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The Struggles of a Biracial Filipina: “But You Don’t Even Look That Asian”

My ethnicity has long been a confusing and sensitive subject for me. The easiest (and technically correct) way to address my race would be to just say that I’m half Filipina and half White, and that’s the end of it.

That said, I often hear the all-too-familiar, “No way! You don’t even look that Asian!” I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, as was my father, and his father before that. My mother, on the other hand, was born in the Philippines and came over to the United States as a young girl with her parents and siblings.

“For a long time, I didn’t know how to react to not “looking that Asian””

For a long time, I didn’t know how to react to not “looking that Asian”. I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or an accusation, if I was supposed to tell them I was uncomfortable or let it slide because it was well intentioned. I am that Asian, regardless of how I look, but having people question the validity of your ethnicity because of your appearance is enough to throw anyone off.

Growing up, my household was very much Americanized. I ate Filipino food, and I called my grandparents by their Filipino names, Lola and Lolo, but I never felt that intrinsic difference that so many Asian Americans feel. And, for this, I was grateful. I was grateful that the way I looked and spoke did not affect the way I was treated, because I had seen so often that my Lola and Lolo were not able to say the same.

I had seen the impatient looks customers gave them when they were trying to order off of a menu or pay for items in a store. The way eyes rolled when they were not able to communicate in perfect English. I knew that they deserved better treatment, but I was also selfishly glad that I was treated better.

Not looking that Asian meant I often heard racially insensitive remarks towards Asians, especially as the people around me grew older.  People weren’t afraid to say what they thought of the Asian community when I was around, they didn’t expect me to get offended. I have friends who would tell me, “Ugh, you would not believe the f***ing Asians in my class,” And if I did get offended, or called them out for being offensive to the Asian community, I heard, “Why do you care? You don’t even look Asian, this doesn’t concern you.”

I didn’t know which bothered me more, that they thought it was okay to generalize their thoughts about one or two people to an entire continent of people, or that they thought my facial features defined my ethnicity.

“I’m proud to celebrate the traditions that my mother and grandparents taught me. . . they’re important to who I am, regardless of how I look.”

They were painfully wrong; it did concern me, and it still does. Though my features don’t scream “Filipino,” I am incredibly proud of my Filipino heritage. I’m proud to celebrate the traditions that my mother and grandparents taught me, the ones that they held onto and cherished, despite what others thought or said. They’re important to who I am, regardless of how I look.

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Allison Kirste
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An 18-year-old Los Angeles local, Allison loves coffee, books, and hiking. Her love for the outdoors is surpassed only by her aversion to cold weather, and, on days under 60, she can be found bundled up in enough layers to give the Michelin man a run for his money.

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