Unapologetically Filipinx Jamaican

“They’re your children? Are they adopted?”

I remember standing at the bus stop feeling like a melon because a random stranger had asked my mother this question. She was offended, as anyone rightly would be. I was left with a sense that despite my mix I could never truly express my Filipinxness. I felt ashamed.

When we think about identity, we usually focus on what we can see. If you were to look at me, you would probably be able to tell that I’m biracial. Living in London I have always had a sense of multiculturalism, which I know I am so blessed to have but growing up there was always a need to outwardly show where I am from.I have always been more drawn to my Filipinx side and this is perhaps in part because my mother brought me over to the Philippines starting from a young age. When I was younger staying out there was a blast. We would explore my mother’s hometown, reconnect with family members, travel to other parts of the Philippines. Nothing phased me. It wasn’t until recently when I visited that I started to notice things. Realistically, I have different facial features to the rest of my family and so I felt out of place. Alongside the fact that I don’t speak Tagalog, I felt set apart from my own family despite the fact that they would speak English around me.

Again, I felt ashamed because who am I to not even know my own mother tongue? Who am I to make them speak English just because of me? I should be the one making the effort to learn Tagalog, even just the bare minimum.

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It doesn’t help that I have made no effort in learning about my roots on either side of my heritage. I know the basic history, but I have yet to dig deeper. 2017 will be the year I learn about my people. Their struggles and their strife. I want to ask my mother about what it was like growing up in the Philippines. I want to hear other people’s stories. I want to soak up all the knowledge I can.

I was struggling to bring together the seemingly conflicting parts of my Filipinx-Jamaican identity, but it’s only recently when I’ve been researching that I realised that they don’t have to be conflicting. When your parents are of distinctly different ethnic groups, you are sometimes made to feel that you have to “pick a side”, but this is not the case. I have an opportunity to use my identity to bring alight issues in both communities.

I can shout it from the rooftops that I am unapologetically Filipinx AND Jamaican, and both are truly wonderful. If I let go of this shame of not looking exactly like my mother or my father then I can truly start to free my mind and body.

In honor of Womxns History Month 2017, my friend AnneMarie has created a digital space for Womxn identifying / Femme Filipinx diaspora folks to reclaim the phrase “Walang Hiya”, which has been traditionally used to shame Filipinxs (Click here to read other stories and learn more).

22 Comments

  1. March 27, 2017 / 1:10 am

    Some people have to realize that their comments can be pretty insensitive and offensive. I think it’s really neat that you’re biracial. You have a better opportunity to learn and embrace more than one heritage.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not being able to speak your mother tongue. I have trouble as it is understanding proper Cantonese and I try to make do with it :I. 2017 is always better than never. Go out there and rule the world with some new knowledge about your family :). Even though you don’t look like either of your parents, you’re still a beautiful woman! :). You’re definitely not alone in this. There are others out there with multiple backgrounds and it’s okay to feel a bit conflicted.

    I hope you’ll share your findings with us! 😀

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 9:37 am

      I honestly didn’t know what to do when I first heard that comment. It threw me off! Thank you, Nancy <3 It has taken me a while to see the amazing privilege I have to biracial.

      I’m thinking of starting a series on my identity journey, so definitely keep an eye out 😉

  2. March 27, 2017 / 1:57 am

    Thank you for contributing and collabing! So glad we’re still connected and are digging deep with our writing now. <3 One day we've got to hang out in person!

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 9:38 am

      Thank you for letting me contribute! I definitely need to visit NY again AND Seattle, so I’ll hit you up if you’re in either of those places <3

  3. March 27, 2017 / 12:48 pm

    I love the #WalangHiya movement and what it stands for! I’m glad you’ve realized that you don’t have to choose between being Filipinx and Jamaican because you’re simply both and nothing can change that or take that away from you 💖
    I’m excited for you to be learning Filipino! Btw, Filipino is a language, Tagalog is a dialect 😊 As a native speaker, I don’t think I’m that good because we were always told to focus on improving our English that we’ve set aside our native tongue. A lot of Filipinx children nowadays speak English than Filipino.
    Nevertheless, I’m excited for your journey! I don’t know anything about Jamaicans so that would be lovely to read about also!

