Latinx communities won't claim me, where do I belong?

Anthony Ocampo's new book entitled "The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race" explores the similarities between the Latinx and Filipinx communities, and the over all erasure of Filipinx culture within American society. The author quotes, "Filipinos are really hard to place. We don't really have a distinct look. We can look Chinese, we can look Mexican." But what does being Latinx mean? As put by my friend, "It makes me wonder what it means to be 'Latino' and is that 'to be colonized by Spain'?"

I understand that everybody's experience is different -- upbringing, area, peers, and other types of demographics help folks develop their identities, especially in the Filipinx community. All of these factors intersect to create individualized meanings/identities for each person. This just goes to show that race is indeed constructed. I've always felt a little uneasy when asked how Filipinxs racially identify -- because I don't have a concrete answer.

Negotiating and compromising identity over historical oppression of a group of people is hard. And it's a journey that I'm still on. I'll just be here, ready to learn and discuss more.

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