Balancing Act

By Franches Garay, FINDink Contributor

I have a birthmark on the skin right between leg and foot — a dark brazen oddity that planted its roots from, as my parents liked to tell me growing up, a Moringa (kalamungay) tree my mom used to eat obsessively when she was pregnant with me. The birthmark contrasted prominently against unblemished skin, colors merely coexisting. It was something that I continuously used to try to hide as a kid, a part of myself I was, in all essence of the word, ashamed of.

I wanted to cover up the brown.

Growing up, I don’t think I ever realized – or become fully aware of – my racial identity until I moved to America. Brown skin looked odd, out of place amongst the blanket of white. The colors contrasted against each other, colors merely coexisting. Two sides of the same coin.     

My mom – barely 5’2 but had enough tenacity and heart to move mountains (figuratively but also probably literally) –  had created something akin to paradise in a small, modest three-bedroom row house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To her, sacrifice had become synonymous to the American Dream, trading in long hours at the hospital in exchange for the opportunity to give her kids a chance in a world beyond all she’s ever known.

The thing is, I have a heritage molded so intricately into my being, have pride for a culture so boldly and unapologetically yet I feel as though I have forgotten. As if my past had been watered down, diluted to the point that the branches littered with Moringa leaves have died out as not to overshadow the growth of a new one in all its entirety.

I’ve noticed that throughout the years, my native tongue has become nothing more than a ghost in the system, embedded in the back of my throat laying dormant. It was, in a way, easier that way – to lose a part of yourself in exchange for something else that would produce the most benefit. In nature, it’s called survival of the fittest. In this sense, it meant slowly forgetting an essential part of who I was.

I wanted to fit in but my skin was brazen in its brownness, unapologetic in the way it spoke of the stories and the histories of the Filipino culture. It spoke of Spanish colonialism, mango trees, Lapu-Lapu, and a group of people whose heart and pride for their culture transcended into waves.

The Philippines is the place that marked my birth, the land that gave birth to my identity. To all I’ve ever known. I was a seed planted in the rich culture of the Filipino soil forced to uproot to find a home in a place halfway across the world. But, I did. I grew roots in Philadelphia, in Hartford, in every place I’ve been and with every person that has changed my life.

For a while, I didn’t know I could live as both. I have yet to learn how to let the two intertwine as one entity without losing parts of one to another. I have yet to understand how to spin around the two sides of the same coin without letting one fall flat. It’s a mixture of planted roots in two opposing soils, of tongues, traditions, and cultures.

I have yet to learn how to walk the tightrope of this balancing act but I have slowly let myself outstretch my arms into the sky like branches with leaves of both Moringa and White Oak.

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

Everybody Talks Everybody Talks, It Started With a Whisper

By Franches Garay, FINDink Contributor

An adaptation of my college admission essay.

For the longest time, I couldn’t speak.

It sounded foreign to my ears; words that were supposedly English weighed down by the accented lilt of the Filipino culture. Every word that came out of my mouth sounded wrong, sounded imported —  as if there was a glaring stamp placed on my head just to further set me apart from everybody else: “Made in the Philippines.”

The move to America had not been a surprise to me. My mom had gone to the States before the rest of the family and for the years she was gone, she would call every night telling me tales of North Carolina’s winter night and bustling lights — how little snowflake fell from the clouds and stuck to the eyelashes of blue-eyed strangers and how little angels imprinted themselves onto the sidewalks blanketed by pure white. Growing up, I knew my mom as letters on the back of stamped postcards and as whatever pasalubong in balikbayan boxes that brought my five year old a sense of temporary glee. I remember that my little sister, barely three at the time of my mom’s departure, would cut out pictures of her and tape it to our family photos because every one looked just a little bit emptier without her.

Prior to our move, every conversation revolved around America — it was a brand new world and a brand new adventure. My parent’s called it the “family’s greatest adventure as of yet.” Consumed with naivety and innocent expectations, I agreed. And in November of 2006, I uprooted everything I ever knew and left behind the only place I’ve ever called home.

