Brown People and Flying

So it has been a while since I added a chapter to my Brown Gal Chronicles. Now that I have graduated college, I have more time to devote to writing more content! As I reflect other the past few months, the question that always lingers through my mind was “What aspect of your Filipino American experience haven’t you written about yet?” To me, a big part of my Filipino American experience is dealing with racial generalizations. From other people asking me to help them with their math homework in school (Math is my weakest subject tbh) to people talking louder at me just because my skin is darker, I’ve had my share of unpleasant experiences. The most recent one happened back in April when I traveled to Memphis for NCUR. It occurred on the flight going from Sacramento to Houston.

Something really interesting happened on this flight. I was assigned to a middle seat and was the first to get to my row. As people more people were boarding the flight, a nice young black man sat next to me in the aisle seat. We introduced ourselves and patiently waited for the rest of the passengers to board. When the lady assigned to the window seat in my row came, me and the guy both got up so she could pass through. As this happened, an older white woman explained that she was supposed to sit in the aisle seat, the original seat the guy was previously in. As the guy was moving to another seat, the older white woman said to him, “I’ll happily sit in that seat if you want to sit next to your bride [referring to me]”. Both the guy and myself exchanged looks of shock and “I can’t believe she just said that!” I replied to her with, “Oh we’re not together!” and she replied “You’re not?!” Just the way she said it implied that the fact the young man and I aren’t romantically linked is crazy. The whole interaction was a little funny but also weird. What kept going through my mind at that moment was “Not all brown people who are sitting next to each other are actually together together!” So, as a person of color, the lesson learned is that other people will make incorrect assumptions about you and actually voice them, you just have to kindly correct them. What I hope you, the reader, take from this is to never make assumptions about the people around you and never voice them because it will make you look like an idiot, a racist one at that.

So yep, that was the most recent encounter I had dealing with racial generalization. I am aware that it could have been worse and my experience may be considered benign. To be honest, I actually wasn’t angered by what happened, just shocked. Maybe the lady didn’t grow up in a culturally diverse atmosphere and genuinely thought that all brown people exclusively date other brown people. But then again, I will never know.

Until the next chapter,

Samantha 

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On Body Image & Beauty Standards

I am, by traditional North American standards, exotic. With my long, straight, raven colored hair, coffee colored skin, muscular legs, and ‘flat’ nose are a stark contrast to the fair skinned, blond, blue eyed, ultra thin women often gracing the magazines today. Even by Philippine beauty standards, I am still somewhat exotic because of my above average height (I’m 5’7) for a Filipina girl and body type (think the child of curvy and muscular).

Being exposed to both American and Filipino beauty standards is sure interesting to  say the least because in most ways they are contradictory to each other. For example, while having tan skin is an attractive physical quality to have in the US, having a pale skin tone is more aesthetically acceptable in the Philippines. This ideal stems from the Spaniard caste system once put into place during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines and was even more of a cultural ideal than an aesthetic one. As years progressed, the superiority of lighter skin was more perpetuated into Filipino culture due to the many celebrities and TV personalities endorsing several skin whitening products. The constant advertisement of these types of products screams the idea that ‘lighter skin is more attractive, therefore the epitome of beauty’.

My mind wasn’t conscious of the unique-ness and unconformity of my skin tone to the Philippine beauty ideal until I visited the Philippines when I was 14.Although this was almost seven years ago, I remember this day so vividly. I was walking through a shopping mall in Manila with my family enjoying the day until I caught a bit of side eye from a group of Filipino teenagers. It is as if my above average height  and the brown-ness of my skin was something they haven’t seen in person before. Their unforgiving bluntness made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Contrastingly, here in America, the color of my skin is the envy of some women.  It still baffles my mind that some people would spend money and risk their health to lie in a tanning booth just to achieve a darker skin tone. “How do always look tan all the time?” one lady dared to ask me. “It’s just my skin, I’m ethnic not tan!!” I wanted to yell at her, but instead I replied with “Dunno, maybe it’s because I run outside all the time..” Despite the stark differences in American and Filipino beauty standards on skin color, I’ve come to learn that it is much better for your mind if you embrace what you have and not lust after the things you don’t have and can’t control. It has honestly made me happier and more confident in my skin.

One major similarity present in American and Filipino beauty standards is the overwhelming pressure to stay thin. This also plays into a larger media and culture driven narrative that being thin equates to being beautiful (and that is ‘perfection’). From celebrities to Instagram models, the mirage of thinspiration plagues the minds of most young girls everywhere. I remember reading fashion magazines when I was younger and comparing myself to the models that graced the glossy pages. It was detrimental to my body image as I would internally berate myself about eating that extra slice of pizza or getting that extra scoop of ice cream. Mind you, I was around 10 at the time and was very athletic so doing this to myself was as unhealthy as it was unnecessary to my mental state.  I am fortunate enough in that I’ve never had an eating disorder but that isn’t the same case for many young girls nationwide.

