“I’m too white to be Filipino, and too Filipino to be white” – Ryan Songalia
As I read the tagline of Ryan Songalia’s article on the Inquirer website, I smell a sense of familiarity: sitting on the borderline of two races.
I was born in Manila, Philippines on one faithful Friday in the 90s. My parents do not exactly embody ‘typical Filipino features’: both are fair, have dark brown, wavy hair and posses sharp noses. It is obvious that both families have Caucasian roots, namely European, but having been born and bred in the archipelago, they rightfully consider themselves Filipino.
Growing up in Manila (and later on, the province), I would be referred to as a mestiza, an ode to my slight European features. I don’t consider the word a compliment nor an insult but more of a categorical term. I was in a category. When I was younger, I would be singled out for my features and I thought nothing of it. Besides, it was an everyday occurrence and would soon become the norm.
Circumstances did not change much when I migrated to the UK. Having moved to a middle-class, quaint English town, I also stuck out like a sore thumb; my small eyes, petite figure and olive skin can be detected a mile from the sea of Westerners.
Growing up a Filipino in the UK, I’ve been wanting a real sense of belonging that I begin to question whether physical features ultimately define race.
I’d get comments questioning the legitimacy of my Asian roots after joining some form of ‘Asian Society’ on a now-defunct social media site. Really, though? I also used to be stared at a lot when I visited the Philippines in 2009; some people even thought I could only speak English.
It was irritating, to say the least.
I have lived in the country for 11 years of my life before moving. Though I do not speak Tagalog that much anymore, I can still understand what you’re saying and write fluently in the language (yes, I can cuss you to oblivion in Filipino). I just don’t understand why I am deemed ‘less Filipino’ due to my features and mannerisms when I was born in the same soil and spoke the same language as most.
The Philippines is a nation of different races and cultures, many thanks to our perfect Pacific location and invasions of the past. What I’m saying is that, strictly speaking, the ‘native Filipinos’ we have left are the indigenous tribes. Most of us are likely to be a mix of different races, whether it be of recent or distant mixing.
So, it does not matter if a person appears too white. As long as they’re a proud Filipino, you should be satisfied.