I remember that I used to - sometimes even today - pronounce words in my head again and again before even considering saying something, just to make sure that I said it right. It was a routine I memorized, a security blanket I veiled upon myself before even contemplating opening my mouth. It's hard to describe in words; a complex process that involved a lot of polishing, a lot of straightening out the foreign, ragged edges. The tongue flicks swiftly to the center of the mouth to trace every edge and every curve of each letter and the vocal cords vibrate in a smooth cadence to shape the normal rhythm of the American syllables. The routine became second nature, like a law I made myself live by. For the longest time, I spoke in a volume just above silence, a short and clipped voice of a mere whisper. The less time they heard me spoke, the less time they would be able to pick the sentences apart for any mispronunciations. Often, the fear would leave me crippled and paralyzed. I became quiet, self-conscious. The fear consumed me to the point that the words I spoke would echo back into my own ears as a crowd of faceless people laughing. For years in the confines of a classroom, I stayed silent and when I did speak - which was a rare moment - I did it quietly in fear of being laughed at. Presentations in front of the class were my worst nightmares and conversations with others were short lived.

It wasn't until recently that I realized that I let a fear so irrelevant dictate who I was. For the longest time, I made the mistake of continually fearing I would make one. For the longest time, I was unable to speak, not because I physically couldn't but because I wouldn't let myself. For the longest time, I silenced myself for the approval of others.

It took me a while until I was able to realize that my voice was just as important as anybody else's. Though still slightly tinged with a Filipino accent, my voice is a stamp I now wear with pride and honor: "Made in the Philippines” and damn proud of it.

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

1000 Sorrows Behind A Smile/To Whomever You Are, Thank You For Saving Me

By Noel Alberto, FINDink Contributor

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s a time to give thanks. While we give thanks to our family, friends, etc, I have someone else to be thankful for. The person who saved my life. I don’t remember who you are but when those words popped up on my screen, I knew I had to stop. So here’s a story for you all.

"People often ask me, “Noel, why are you always smiling or why are you always so happy?” Honestly, there’s a long story behind it, a sad one to start, but I promise you it gets better in the end.

If you really knew me, you would know the saying, “When it rains, it pours.”, it was a saying that was too familiar, except the “pours” part was more of a torrential downfall for me.

At the tail end of my junior year of high school, I wasn’t very happy with my life. It was just over a year since my grandfather had passed away, and I still had trouble coping with that loss because I was so close with him. I was the first grandchild, his namesake, and he lived down the street from me my whole life. Every Sunday after church, my family and I visited him at the mausoleum and I would dedicate all my tennis matches and track/cross-country races to him. Still, I had trouble dealing with the fact that he was gone. I was still melancholy about his loss; it was like there was an emptiness inside of me.

Following that, after going to junior prom with my best friend, she called off our friendship. After years of not having a best friend, I felt broken from losing another person so close to me, my only best friend. As an emotional person, I cried because that’s what people do when they “lose” someone who is important in their life. It was the second time in two years, that someone so important to me left my life. The heart hurt a lot.

The struggles continued when I felt I was disappointing my family plus myself, and I heard my friends were getting of tired of me and my problems. My grades were subpar compared to what they were during my early years of high school and I wasn’t living up to my parents’ and my own expectations. I felt like I was letting everyone down. My friends were also sick of hearing my problems so they shunned me away and asked me to deal with my problems alone.

Three of these four events took place in the span of several weeks and on top of that, I still hadn’t coped with the loss of my grandfather. I was depressed. It felt like it was me against the world. One day, it was a family party, but I just wasn’t in the mood with everything going on at the time. So with everyone scattered, I walked upstairs into one of the rooms that had a window next to the roof. I opened the window and sat on the roof ready to pull the trigger (aka the knife). However, my phone lit up, I had told someone what I was doing, and they told me to stop. I forgot who it was, but I’m eternally thankful for them because without them, I’m not here today, making an impact on someone’s life everyday, and my loved ones are left wondering what they could have done to stop me. However, one day, I decided I had to stop moping around and realize, “the past was the past” and that there was nothing I could do to change it.

I decided I should change my outlook on life and live life with a smile. A certain quote resonated with me, “Use your smile to change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile.” That really stood out because what happened to me was I let the world change my smile into a frown. I didn’t want to continue living with a frown.

I’m always smiling because something as small and simple as a smile to someone can brighten their day. People smile everyday so it is easily taken for granted but one of the secrets to making the world a better place is to smile as often as possible. I strive to be that person in everyone’s life who they can always go to when they’re in need of a smile to brighten up their day.

I still struggle with some of those old depressing feelings, but no matter how hard you think your day is, remember that someone else has it harder than you. Always keep a smile on your face because you never know how it might impact someone’s day. I want to end this in the way I started this story: “If you really knew me, you would know why I’m always smiling because a day without a smile is a day unfulfilled.”