While thinness isn’t so much the beauty standard now, there is still an underlying idea that thin means healthy. We need to start teaching and be an example our daughters, nieces, and friends that healthy comes in all shapes and sizes, not just stick thin. We also need to stop body shaming and comparing ourselves to other people. To me, healthy means strong and a body that is balanced physically, mentally, and spiritually. Now, I  place more value in my body being able to run a certain amount of miles or at a certain pace than how much of a gap my thighs have (there is no gap, my thighs will forever be thick because they were made that way – I have accepted this). As long as you are eating healthy and do some form of exercise everyday, then there is no need to stress over being ‘thin’. Thin is overrated, but healthy will forever be in style.

So that’s my take on the beauty standards of today and my though process of overcoming them. There is a saying that “comparison if the thief of joy” and that is especially true whenever we lust over a certain look that someone else has and put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to achieve that endless ideal. Instead, set a standard for yourself- whether it’s exercising more or not worrying about a thigh gap- and keep working towards it. As long as you are happy and healthy in your approach, then these ridiculous beauty standards won’t dictate how to live. And eat that extra slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream, your mind will thank you!

Peace, love and blessings,

Samantha

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On Relationships (A Single Girl’s Manifest)

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Sam you can’t date until you’re 35 and by that time you’ll be married,” infamous words of my father whenever an aunt or uncle asks of my relationship status. As weird as this may seem, let me provide some context: at Filipino parties, talk of relationships are very common in the chismis (gossip) circle of the titas (aunties). These conversations usually start off with an aunt (could be blood related or  family friend, everyone is tita) complimenting the girl she is paying a compliment to and then ending with a question along the lines “Do she have a boyfriend?” For some clarity, here’s a conversation I know all too well:

“Wow, ang ganda ni Sam. Dalaga na sha!”, my tita exclaims. “Ang tangkad!”      (translation: “Wow, Sam is so pretty. She’s a woman now! So tall!!”)

“Salamat!” both my mom and I smile. (“Thank you!”)

“May boypren ka ba?” my tita asks. (“Do you have a boyfriend?”)

“Ay hindi po, tita!” I respond “I’m too busy!” (“No boyfriend!”)

There have also been those conversations where I talk about my passion of travel and a person in the conversation never fails to (not so discreetly) suggest that I get a boyfriend or a male companion accompany me for safety reasons. While I’m sure this suggestion might have the right intention, its effect is extremely insulting to me and my abilities to do things on my own. The double standard exists here because if I were a guy, no one would ever think to make this suggestion. In fact, if I were a guy, my plans to travel solo would be applauded. It is sad and frustrating that some people perceive female solo travelers as lonely people running away from their problems. Now I can’t speak for my solo traveling sisters, but the reason why I can’t wait to make my first solo trip is because I want to completely immerse myself in the culture of the country I’m trekking to. I would be in control of my itinerary and I would not have to worry about what someone else wants to do or see. While there are unfortunate stories of female travelers getting harmed during their trips abroad, this does not define our ability to seek out the world. If anything, it makes us more resilient, more motivated, and more resourceful about our approaches to traveling alone. Women are stronger and more insightful than the world gives us credit for, we don’t need men to keep us safe.

Another direction this conversation takes is the reason why I want to travel abroad. Some speculate that I want to travel to meet a man. I was absolutely appalled when I first heard this. I associate the statement “Travel to meet the love of your life” to “Run because men like women who run”. This does not make any sense and you are doing both for the wrong reasons. I want to travel to see and explore new places, not to meet my supposed “future husband”. I love to run because it is healthy and makes me feel alive and invincible, not because I want guys to notice me. My goal in life is to not follow societal norms of getting married for the sake of getting married and bearing children. My ultimate goal in life is to find what makes me happy and to give back to the community; my happiness does not lie in finding a man because I am the only one in charge of my own happiness.

Some will ask “Sam why are you so against relationships?” I am not, in fact I admire the aspect of developing great relationships, as there are different types. Since I was raised in a culture that highly valued familial relationships, the dynamic I have with my family is very close to my heart. Then there are the friendships where you and a friend remain close for a long time, despite living in different cities. These friendships are the best type of friendships because your dynamic never wavers from the distance or time, it stays constant. Others will probably ask “So are you against romantic relationships?” Again, no. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by strong marriages within my family. Take my parents for example, they have been married for about 22 years now, raised three children, and they still laugh at each other’s corny jokes. I am not against romantic relationships, I am against the patriarchal notion that romantic relationships should occur within a specific timeline and that the woman has to give up everything when she gets married.

