29 July 2010

are Filipinos the 'non Asian' Asians?

Back in college there was this Chinese restaurant over by Irving Park and Damen in Chicago. I went to this place with some friends of mine. The group was mostly of varied Latin flavors and me. Now I had heard of this place before based on recommendations of others, but this was the first time I had actually gone in here.

Two things immediately struck me as we were seated that day. First, the decor in the place was really nice, and secondly I was in love with the young Chinese lady that took us to our table. (Which was not expected mind you because women with short hair never really caught my eye. Still, this woman had a smile that melted the ice cubes in my water. Refill, please.)

We do the normal routine of working the menu and ordering. My friends, who no doubt realized my distraction did what friends do and start prodding me to take action. At some point before the meals come, an older gentleman comes to our table and starts chatting us up. It was a friendly exchange and when he leaves my friends quickly made their assumptions known.

Dude, that's her dad. Has to be.

You're in, bro. We just got a new favorite Chinese restaurant.

I swear if you don't get that phone number before we get
out of here I'm never eating out with you ever again.

At this point I was feeling pretty good about myself. Our waitress came back. We exchanged smiles. Life was good. The older gentleman returned with some of the dishes, big smile on his face, looked at me and asked:

Are you Chinese? Or Korean?

There was no time to think. Actually, what was there to think about? We're Asian right? There's a brotherhood. I know, my eyes may be a little slantier than your normal Filipino, but we're still cool right?

Actually, I'm Filipino.

And we never saw him again.

What? What just happened? That which was so promising a few seconds ago all of a sudden became a vague memory of what could have been. My friends, ever supportive, spend the rest of our meal giving their commentary on what the 'right' answer should have been.

And so from there on out I always wondered... are Filipinos the 'non Asian' Asians? Our DNA is Asian. Heck if you look at a map, we're right in the middle of Southeast Asia. But then you do have that whole Spanish thing. The small part about 200+ years of Spanish rule. And then you also have the American Territorial period to consider too. Culturally there's alot of not Asian going on there.

Is flan Asian? How about longaniza? Does the fact that I was the only Filipino in a group of Spanish folks that day evidence of what I should have known all along?

I mean, there's a reason many of us have Spanish names, and why Tagalog has so many borrowed Spanish (among others) words. I'm telling you if my dad was in a Mexican restaurant no one would call him out as looking different.

But we are still Asian. Right?

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