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.