Modern day dating practices are also quite perplexing to me. For example, what does it mean if you and a guy are “talking”? Too  often have I heard the statement of “Oh me and [person’s name] are just talking, we’re not together.” Are you talking about the weather?! Are you talking about your finances?! (F.Y.I you probably should be talking about this, especially if you want to know what you’re getting into.) What exactly are you guys talking about? Urban Dictionary defines the term talking as “when two people like each other and are getting to know each other, but are still single and not ‘going out’ yet.” What doesn’t make sense to me is that this so called talking stage can last for weeks, maybe even months. Like how much time do you really need to determine if you like a guy or girl enough to promote to the going out stage? Also, doesn’t this beat the purpose of dating?!

I’ve have always seen dating as a way to get to know more about the person you like; the talking stage is redundant. In my mind, if two people who like each other are getting to know each other more and are spending more time alone together, they are dating. The talking stage is just a confirmation of mutual feelings and the agreement to continue spending time with each other. In my mind, I could run a mile faster than the talking stage lasts. If you are hesitant or even embarrassed to say that you are dating the guy or girl with whom you are in the talking stage, then maybe you shouldn’t be dating that person in the first place.

So “Why am I single?” or “Why aren’t you dating?” some may ask. I am single because I choose to be. I am not dating because I choose not to date. Yes, it really is that simple. Aside from the fact that I know my worth and will not place that in someone’s mind to validate, I do not like to waste time waiting and I don’t like to be told how to spend my time. No, I am not against guys, some of the best friendships I have are with my guy friends. I am also not against people who are in a relationship. I have close friends who are in relationships and they are happy!

My mindset about dating stems from the fact I aim to date with purpose and not for fun. Dating with purpose is dating with intention and not because your friends are doing it. In this crazy race that I like to call love: I am running in my own lane, focusing on making my stride strong and loving myself. Sure, I’ll look over my shoulder at times and become distracted but I won’t slow down if another person is running next to me. In a real race, a runner does not ever slow down at the expense of another runner, so why would it make sense in this metaphor? No matter how attractive, intelligent, or spiritual he may seem, if he is not running at my pace, willing to challenge me and make me a better, stronger runner (and I am not willing to do the same), there is no point for me to slow down. Am I looking forward to meeting a guy that is willing to travel, run, and explore the world with me? Yes! Am I looking forward to meeting a man that loves me as much as my parents love each other? YES! Just know that I am not actively seeking him out. Know that his presence would be a happy addition to my life, not an inevitable necessity. Until he comes into my life, I will happily stay single and continue to do what I want, however I want, and whenever I want. Just because I am alone does not mean that I am lonely.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Samantha

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On Realizing That I’m Not White

I had a relatively happy childhood. I had a roof over my head, food on the table, went to public school, was liked by my peers, but most importantly I had a family that loved me. As cliche as this may seem, my big, loud, crazy family made sure that I was cared for. My parents instilled the importance of familial interactions at a very young age. Whether it was visiting cousins nearby or attending a family friend’s party, just the simple act of being with family was always important. One of my first memories of my childhood was when I was two years old and I was horseback riding on the white sandy beaches of Boracay with my mom. This homecoming trip for my mom also marked my first international trip and first plane ride. The close relationships I have with my immediate family, aunts, uncles, and cousins and the happiness that come along clouded my knowledge of my Filipino identity.

Asking yourself when you realized that you are the ethnicity that you are may seem like a strange question at first, but if you really let it ponder your mind, it is deeply profound. This question has been in my mind lately and I asked my parents separately about it. My dad was a little surprised by my question, a look of slight absurdity etched on his face. “You’ve never asked me that when you were little Sam, I’m pretty sure you already knew that you are Filipino,” my dad replied.

Not satisfied with his answer, I asked my mom the same question later that day and she wasn’t as taken aback as my dad was when posed with the question. Although she said I never explicitly asked her that question when I was little, she said my knowledge of my racial identity came from the fact that I understood and spoke Tagalog.

“But I thought that was normal! I thought everyone could speak Tagalog..” I exclaimed. Being bilingual is a little strange because whenever I heard my family speaking Tagalog, the fact that they were speaking a language other than English didn’t come together in my mind because I understood what they were saying and in my mind they were speaking English. I wasn’t until a friend came over my house asked me what my lola said when she was asking me if I had eaten, that I realized I was bilingual.

“Kumain ka ba?” my lola asked in her native language.

“Opo, lola,” I answered.

“Woah, what did your grandma say just now?” my friend intriguingly asked.

“Oh she asked me if I ate and I said yes,” I explained to my friend.

