When I was in junior high school, people I did not know well began to ask me exactly what I am, a meek attempt at flirting: “So girl, what are you?”
There were a number of different phrasings people could have picked for this question, and honestly, I don’t think there is a proper way to inquire: the question “Where is your origin?” as if they were looking for my creation story, seemed ridiculous when the obvious answer was Canada; even better, “Where are you from from?” to which I would watch them squirm after I replied that I lived off Quinpool Road.
I can admit that my olive skin tone is misleading; my “European nose” and my smaller eyes make an unexpected combination. My physical features do not fit into the categorized goodie bags that flimsily classify Asian women, and therefore for a long time I did not consider myself Filipino. Rather, I lapped in the full, decked-out, top-down luxury of being white.
Attending white-dominated schools led me to neglect most of the problems and stereotyping I had been directly staring at. I attended an elementary school with mostly white students, so my classmates probed their parents at an early age to find out that I was in fact not Chinese and also not adopted. I was a different type of Asian, one whose mommy is white and whose daddy is not. I lived like a typical, middle-class, Nova Scotian white girl, but my white peers still assumed I had a voracious appetite for “pot-stickers” and the inherent ability to use chopsticks.
Beginning in high school, I started to notice the prevalence of racial discrimination. My friends would toss around racial slurs as a joke – “chink” was my personal favourite, which I uncomfortably accepted and disregarded.
High school was also the time when my peers would make out in the basement of their friends’ parents’ houses. I was the token sexy but safe-and familiar-looking Asian girl. I didn’t hate it. I liked it. I loved it. Being biracial put me ahead of other girls. I am embarrassed that I fed off the ignorance of others and also denied being objectified.
I reaped the benefits of being Asian when needed (when applying for scholarships, jobs) and also of being fully white (all the benefits in the world). I hadn’t really considered the entire Asian half of me because I looked white enough. But my Asian descent caused people to treat me differently, which I naively pushed aside.
I thought that as I went on in my university career things would get better, that my identity would become more comprehensible. But there are no classes on Asian identity/culture at Mt. A. There should be classes on this subject matter, not just a few slides in my art history course on how artists took inspiration from my culture. It is inexcusable for a discussion on how the works of famous European and North American artists “drew inspiration” from Asian identity and art to be reduced to a bullet point in a lecture.
The counter-argument might be, “Hey, what do you expect? You are in Sackville!” But the Asian population is arguably the most underrepresented group in Sackville. With so many Asian students in town, it seems strange and neglectful to ignore our existence. Microaggressions are real and I am disappointed that recent events have confirmed my feelings of underrepresentation and racism.
Being a minority in Sackville is hard.
It would be dishonest of me to say that I am no longer confused. As I write this, I feel my white privilege claw its way over my shoulder and, as many of you may agree, that I have no place to comment on something like this. Because I am white. Because I have not faced the full oppression that many people of colour have. For me to spiel about people treating me differently feels so wrong. I feel like a hoax because I hold so much power and have many advantages. I have the special ingredient: whiteness.
Being a minority is hard.
I feel ostracized in both groups. I do not look white enough and I also do not look Filipino enough. I am still unable to relate to either race completely; I am neither one nor the other. But I am my very own group. I stand in solidarity.