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 9:41 am

      I am so nervous to start learning! My accent hinders the way certain words are said, so I reckon I sound like a right idiot – but there we go, lol.
      Ah, I got it! My mum actually speaks 3 dialects: Tagolog, Illocano and Kapampangan. All the dialects, and she didn’t teach me one 😭 I will definitely keep everyone updated on my journey! So excited <3

  4. March 27, 2017 / 6:48 pm

    I love all the identity posts you’ve been doing lately! I also love that you’re interested in exploring your identity more for 2017. I agree – you shouldn’t be forced to pick a side. It’s possible to be a part of both sides of the community without having to just pick one because both of those sides are a part of who you are as a person. I know I struggled a lot with this idea growing up because I always felt like I had to be JUST American and now I know that I can be both (Korean-American).

    I also related to you about not making an effort to finding out what your roots were. Growing up, my mom would always say “You’ll regret it when you grow older” and would force me to take Korean classes. At the time, I really resented her but now I’m really grateful that she did force me to take those classes!

    I hope you share about some of the things you find out! <3

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:39 am

      Thank you so much, Rezina! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them, I’m really enjoying writing them 🙂 I am so glad there are people out there who can relate to my posts – it’s great that we can all unite together!

      Keep an eye out for future posts 😉

  5. March 27, 2017 / 9:26 pm

    You definitely shouldn’t ever feel ashamed. Be proud of who you are! But that’s great you want to learn more about your family!

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:39 am

      Thanks, Maroon <3

  6. March 28, 2017 / 5:12 am

    Awh, don’t feel bad because you can’t speak your mother tongue! I cannot for the life of me speak Cantonese, but I try! I have the same problem where my relatives only speak to me in (broken) English. I wish I paid more attention when I was younger so that I could’ve been fluent!

    Never ever feel ashamed of who you are! You’re unique and beautiful. 🙂

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:40 am

      I know exactly what you mean! To be fair, my mum never spoke it at home and that’s why I never really got the chance to learn it!

      Thank you, Meaghan <3

  7. March 28, 2017 / 7:39 am

    I can’t believe people would ask something like that. That’s so insensitive. I can’t believe people would be so rude.

    It’s great that you’re trying to learn more about your heritage now. I’m sure it’ll be really interesting to find out more about it.

    I think it’s difficult to learn a language in the UK, because schools don’t really support it. Most countries are bilingual, but schools over here seem to focus on other subjects instead. At my school we only had a choice of French or Spanish, which is rubbish if you’re interested in learning anything more difficult. It’s a shame really, because language learning can be so expensive after school age. Good luck if you do decide to learn!

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:43 am

      I swear some people know how to run their mouth before thinking about what they’re saying. Sigh.

      Yeah, we only had the choice of French or Spanish as well. I think the schools now are expanding their languages because they offer Korean at my old school now and I know my sister’s school offers Italian and Portuguese.

      Thank you, Amy 😀

  8. March 29, 2017 / 1:08 am

    People can be so crass and insensitive but never forget who you are and the kind of heritage you have <3

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:43 am

      Thanks, Michelle!

  9. April 2, 2017 / 3:21 am

    Chynna, this is such a great and personal post. Thank you for writing it. As someone who is mentally bi-racial, but physically a single race, this post still spoke to me on so many level. It’s funny because while most people can tell you’re biracial, when it comes to me, I’m odd. 99% of Koreans I’ve encountered think I am a foreigner. 99% of Americans I encountered think I am Korean . . . this observation amuses me, and it makes me wonder about things XD;

    I think it’s normal that when we’re younger, we don’t want to really explore our roots. I remember my mum trying to teach me to read and write Korean, but I had no desire to and rebelled against it. This was when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I was comfortable with English, and I think learning how to read and write Korean had daunted me. But then in 5th grade, I finally learnt it in Korean Culture class.

    When your parents are of distinctly different ethnic groups, you are sometimes made to feel that you have to “pick a side”, but this is not the case. I have an opportunity to use my identity to bring alight issues in both communities.

    This spoke to me so much. Sometimes I feel like I have to pick sides, too, and my mum insists that I am Korean because I am ethnically Korean. She told me several times that I am that and not American. Let’s just say that pissed me off, haha. I am BOTH. I may not be both physically, but my sensibilities are both! I am glad you are accepting your English-Filipinx-Jamaican roots 🙂 They make who you are, and therefore, it makes you all the more unique and special.

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:46 am

      Identity can be confusing – like I mentioned the first thing we base identity on is what we see. Which makes sense, but I feel like people should make more of an effort to understand the person beyond what they look like.

      The thought of learning Tagalog is daunting, but ahh. I feel like it would be better me in the long run. I still can’t believe you’re mum said that! Ugh. It’s not so clear cut as she thinks.

