Friday, September 3, 2010

Fortune Friday 9.3.10: Mother Bear on Duty



"You are the guiding star of his existence."

This is one post I wished I never ever had to write.  They say some bloggers blog so that their children can read about their mother's thoughts and feelings once they're old enough to understand, but this is one post I truly wish and pray would be irrelevant in the future.  Is that too naive of me to hope for, in the same way that I once thought 'this' was no longer an issue in this day and age???


Race.  Some of us deny its significance.  A lot of us would rather believe that it has no power over us.  Too many of us would rather not talk about it.  Yesterday though, what was previously in the back burners of my mind suddenly and unfortunately, came to the fore of my consciousness. Yesterday was my baby's first day of preschool.  As he expands his world and enters another institution that he will be a part of for much of his lifetime (I hope!), it dawned on me that race relations will now be a reality that my own son will be exposed to.

Growing up, this was never important to me.  I belonged to a society that was not extremely racially diverse and of course, being part of the dominant race, everything was easy.  I never stood out and color never mattered.  I was in MY territory.

Now that I am in the United States, I am part of the minority, I stand out and I know now beyond a doubt that color DOES matter.  I feel it, more than I would prefer.  I try to give others the benefit of the doubt sometimes and chalk it up to my own paranoia and over-defensiveness, but sadly, it's not always unfounded.  

Like I said above, a lot of people are in denial when it comes to this and I guarantee you, from experience, that people are more conservative and narrow-minded than they would like to admit. Closet-conservatives, as I would call them.  Some are even closet-racists.  And mind you, Filipinos are not exempt from that observation.  For instance, I know of a few Filipinos (and of course Americans too) who still don't like Pres. Obama just because of his color (although of course they will deny this and say it's his policies, which they can never and will never discuss with you intelligently).  And I know too that we have a lot of insensitive and ignorant generalizations expressed half-jokingly in reference to other races such as the Latinos, African-Americans, Indians/South Asians and Arabs.  So let's disabuse ourselves of the belief that as Asians, as Filipinos, we are always the victims.  We are all as guilty as any person out there who believes that they are superior in some way or another. 

Anyway, yesterday, as Noah experienced his first day in preschool, I immediately noticed how everybody in his class room, except him, was white.  I am hoping this will never be an issue for him  because the likelihood of this happening to him over and over is pretty darn high.  


I am hoping that his teachers and classmates will not have prejudices because of his ethnicity.  I am hoping everyone around him is 'color-blind'.  I am hoping no one around him will have negative assumptions about his skills and capabilities just because he's not of American descent.  I am hoping he will not be bullied because he has dark colored hair and looks different from the rest of the group.  I am hoping that though he's of a different race, he will be given as much chance as everybody else to develop friendships easily with everyone and anyone, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds...unlike his mother who has had experience being singled out and dismissed because she was different.  I am hoping that the world will see what an intelligent, funny, curious, kind and affectionate boy he is instead of readily assuming that his shyness and introverted tendencies are because of his being a minority, a 'non-American'.    


This fortune could not have come at a better time.  I am the guiding star of my son's existence.  Not only does he look up to me as a role model, he also relies on me to protect him from harm, as well as to prepare him for future challenges.  You have no idea how terrified I am right now of the possibility of Noah being made to feel less because of his race.  I am terrified of him being deprived of opportunities that would otherwise be open had he not been born with colored skin.  It makes me angry to even imagine the possibility of him experiencing the slightest discrimination being part of the minority.  Like any parent, I pray that I can shield him from all these things.  In reality though, the only way I can really accomplish that is to give him the awareness that he needs, as well as the open-mindedness needed to slowly change the future.  


When my child is old enough to understand, I will share with him my dream of a world where everyone is treated the same; where each person sees and respects the fragility of life and therefore becomes capable of receiving the other as a soul instead of merely a physical being.  But as long as that utopic world remains in the realm of the ideal and imaginary, it would benefit my child to remember this piece of advice from his mother:  


"Navigate the world knowing that race does matter, but behave like it does not."        
         



          

9 comments:

  1. While it is scary, it is truly a part of our lives here in the US. Always remember, however, that there is no true American but for the Native Americans. Everyone else came here from some place else. So nobody has the right to judge anybody else. If they do, THEY are the ones with the problems! I have found that children are the most tolerant and color-blind of us all! I am sure the other students will be great. Let us wait to see how the teachers are. Hopefully, as educators, they will put any biases aside and treat each student fairly and equally.

    On another note, did you cry?

    Much love,
    Ate Coeli

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  2. Joy …a profound reflection…thanks for keeping going with your blog

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  3. what if the people discriminating you are from the philippines too!!?? i've always wanted my kids to mingle with the all american (black/white) students because i feel they care less..i live in san diego, ca where filipinos are everywhere....and yet i/we still feel discriminated. i always tell my kids to be nice at all times coz skin color doesnt really matter. at the end of the day its still how you treat people that counts!! Noah will not only survive school but will excell in any field he chooses to be into not because hes filipino or brown but because he has parents like you guys!! sabi mo nga ikaw ang guiding star nya so whats there to fear??!!

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  4. ohh boy... well let's start chronologically by age. I do have to agree with my mom when she says she thinks children are the most color blind of any other age group. When you're six, friends are friends, no matter what they look like. Someone is a better runner or reader, not a better color.

    I did have a self-realization phase somewhere in middle school/junior high, though, where I'd have to catch myself when talking to my friends before saying things like "Tito" or "Tita"... or when I talked about more cultural things like the 9 day/40th day Novena prayers and what I had for dinner the night before. Basically, I was naive and still thought that everything in my life was universal and "normal". I had to try to separate what was common for all Americans, versus what was common for Asians/Filipinos.