To whoever you are and wherever you are, thank you for everything. Happy Thanksgiving FIND :)

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc. 

Morena Ako

By Eliza De Guzman, FINDink Contributor

What does it mean to be a “morena”?

For me, it does not only describe the pigmentation of my skin, but rather my heritage. But throughout the entirety of my childhood, it seemed as if having a darker complexion was rather unattractive. In the eyes of my own mother, titas, and most of the Philippine entertainment industry, being darker was something that needed to be changed. Pale, eurocentric features and skin color are glorified beauty standards for Filipinos, and I come to ask myself, “Why?”

Why does it seem as if I need to fear going out into the sun?

Why do I need to use this block of whitening soap every time I shower?

Why are all these whitening products called “remedies” when having relatively darker skin is not the problem?

The existence of colorism in Filipino culture is deeply rooted in how we view ourselves compared to everyone else in the world. Western influences thrives throughout the many facets of the daily life of the modern Filipino/a, but it should not wipe out the entirety of our identity. The standard of beauty is rather relative, and yet we choose to not see our own as beautiful.


Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc. 

"Ate"

By Eliza De Guzman, FINDink Contributor

“What did you eat?”

Just as I was about to blow out the candles on my birthday cake, I had to pause in order to process what my friend Emily just asked. I was very confused, because first off, that was a very strange question to ask someone in the midst of singing “Happy Birthday.” Second, I was just eating barbecue with her right before my mom took the cake out, so she did know what I ate! I pretended as if I did not hear the question and just proceeded to make my wish and blow out all of my candles. However, after cutting the cake and taking all the pictures, Emily came up to me again and asked, “What did you eat?” I looked down, as she pointed at the half-sliced cake on the table. Then, I immediately caught onto what she was referring to.

The cake said, “Happy Birthday Ate!”

I giggled after realizing that she did not know that “Ate” was actually a Tagalog word, and that it did not mean the past tense of the English verb “eat.” Naturally, I explained to her what “Ate” really meant. First, it is pronounced “ah-teh,” not “eɪt.” In Tagalog, this is a way to address an older sister, cousin, friend, etc. as a sign of respect. This address is gender specific, as you would call your older brother, cousin, friend, etc. “Kuya.”

Growing up in a small town in Central Jersey with a predominantly white population, there were times where I found it difficult to educate people about my culture and country. My friends would often ask questions about how it was back home in the Philippines, and honestly, some questions were pretty eye-roll worthy.

No, I was not born in this country, but yes, I am an American citizen. I grew up in the Philippines until I was four years old, but I came to the States with the ability to speak English since it was taught as a second language in schools. No, I have not eaten dog meat. My family does not grow their own rice. And yes, my house back in the Philippines has running water!

Sometimes it is tiring being asked stereotypical questions about your identity or heritage. However, I think it is most definitely necessary to answer and correct all these questions and wrong perceptions in order to give the proper light not only to your culture, but to everyone else across the world who share the same traditions you are proud of.

 

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.

No Longer Ashamed

By Julie Jimenez, FINDink Contributor

 

I’m Asian American.

More specifically, I’m Filipino-American.

What does that mean?

To you?

To everyone else?

Most would probably say that being Filipino-American means your parents are Filipino, but you were born/naturalized in the United States.

But that’s so technical… It sounds almost genetic.

To me, being Filipino-American means you appreciate and respect the culture, the traditions, and value while also forming your own.

But the one word that can throw people off is “American.”

America.

The land of the free, am I right?

The land where minorities like Filipino-Americans are discriminated against, told to go back to “Fillipinoville”, and are made fun of for their accents, and their cuisine.

The land where Filipino-American women are fetishized, objectified, and seen as “exotic.”

The land where Filipino-Americans were once accused of taking White people’s jobs.

The land where Filipino-American men were framed for stealing White women from their White male counterparts.

The land where White men called Filipino-Americans uneducated and worthless.
Most people wouldn’t really know that Filipino-Americans were faced with racism in the past. It’s not something that’s really taught in history classes at school.  

But microaggressions and other racist comments are very much visible in today’s society.

These comments caused Filipino-Americans like myself to hide and try to assimilate with Westernized culture. I grew a distaste for certain Filipino dishes, and felt embarrassed in public when my mom’s accent would slip out.

My mom would have to buy other food for me because I didn’t want to eat Filipino food at school.

