19 August 2010

In the middle - identity

In one of my previous corporate gigs, I was sitting in the company cafeteria with a bunch of colleagues over lunch one day. As was the norm for me, the group was a pretty diverse group of folks both ethnically, culturally, and whatever other “-ally” you could think of.

As we were sitting there, one of the other folks from the department (who happened to be white) walked by, sat down at the table next to us, and called out to one of the other guys at our table (who also happened to be white) “Why don’t you sit with over here with some real Americans.”

Why he chose to throw that out there was anyone’s guess. I’m guessing he thought it would be a funny thing to say. He couldn’t have been so dumb to be serious about a comment like that knowing he worked with all of us on a daily basis. I’m also guessing that he wasn’t expecting nor prepared for the tongue lashing that he was about to receive from me and the rest of the table (with the exception of the now visibly uncomfortable person he had originally directed the comment to) questioning exactly what his definition of a ‘real American’ was, as well as a history lesson on where he was actually from.

This happened years ago, and while the situation was more of a bad joke gone wrong, its bugged me to this day. Alot of it has to do with the fact that this is the reality for any of us who don’t “look ot act like we’re from here”. It’s irrelevant that I was actually born in Chicago and spent the majority of my life here. There will always be that (hopefully) small subset of folks that who will always judge a book by it’s cover regardless the situation.

Funny thing is, we do it to ourselves at the same time. Upon meeting new folks for the first time in most cases you’d be able to figure out if a Filipino was born here or if they’ve spent a good deal of time in the States. Once you hear a faintest of accents, in your head do you start labeling Fob? It’s like there’s this unspoken list of stuff, where one column is labeled “Filipino and Ok to be proud of” and the other “Filipino but keep it to yourself”.

It’s ok to hype up the Lechon and Adobo, but keep that Dinuguan on the side unless the older folks are around. You’re proud to be straight up Filipino when you show up at Lola’s house and everyone is eating with their hands, but think it’s wrong when you walk in with your cousin and they ditch you to bless half the room.

I’m probably being overly sensitive about this. I just have a hard time when folks talk about our culture and our people, but cherry pick the stuff about being Filipino that they consider good, or worse put someone down because of what’s not. I’m not talking about friendly teasing. I don’t see the harm in laughing at ourselves and our tendencies, but we’re both Filipino and American.

In some shape or fashion we’ll always be drifting back and forth between the two. We have to acknowledge the good and bad of both sides, as well as the fobby stuff, but we can’t move forward if we’re cutting ourselves down.

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