Sunday, March 10, 2013

Filipino-Irish Hair

I feel like I haven't changed much from that picture.  I was probably three or four years old when it was taken and it was my very first trip to Disneyland. My dad was in the Navy at the time and we didn't have very much money. The tickets were a gift from Christmas and I distinctly remember constantly asking when we had arrived and how long we had left to go. That small camera around my neck was one of my favorite childhood gifts. I took pictures of anything and everything there. 

The reason I think this is an interesting photo, apart from that smile that goes ear-to-ear, is how light my hair is and that it often becomes a reflection of what it was like growing up half white.

I'm Filipino-Irish, born in the Philippines and grew up in the United States. It's pretty close to a 50/50 split, there may be some other Western European countries blended in, but the Irish is pretty dominant. 

 Here I am with one of my cousins, in the Philippines. I'm the blonde/brown-haired child at the water pump.

I could speak Tagalog as a little kid, but when I moved to the United States and started speaking English more frequently, it became all English, all of the time. I did learn English in the Philippines, but I definitely spoke more Tagalog there than anything. As a toddler, it was amusing for my parents to have a sassy little girl who could sass back in two different languages. This would be problematic for my step-dad as he conveniently could not understand when I was sassing back in Tagalog. Growing up, I found it to be a hindrance that I no longer spoke both languages. Being a part of different organizations and identifying as being Filipino, yet not speaking of the predominant languages often made me feel less than.

Speaking Tagalog was more than just a fact that I could have thrown out there in a round of "two truths and a lie." Losing that language became very symbolic of the differences in riding that line between two ethnicities. My mom and I grew up very differently. She was raised with several siblings, held a lot of responsibility at a young age, and grew up on a farm in the Philippines. My memories of the Philippines are only sparked by viewing old photos. I grew up moving a lot, often times in the same city in Wisconsin. I went to public schools that were predominantly white and lived in safe, very suburban neighborhoods. I had amazing Christmases and holidays with my great family. To contrast, my mother grew up surrounded by her family that looked like her and I grew up around white friends and I was this blend.

My mom knew how to cook since she was a little girl. As a woman, it fell under the domestic sphere and she understood the chemistry of spices and meats like the back of her hand. Today, I rely on Pinterest and She knows the food of our culture by memory and is an exceptionally great cook. I could always count on having delicious food at home, whether it was after a two-a-day swim practice or coming home on a break from college. My mother also has a quiet type of bravery. There were times that she was fiercely independent but other times that she stayed back, drifting into the crowd. That would drive me crazy. She was able to be a single mom, raising a daughter in a poor country and finally traveling across several countries to the United States. However, she hated driving to Milwaukee because it involved driving on the interstate. My patience would wain with her because I never understood it. However, she has so many skills that I still struggle to maintain.

My mom has gold highlights in her hair, otherwise she has incredibly beautiful black hair. It's always been super long and it wasn't until a few years ago that she started adding any additional color to it.

I took two Tagalog language courses in college. I loved them and would practice with my mom, but regardless of phone calls and homework assignments, I can't remember a lick of it.  I was also part of a Filipino American Student Organization (FASO) in college. I wish I had played a more active role. It was difficult doing extracurricular activities in comparison to what I was already involved with. I would join them for potlucks and Manny Pacquiao boxing matches. Many of my friends could still speak Tagalog fluently and admittedly, I was and still am very jealous. 

It was more than just speaking the language, it was how I looked. In comparison to my cousins or Filipino friends, I am significantly lighter skinned. That's to be expected since I am a halfsie (not foolin' anybody there). However, I would come to meet other halfsies and discover that they were darker. It was something about their skin color that I became envious of, almost like they were more Filipino than me

I love being Irish as well, don't get me wrong.  With St. Patrick's Day coming up, it's just one of those holidays where people are surprised that I actually am Irish. It's one of my favorite aspects about being me. However with my lifestyle, culture and how I identify, it's more as being Filipino. When it comes to looks, I naturally have light skin and very light brown hair. It's so light that I can naturally gain blonde/gold streaks in the summer. However, during those times of the year, I also get really dark. 

Growing up, I felt silly about this. Sometimes my eyebrows were darker than my hair color and whenever I would step out of a shower, I would compare the color of my drenched locks to what it might be if I went darker. In college, I took the plunge and dyed my hair for the first time. It was with the AVEDA school that was conveniently on our campus. I wanted to making the shade a darker brown and the hair stylist convinced me to go darker. We went so far as to dye it pretty darn close to black. The change was shocking for me. Part of me was mad and the other kind of thrilled. I completely changed my look, but I wasn't sure if I was ready for that. My looks were those identifying factors that put me in a group of "other." What is she? Chinese? Mexican? Filipino? German?