My first memory of actually realizing that I was Filipino happened during kindergarten. Being raised in the Central Valley of California, I had classmates of diverse backgrounds and was friends with many of them. I think because we all got along so well, I wasn’t paying attention to racial identity at the time. Or at least I wasn’t conscious about being Filipino. At the young age of 5, children are thinking more about what the school cafeteria has for lunch rather than what race they are (or at least I was). The moment I realized I was different than some of my classmates came when a girl asked me who my favorite Disney Princess was.

“Belle!” I quickly replied, as if the question were so easy to answer.

“But why? You don’t look like her: she’s white and you’re brown!” the girl sneered.

“We both love to read..” I responded softly, the effect of her description of me sinking in.

Before she could say anything else, our teacher called us to go back to the classroom. I never said anything to my parents, but ever since that moment I began to realize the lack of people I related to in the media and entertainment. Of all the Disney Princesses, besides Belle I could only slightly relate to Mulan and it wasn’t because she was the first Disney Princess to be of Chinese descent, I just admired her gumption and independent spirit.

Throughout my childhood, I’ve witnessed the slow progression of Asian American representation in the media. When my mom told me that Lea Salonga, the singing voice of Mulan and Jasmine and acclaimed actress of Miss Saigon and Les Misérables, was Filipina, my mind was blown! After this revelation, a sense of pride and joy would rush through my mind whenever I listened to the Mulan, Aladdin, and Les Mis soundtracks. We Filipinos are un-apologetically prideful and it shows when we see the successes of people like Manny Pacquiao, Bruno Mars, Cheryl Burke, and Enrique Iglesias break through mainstream media.

Although our representation in media still has a long way to go, our stories do have a place in society. Naysayers will proclaim that there is a lack of demand for Filipino American and Asian American stories but I completely disagree. With Filipinos being the largest Asian American group in the United States, the demand is certainly there but the opportunity to tell those stories is limited. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud that a show like Fresh Off The Boat exists, but that is only one aspect of the Asian American experience. When there is a character on a show, his or her development is usually stereotypical. We don’t all speak in an accent, have slanted eyes, know karate, and are good at math. We’re not all aspiring to be doctors or engineers, some of our passions and talents lie in music and arts. One thing we do have in common is that our families came to America for a better life for themselves and for their children. In most cases, our parents took a huge risk in giving up everything they know to go to a country that grants its citizens the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There are an infinite amount of images that portray success and happiness, so don’t put our stories in an ideological box of how you think we live.

To the girl in kindergarten that sneered at my brown skin, thank you. Because of you, I developed my wokeness at an early age. Sure, I would have come to this conclusion myself, but your abrupt behavior motivated me even more to share my story. Being brown is nothing to be ashamed of, it is something to embrace. Brown is beautiful.

Samantha

 

Brown Gal Chronicles: An Introduction

Last semester, I took a class that required students to write their autobiography. While different sections had varying lengths of the paper, my section in particular required me to write my autobiography in 4-6 pages. What I found most intimidating was the direction in which to take my paper and how in the world was I supposed to fit my whole life in 6 pages. After reading the prompt a couple dozen times, I concluded that it would be best to explain how my family, values, and environment helped shape my interests in travel, physical therapy, and running. As soon as I created an outline for my autobiography, I locked myself in my room and got started. In no time, I completed my paper (with multiple edits made, of course), submitted it my professor, and prayed for the best. About two weeks later, we each had to meet one-on-one with the professor to talk about the assignment. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous waiting for the meeting, questions like ‘did I do the assignment correctly?’ and ‘did I focus on one topic too much?’ ran through my mind. After exchanging pleasantries, my professor praised the organization and flow of my biography. She was so inspired by my paper that she was compelled to write the first stanza of the poem Auguries of Innocence by William Blake on my paper (This can be found on my home page 🙂 ). The only question she had about my paper was why I didn’t go more into depth about being Filipino American. This question took me by surprise because it wasn’t something I really thought about whilst writing my paper. I literally started the second paragraph of my paper with the sentence “I am a first generation Filipino-American and first generation college student.” My professor’s question didn’t count against me (I earned an A on the paper) but it stayed in the back of my mind as the semester went on.

The question of ‘What does it mean to be a Filipino American?’ is so profound that I have come to the conclusion that there is so much about the Filipino American experience and identity, it can’t be muddled down to one six page paper. In fact, there are various published books about this topic written from different approaches by authors of diverse backgrounds. I am inspired to answer this question by starting a series that encompasses my perspective of being a Filipino American, these snippets will be known as my Brown Gal Chronicles. In doing this, I hope to start a dialogue about a part of the Asian American experience that is so often overlooked. It would be the greatest gift to inspire others to start writing and sharing their own experiences. It is not my intention to make this exclusive to Filipino culture, but to truthfully share my own opinions of my identity. While I understand that not all may not relate to my posts, respect and kindness will be appreciated!

Until next time!

Samantha

Image from own archives (Bohol, 2010)