    I didn't really notice that I was "different" until high school. Even in high school, though, I don't feel like I was treated differently from the other students. I just felt uncomfortable at times when racial issues were discussed in classes, because I was the only non-white person in a room of 30. I never knew how to participate in discussions about affirmative action or immigration.

    Honestly, high school was more uncomfortable than my college experience just because Purdue was so much more diverse than my high school. However, now that I'm engaged to a Caucasian, I have felt this racial stigma more than ever. Like you mentioned, most of the time, it's probably just me being over-paranoid and over-defensive (because more than ever I'm proud to be Filipino and proud that my family has retained a lot of culture). (I've also recently found myself having zero tolerance for any ignorance and bull@&#%.) But sometimes... you just KNOW that something isn't right, that people are judging you or are uncomfortable with you/treating you differently.

    I'm still learning. I'm learning how to deal with this and I'm learning to keep an open mind that maybe people treat everyone like crap and it's nothing personal against me because I'm Filipino.

    Sometimes I feel like when people look at me, they don't see an Asian, they see a white person. This is going off topic and this is seemingly contradictory to the main point, but I feel like it relates. And my reasoning is this: In grade school and high school, if people saw me as a white person or an Asian person, cool, whatever.

    Now, I WANT people to see me as a Filipino. I'm proud of who I am, where I came from, and how my family (not just my parents, but the whole Fab Fam) raised me. Yes, I get pissed off when someone is ignorant, but I would never want someone to see me as a white person. I have this attitude that I've adopted this attitude (for better or for worse) where I approach everything with "I am who I am, and if you don't like it, don't associate yourself with me."

    I feel like Noah will have the right guidance, much like was given to me. Life is unfair, but if you are true to yourself and true to what makes you happy, then you're set. Not everyone will like you, no matter what race you are. Noah will learn this. People may judge him, but he will be strong and he will be proud of who he is. He will be as successful and as happy as he wants to be, no matter how people treat or judge him. I know you/Tito AJ/the Fab Fam will support and guide him if/when things get tough.

    Noah is in great hands and so many people love him so much... and he will know this, if he doesn't already. And knowing that will get him through anything.

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  5. Thanks for your very meaningful and heartfelt comment, Che! Noah is beyond fortunate to have you as his Ate.

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  6. 9.3.10 9pm via FB

    I havent gotten to that point yet with Isabella.... Here in Nepal, Bella goes to school where everyone seems to be a minority! She has classmates from all parts of the world and for many of them, English is only a second language. However, when I watch them play, sing and dance, race and language dont even seem to be a problem....at least not yet... but I know that you are forward looking...

    I remember going to school in the US for grades 4-5. For the 4th grade, I went to school where I was the only Filipino and everything was fine. Then I transferred to a catholic school with more pinoys. there i found that the mean classmates were actually the Filipinos who had just recently been granted citizenship - for some reason, they made the newbies feel inferior....

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  7. It's eerie how you voice out what's in my heart and head! That said, I know exactly what you mean and where you are at this time in your parenthood challenges with Noah.

    It sounds like a cliche but, "been there, done that, still at it"...it IS heartbreaking for us to see our girls hurt and confused by ignorant behavior and attitude (mostly influenced by the kids' parents own warped views) but, we know that those cast stones will be part of their lives, borne out of being non-white.

    We have tried to explain the possible roots of these errant comments and animosities without being prejudiced and judgmental ourselves. Our girls, young they may be, have a good grasp of how our being "different" would always be an issue (overt & covert) for some people who are narrow-minded. We would have rather skipped this explanation (it felt too much like telling them Santa Claus does not exist!) but, having went through a recent family upheaval due to racial jealousies, well, we had to have a crash course on the topic without totally bursting their bubble of "belongingness".

    I'd like to tell you it'll get easier and that the fear of being segregated will dwindle but, honestly, it doesn't. For us, I've noticed that the animosity is quite directly proportional to the girls' (and the family's, as a whole) successes and accomplishments. I suppose there will always be someone who will never be happy unless someone else is unhappy.

    Noah will find his place and will be secure with it because you will be there to help him. It won't be an easy task but, I can not think of anyone else who would be more equipped to guide Noah than you and your husband.

    Like I've said before, in a world where everyone wants to do the same thing, at the same time, just to belong...it IS paramount to be different if you wish to find yourself, who you're supposed to be, and what you're supposed to do. Being different IS good.

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  8. Chiming in with a late comment. My boys go to an international school and it's amazing to see how colorblind children are. The kids in general don't describe people in terms of color. You would think that's the easiest way to point out individual, but not for them. One of my boys was talking about another boy and was painstakingly describing him from his curly hair down to his green crocs. Only when I met the boy did I realize he's black. If it were me I would just have said, "the black kid".

    It's us parents who actually pay attention to race and transfer our beliefs to our kids. I cringe whenever I hear grownups disparage certain ethnic groups, whether or not there are kids to hear them. And some of the most racist people I know are Filipinos.

    Now that Kevin has moved to Ohio I sometimes wonder whether he will ever feel discrimination because of his race. I hope he never will but I'm not naive enough to believe that. I can only hope that I've given him the tools and resiliency to get past it and prove the bigots wrong.

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  9. what if the people discriminating you are from the philippines too!!?? i've always wanted my kids to mingle with the all american (black/white) students because i feel they care less..i live in san diego, ca where filipinos are everywhere....and yet i/we still feel discriminated. i always tell my kids to be nice at all times coz skin color doesnt really matter. at the end of the day its still how you treat people that counts!! Noah will not only survive school but will excell in any field he chooses to be into not because hes filipino or brown but because he has parents like you guys!! sabi mo nga ikaw ang guiding star nya so whats there to fear??!!

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Let me know your thoughts!