It was something I had grown up with and especially in predominantly white schools. With many of my childhood friends having family that fell under the categories of being German/Irish/Italian, their cultures were easily accessible to them. It was also easier to excuse things that were inappropriately said because they didn't know better. Friends were able to often say, "oh I forget that you're Filipino" or in meeting new people, "I have another Filipino friend." That's cool...

As I read through this, this isn't a complaint of my culture and heritage. This also isn't a complaint of the cultures I did grow up with in my hometown. In fact, they are some of my favorite aspects of that city and its people. No, if anything, they are disappointments in myself for not embracing every aspect of who I am sooner. After I dyed my hair black, I continued to do so. I would get spray tans for occasions because I look better with tanner skin (most people do). However, in photos, I actually look Filipino. Growing up, it all became a balance. The make-up tutorials that my friends grew up with weren't quite the same ones that I could use. Instead I look to beauty vloggers (love YouTube beauty tutorials) who also are halfsies and I started to embrace that balance more and more. I could celebrate our unique qualities that I shared with these women. Like that my hair, due to its unique texture, is thin but holds curls very well and I can get a lot of volume out of it. Things like that, which I never could appreciate while growing up and wishing to fit distinctly into one or the other.  
This is also an opportunity to appreciate the other side of me, to learn more about both cultures which I represent. I want to learn more about my Irish and Filipino heritage. Not just the Claddagh rings and Lumpia, but what every person who is proud of their heritage should know, appreciate, and celebrate.

After I cut off a lot of hair and it now stands as a bob, I'm trying to get it to return to its natural hair color again. This is probably the catalyst for this post. I was debating continuing the process of dying it or just letting it return to brown. I think I'm going to stick around with the brown hues because that coloration needs to be explored more because that's who I am. I am a blending of two wonderful cultures by two families whose genetics normally would never mix. That's the beauty of being a hybrid vigor.    

Thanks for Reading :)
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  1. I just wanted to stop by and say that your posts have been really beautiful, intelligent and legit writing lately. (not at all like this comments which just used the word legit) keep up the wonderful writing =)

  2. Kim, I honestly felt like I was reading my childhood and those pictures look so much like the ones I've seen of my family back in the Philippines! I'm a Filipino/German hybrid, but I got my mom's darker complexion and dark hair. My sister was/is much lighter than me. I was also born in the Philippines, then moved to Japan, and then little ole' Lake Mills where I was 1 of 3 ethnically diverse students in my grade. I didn't learn tagalog ever and don't really resent my mom for it, we never spoke it growing up because it helped with her English, but I do get a pange of jealousy knowing that I could have grown up bilingual but never was. I very much identified with my white side even though others saw me as "not all white" but they couldn't quite put their finger on it...Hawaiian? Eskimo? Native American? Hispanic? some sort of Asian? I almost felt like a fraud joining FASO until I met Shannon, who had a very similar childhood and tastes as I did. Besides my cousins in the Philippines and my sister, I had never met another Filipino my age until college. Now that I'm about the have a child, I'm terrified of her coming out blond haired and blue eyed (reminiscent of my husband's two nieces), I love my dark features and want to pass them on and hope to raise my child as culturally aware of not just her own heritage but of others as well. I guess just know that your feelings aren't uncommon or unwarranted and I'm sure there are many other halfsies who feel the same way. I do wish there was a segment in my Racial-Ethnic studies class that focused on multiracial children. It's definitely becoming more and more common and we never really get to hear our experiences and feelings of growing up in our society. Sorry for the novel...I know we never really got a chance to get to know each other in college but I enjoy reading your blog and feel that I can relate to you in some ways, this being one of them and being young and married.

  3. This is beautifully written post. Everyone should be able to identify with where they came from and embrace it.

  4. I have a post just like this sitting in my drafts, waiting to be posted. I'm Italian, Mexican and a quarter mix of a bunch of other things, but I look completely White. My family is very connected to our Mexican heritage and it was frustrating and difficult for me, especially with two siblings with darker skin, brown eyes and dark brown hair. With my pale skin, blue eyes and light brown hair, I always wished I fit in better. But they, too, had their struggles.

    Thank you so much for being brave enough to share this and, in doing so, encouraging me to share my own story.

  5. I absolutely loved this post. I want you to know that even though I do not comment often, I check your blog frequently and enjoy every post you write.

  6. I'm 1/4 German...born in El Salvador, Central America but raised in Southern California. I consider myself a California girl because that's all I have ever known. I can speak Spanish, but since I'm so "Americanized" (same as you grew up in a mostly white neighborhood/schools) that my Spanish has faltered and I sound like a little kid speaking Spanish. I actually graduated with a minor in Spanish and it has helped being bilingual in the education system, but I'm still self- conscious, especially since because Spanish actually has different dialects and sometimes Mexican parents assume I don't actually know how to speak spanish because I don't understand their way of saying something, make sense? And I have been told I look Asian, Indian, Hawaiian etc etc