I felt ashamed of my culture. I was ashamed of who I was.
And I’m ashamed of that.

I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to have the fair skin of some of my classmates when I was younger.

I was afraid of people making comments about my identity. I was afraid of what people were thinking of me.

But once I got to high school, our population was so diverse. There was no majority race in my school. I began to accept myself because I felt safe around people of different cultures and different backgrounds.

I wasn’t ashamed to teach some Tagalog words to some of my friends or ask them to come over to my house to try different foods.

When I got to my university, I was terrified of adjustment.  My school is a PWI (Predominately White Institution), and I had a fear of losing touch with my culture again.

That’s when I discovered the Filipino Cultural Association at Towson University.
From that moment on, I didn’t regret going up to their table at the involvement fair.

After each meeting, I felt like I grew even more in touch with my heritage, and I honestly thank my parents every day for giving me the opportunity to share my culture with others here in the United States.

I’m proud to say that I’m Filipino-American, a child of immigrant parents.

I implore everyone to be proud of their culture. We must be proud of the color of our skin, we must be vigilant against hate against us and other minorities in this country (that includes White Supremacy). We must be proud of who we are, how we got here, and how we’re moving forward.
 


Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of FIND, Inc.

The Mediocre Writer

By Julie Jimenez, FINDink Contributor

“Okay, everyone! I want you all to write a short story with this given sentence!” Her teacher gestured to the class.

A little nine year old girl stared down at her wide ruled composition notebook. “A short story with this given sentence.” She repeated to herself.

One sentence could lead up to so many possibilities. So many different directions.

She picked up her wooden Ticonderoga pencil and continued this story. A few sentences turned into paragraphs, and eventually those paragraphs turned into pages. Occasionally, she would go up to sharpen her pencil, but she was practically glued to her notebook.

She didn’t stop writing. She couldn’t put the pencil down. Her concentration was solely focused on this plotline. She became fully immersed in the story. She saw her words come to life from within the margins of these lined pages. She saw her characters speak and move. She felt herself being drawn into the scene. Where was she now? She teleported to the world they lived in. She could see and feel everything she wrote.

Honestly, where was she?  

She’s never been here before.

“Okay, I want someone to come up and share what they wrote!” Her teacher clapped her hands

The little girl stopped and looked around at everyone else’s stories.

They were short, only a paragraph long.

She snapped back into reality and flipped through the three pages she had filled in. She wasn’t even done, but her story was already that long.

She felt the adrenaline rush through her mind. She enjoyed writing. She felt a spark in her that was never felt before.

So she decided to indulge into this feeling, into writing stories whenever she could.

She liked being able to control her own characters and their fates.

She liked writing about her feelings without having to share them.

Blank pages were welcoming enough for her.

She found sanctuary with her words.

And from that day on, she became a writer.

I am that little girl.

I used words as an outlet for my own frustrations, sorrows, fears, happiness and excitement. I would spend hours with a journal creating stories with length and depth. Sometimes I just couldn’t end them. (I hate endings). I would write diary entries, documenting what happened during the day. I would write about my crushes, and how I wish they knew I existed. I would write letters to the people I care about, which would never be seen. I would write short stories in the margins of my school notebooks whenever I was bored in class. Each one varied, each one without an ending.

Those journals carried me all throughout the darkest times in my life because they were open for me. I was able to express how I felt about my parents, how I felt like I wasn’t worth anything, how I felt like I didn’t want to be alive. My words would fill these pages, and no one would have to see or hear them. Each page invited me. Each page talked to me, convincing me that anything I was thinking or feeling was worth writing down.

Anything.

If I felt alone, and thought that no one would hear me, I could listen to myself. I’d still be in my own head, but with the security of my own words.
People tried to tell me I couldn’t write. They said my writing was too simple, not complex.

I’ve had English teachers tell me I just don’t have the potential to write well. They told me I would never be able to complete a college writing course because of my writing style.

So I kept writing. I never changed my voice. I never faltered to what they said.  
I bought several journals. Some blank, some with prompts in them. I wrote articles online, hoping to get noticed by a curious reader. I set up a blog to express my feelings to the world, because why not?

My dream isn’t to become famous.

I just want to be heard in a way where I won’t have to speak.

I want to be heard louder than my own voice.

The only way I know how is through words.

And that’s what I’ve decided to do.

This is my sanctuary.

This is who I am.

“I am a mediocre writer who uses words as an outlet for anything.” – Julie Jimenez