Having biracial children, Lola and Lolopop made a conscious decision to raise us as Filipino as possible. Lola was born in the United States, doesn't speak the language, cook much of the food and is not Catholic (which is a big cultural aspect of being Filipino). So, raising us "Filipino" entailed surrounding us with a community of Filipino aunties and uncles, seeking out the annual Manila Fests around Northern California and teaching us a few words and phrases that my dad picked up in a Tagalog class. Other stuff too: buying books, teaching us to respect our elders, sending a rice cooker with me to college. And more!
I knew my dad was white, I knew I was part white, but most of my childhood I claimed to be Filipino, because that's the culture I identified with. Also, I didn't want to be the only "white girl" in my grade in predominantly Asian south Stockton. Then in middle school, when we moved to Marin County, I didn't want to be one of "those kids" who were cruel middle schoolers at a school aptly called White Hill; "those" mean kids also happened to be white, which in retrospect I can't blame them for. But imagine my culture shock and the associations I made between my first immersion in white society and being treated so meanly, made fun of for my smelly lunches and self-concious when the envelope to collect money for weekly pizza day circulated around homeroom. (I'll add for a point of reference, there was NO subsidized school lunch program at White Hill. Lunch was "catered" two days a week--pizza and burrito days--the rest of the days everyone brought their own lunch. The school I went to before had almost 100% participation in the free or reduced lunch program. My parents made enough money that we never qualified for free or reduced lunches, so we were accostomed to bringing our brown bags. But the fact that NO ONE at the school qualified for a subsidized lunch, shows that socio-economic issues were also at play.)
"What ARE you?" they'd ask.
"No. I mean where are you from?"
"My mother's womb?"
"You know what I mean. Like what nationality are you?"
"My nationality is American. I was born here."
"No like what ARRRRREEE you? You know!"
"Oh! I'm Filipino."
Blank stares. Perhaps, they were considering what Filipino is or why I'm obviously so stupid. Perhaps both.
Sometimes after telling perceptive people I was Filipino, I always got that "what else?" look. Whereupon I'd give my admission of mix-ed-ness.
My parents always told us, "You're not half of anything. You are one hundred percent Filipino and one hundred percent white. One hundred percent American. One hundred percent loved." The math doesn't work out too well, but you get the sentiment.
Were Lola and Lolopop teaching me to deny my "whiteness"? To deny years of history of inequality and casseroles? Quite the opposite. My parents' intentional decision to stuff Filipino down our throats was simply because whiteness would be stuffed down our throats EVERYWHERE else. We'd get the language, the food, the history, the values, the music, the actors, and all the white-American cultural norms at school, at the grocery store, every time we turned on the television.
It wasn't my parents' job to teach us how to "fit in" to politically popular, socially accepted, normative hegemonic American society. Unless we were autistic, which, turns out, we weren't, then we'd navigate that territory on our own. It was their job to provide opportunities and spaces for us to learn about, embrace, be proud of and explore our full identity. Similarly, my Lola and Lolopop gave us both of their last names. Both my younger brother and I have the same middle name, my mom's maiden name: Reyes. As well as having my dad's last name: Gibbs. They told us we could write our name however we wanted. Lauren Reyes Gibbs, Lauren Gibbs, Lauren R. Gibbs, Lauren Reyes-Gibbs. L to the RG. It seems like a silly and perhaps loose analogy, but my parents provided me a name, provided me every opportunity to learn about and shape my cultural identity, then they said, go forth into the world, with the name, with the identity of your choosing.
Dearest Daughters, you also are "mixed." You look mixed, to me. But, you also look Filipino. People will treat you how they see you. Nevertheless, I will give you every opportunity, in the way my parents did, to explore your bi-cultural-ness.
Likewise, rasising daughters, I think it's important to stuff dinosaurs, trains, robots, etc. down your throat. Though, I'm being just as sexist by accepting the notion of genderized "boys" toys, books and activities, it follows the same logic that my parents took twenty-seven years ago. The world will teach you about princesses and baby dolls and pink. It's my job to provide every opportunity for you to explore parts of your identity with which the world isn't so forthcoming.
So, though, he is a Disney character and makes noises and flashes lights, I will continue to embrace your love of Buzz Lightyear. We will make super hero capes and attempt to find clothing that isn't pink. We will build towers and crash trains into them. We will read books about construction vehicles and sing songs about Dinosaurs. And you'll rebel, I'm certain. And want to wear frilly dresses and fake eyelashes (though you really don't need them). You'll choose bologna sandwiches over chicken adobo. Which is totally fine and is YOUR decision.
And that's the point.