      Thank you, Tara <3

  10. April 2, 2017 / 7:55 am

    Ugh, Chynna. All these identity posts have hit me straight in the feels. I can totally relate to you in every aspect of this.

    Thank you for taking part in the WalangHiya movement and bringing it to our attention, it’s such a positive movement to be a part of and I’m glad that it has taken part in the month of March which is important for us females! 😀 💪🏼

    I’m sorry about that comment, I’ve had similar experiences with other filipinos kids (when I was younger) who kept calling me liar when I said I’m Filipino. They said that I look too Chinese to be Filipino haha. Kids are so mean! I often felt left out of the filipino gatherings especially with certain kids because they didn’t accept me as one of them because I look slightly different because of my parents’ Filipino/Spanish mix and my mom is quite Chinese looking anyway (genes I guess :P)

    When I’d go back to the Philippines, I wouldn’t relate much to my cousins because they said I look different and to top it all off have an accent they couldn’t understand and I only could speak limited Tagalog. It sucked but after spending a month with them, I slowly managed to find a compromise in our communication and it got better when they became more open minded on our differences but similarities. We bonded and it was awesome.

    “I know the basic history, but I have yet to dig deeper. 2017 will be the year I learn about my people. Their struggles and their strife. I want to ask my mother about what it was like growing up in the Philippines. I want to hear other people’s stories. I want to soak up all the knowledge I can.” I. LOVE. THIS. Thank you for opening my mind to this, this is exactly what I want to do too! Let’s learn together girl! GOSH YOU INSPIRE ME SO MUCH GAHHHHH ILYSM <3

    • Chynna
      Author
      April 2, 2017 / 10:50 am

      Kids can be cruel. The funny thing is there are loads of Chinese looking Filipinxs. One of the biggest stars in the Philippines, Kim Chiu, is half Chinese! I’m pretty sure they would straight up say she is Filipinx. Kids, eh?

      I think I need to spend longer in the Philippines in order to immerse myself with my family and then come back and be like, “Kamusta, ka?” to everybody that will listen. Hahaha.

      Yasss, girl! You’ll have to let me know if you decide to submit a post for AnneMarie <3 ILYSM TOO!

  11. April 7, 2017 / 3:58 am

    People can be so weird and offensive about biracial people and interracial relationships. It’s becoming more common too, so they should be used to seeing it!

    I think it’s great that you’re taking the time to learn about your people! This makes me realize I haven’t learned much about my family’s history, and now I want to ask about it. I also can’t speak my mother tongue well. I grew up being fluent in Cantonese, but I’ve lost it due to not using it. It’s something I’m trying to learn again now.

    I love the title of the post, by the way! I totally agree that you shouldn’t feel like you have to pick a side 🙂

  12. April 9, 2017 / 8:23 am

    I also used to feel some uncertainty around being mixed race. When a country or ethnicity also has so much deep history or changes blended in its roots (like the Philippines), it can make it more difficult to someone to identify what ethnicity they feel “a part of”. Even with you being in London, you definitely have some of your identity there because it’s obviously where you live and spend most of your time. People who migrate to another country, whether it be from a very young age, or an older age, may also in time feel that they identify with that country.

    No one should be made to choose. With mostly Chinese ancestors, I don’t feel that I am connected to the Chinese culture in any way, and I don’t feel like that is what I identify with most strongly. At the same time, I dislike the history behind Indonesia, even though my parents and many of my ancestors did grow up and live there for the duration of their lives. When I go to Indonesia, I also experience the strange language “barrier” with Indonesian, that you experience with Tagalog. Identity is something important to everyone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you have not completely made the effort to learn. It’s difficult especially when you have not spent a lot of time around your family growing up – and the same with me when I go to Indonesia. Our families cannot and should not expect us to be able to thoroughly speak the language. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love and identify with the culture and the country.

    Part of me feels European, because of the Dutch heritage that exists somewhere along my family tree line. I feel like this is reflected mostly in my looks, but to say anything beyond that… well, I don’t feel right with saying I know too much about Dutch culture. Apart from a lot of Indonesian food that was inspired by the Dutch. But that said – it’s OK. It’s OK to feel this way too.

    For a long time I will be very proud of being Australian. I have never not been. I was born here, and I speak English, and have learned so much about Australia growing up. In a way, I am more Australian than I am Indonesian. And I am proud of that. In some ways, I even identify so much with Japanese culture and embrace it so much that I want to share it with people and tell people about it, but there are some people who will simply not understand.

    You are who you are, and I respect whatever you choose to identify with. Don’t choose one – choose it all 🙂

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