Your prompt for today: Reflect on the first time you became aware of race—either yours or someone else’s. What meaning did you make of it then? How has that meaning evolved?
I was lucky/privileged/blessed – whatever you want to call it, to have never experienced racism growing up. At least not knowingly. No one ever called me a “chink” and I was never hit on by men with “East Infections”. I was aware of other races and cultures since moving to San Francisco from the Philippines when I was two, but the two instances that immediately came to mind when I saw today’s prompt are from high school.
I went to Philip & Sala Burton. I don’t know what the actual demographics were when I attended, but I remember it as predominately Black, Latino and Asian. I never felt like the minority. Burton was known as the school for smart people who couldn’t get into Lowell. My Freshman year was the first year they adopted uniforms and dismantled ROTC. I was bummed about both.
I remember one year walking through the halls and hearing a black student speak Spanish. Wait, what? But he’s black? I was dumbfounded, it also never crossed my mind that he could’ve just been a black person that knew how to speak Spanish. Come to find out he was Cuban. Up until that very moment, I hadn’t realized Cuban people came in a plethora of colors and sizes just like how I didn’t know Brazilians could also have blonde hair and blue eyes. I was so intrigued, and for lack of better words, I thought it was so “cool”.
The second instance, and probably the one time in my life I felt even remotely judged because of my culture was in my US History class – honors, thank you very much. We had a multi-cultural potluck where we were supposed to bring traditional family dishes. My mom made pancit and I remember her complaining about it the entire time, so I was more than grateful to actually have something to bring.
We placed all of our dishes on a bunch of desks pushed together to make a buffet table. As I was getting food, I saw and overheard two other students – friends actually, screaming over the dish I brought. One of them pointed at one of the shrimps in the dish that still had its head attached and screamed, while the other one laughed and yelled, “Gross!” I don’t think I said anything, but I wish I had. I just felt so hurt, my focus was on trying to keep my tears from falling.
It wasn’t so much that I felt they were being racist, just insensitive. I felt bad, because my mom put in all this work (and trust me, she rarely did that when I was younger) and these two assholes were not just unwilling to try it, but were making fun of it. The irony is one of the girls is half Asian, and the other is now married to a Filipino man. So what did little, introverted, hates confrontation, but hates inconsiderate people even more high school Abi do? I proceeded to grab a heaping serving of the pancit in front of them. And you best believe I had a shrimp head in there.