Will the real Filipinos please stand up? Oh, you are standing? Wow. We really are a short people.
I am working on a story about relationships between different races and I started compiling data about the racial composition of places I have lived. According to the US Census of 2000, there are just over 10,000 people living in my childhood town, Sanford, Maine. Of these people, there are 9 Filipinos. I should tell my parents to find the other 7.
People often inquire about my racial composition and, typically I am evasive and sarcastic in response. Here's a typical conversation in my life:
Stranger: "Hey, where are you from?"
Me: "Oh, I live here in Manhattan."
Stranger: "No, but where are you from originally?"
Me: "Well, I've lived all over: Maine, Michigan, Chicago, Key West--"
Stranger: "Ha, ha. I mean, like, what's your nationality?"
Me: "Oh, oh, oh. Sorry. I'm A-mer-i-can."
Stranger: "But, what's your background?"
(At this point I turn around and look to see what, in fact, is behind me. In my background.)
(Uncomfortably long pause.)
Stranger: "Are you Filipino?"
If I actually admit my ethnic heritage, I get reactions that range from condescending to downright creepy. Some older men feel the need to tell me that they or someone they know were stationed in the Philippines. If I have had a few drinks, I might ask them how it feels to know that they belong to an organization that is responsible for raping so many Filipino women and leaving them to raise their bastard children alone on the other side of the planet. This is never well received.
More often than I care to share, some guy will bust out a phrase in Tagalog upon learning that I am Filipino. This phrase is ususally one of three things: Kumasta ka? (How are you?), Maganda (Beautiful.), or "Mahal Kita. (I love you.)" How useful.
I suppose I should be flattered that I get any kind of attention for how I look, and sometimes it feels good to be noticed, I admit. However, more often than not, the situation just disturbs me. People are often very excited when they have pinpointed my ethnicity. They'll say something like, "I knew it!" What does that mean? That I look like how I am supposed to look? Because, I've been to the Philippines and more often than I care to remember, the first thing I was asked when I met someone there was, "Where are you from?"