19 In Body Positive/ Living

A Richer, More Colorful Life for the Colour Blind

A Richer, More Colorful Life for the Colour Blind

There was always something that somehow made me feel like I didn’t fit in.

Was it always a bad thing? Perhaps not.

Did it make life a little harder for me? Sometimes I think it did.

I don’t think I would have it any other way though, for it strengthens who I am and paves the way for even more growth.

I am Filipino.

Born and raised in the Philippines, and though I now live in the United States and became a US citizen in 2008, I would have to say that my primary sense of identity and consciousness remain very much Filipino.

I lived in Metro Manila (the main metropolitan region of the Philippines) until the age of 30 when I had to permanently migrate to the US due to marriage. I come from a Filipino middle-class family which translates to;

(1) being born and raised a Catholic;

(2) valuing education and not obtaining a degree (college or even beyond) was never an option;

(3) having parents who subscribe to conservative / traditional values; and

(4) being quite sheltered from, though never left unaware of, the harsher face of my country.

You see, being privileged or being an outsider gives you this face:

Philippines city

while there is also this face that should never be ignored, denied or forgotten.

Slums of Philippines

Much like any developing or third-world country, the Philippines has a very uneven development, with the rich getting richer and the poor losing even more hope for a better life every single minute. In theory, social mobility is open to everyone. In reality, opportunities are limited to the underprivileged.

Despite the widespread poverty, it always surprises foreigners when they discover that almost all Filipinos, regardless of social class, understand and even speak basic English. I guess this is why, as far as tourism goes, the Philippines has always been an easy choice for foreigners since communication is manageable. I would attribute this to our colonisation history, which in turn shaped our education institution (among countless other things) and media.

The Philippines is exposed to Western ideas, especially American. You turn on our televisions and you see a lot of American shows. You listen to the radio and you hear a lot of songs by American artists. Hollywood films are extremely popular and sometimes even shown in Manila a day or two ahead of their US opening.

Western books, journals and other reference materials are used in our schools. English is also taught in schools and when I was a student, our teachers all spoke and taught in English, save for our Filipino language, Philippine literature and history classes. As part of the Sociology faculty in the university, I taught primarily in English, I guess mainly because it was easier to some extent given that I used reference books written in English. (It would’ve been exceptionally difficult teaching the grand Sociological theories in Filipino although I think that would be very elegant indeed!).

It cracks me up when some Americans are surprised with my fluency with the English language. When they remark at how well I speak, or that I even speak English, I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted because some of them seem to have a very backward idea about my country. From experience, those whom I’ve heard make such remarks are always those who have not travelled much or have not had any exposure to other cultures.

My (slightly different) Heritage

I can’t talk about my heritage without mentioning that I am what Filipinos label as mestiza or having mixed ancestry. My maternal grandfather was American making my mother half-American. As such, I don’t have the typical Asian look which in a way makes me stick out a bit. Living in the Philippines, I would have to say that the most difficult part about my physical difference is that most other Filipinas are petite and I am obviously not. I always felt insecure about my body and never felt comfortable enough with it to tell myself that I am beautiful just as I am. I grew up hating my body shape, my bigger frame, bone structure and the extra weight I carried and convinced myself that unless I can look like everyone else, slim and as close to petite as I could get, can anyone really find me attractive and desirable.

As I grew older and a little wiser, I understood that I was not as deviant as I had labeled myself to be and that maybe it’s societies standards that are skewed and that it’s all relative. I remember thinking

If I lived in the U.S., I would probably be closer to the normal size and finally be able to find clothes that fit well.

I got my wish. We ended up migrating. But as with most things in life, something new always comes up and you end up wishing you hadn’t made that previous wish.

After Shape Comes Colour

When I first arrived in the States to live permanently, I didn’t expect any major difficulties as far as adapting. Other than missing family and friends, and getting anxious over leaving all that was familiar to me back home, I felt confident I came from a society that was very much exposed to American culture. I had also visited the States before as a tourist, so thought I knew what to expect.

Culture shock was not at all in my mind. And really, it never happened to me. Or at least not to the extent or form I had anticipated. I was not prepared that America was not prepared for me. It was a shock realizing that in these modern and even post-modern times, in a society that prides itself for being open and diverse, racism still exists. And it is very subtle which makes it even more dangerous. Often I think that most racists either don’t know that they are one or won’t admit it, but you’ll see it in their looks, body language and seep through the words they spew.

joy-page-manuel

I feel it when I line up in a store and the cashier is remarkably chatty with every single white person checking out until my turn comes. Even when I say ‘hello’ with a big smile, I get nothing but a cold acknowledgment.

I resented it when I felt dismissed by some mothers in a play group I joined a few years ago. It was a huge deal for me given that I am not a very social person and I made so much effort to go out of my shell and be friendly. I forced and trained myself to be the one to approach and not wait to be approached. I tried to overcome my fear of being in new situations with people unfamiliar to me and attended play dates for both me and my son to meet potential friends. However it did not take long for me to realize that I was not being given a fair chance. Some of the moms  congregated by themselves and I did not see any effort on their part to make me feel included. If anything, I felt like they were waiting for me to feel uncomfortable so I would leave. I remember one particular play date where the host herself practically ignored. When it was time for me and my son to leave her house, she just casually nodded her head, barely even looked at me, and waved her hand in a very dismissive manner as she chatted with another mom from the group.

That was the point I thought, That’s it. It just wasn’t worth it. I had joined hoping to make new friends, but instead ended up realizing that friendships will never be easy for me because of my ethnicity and assumptions certain people make by looking at me.

I have not totally given up and still know the value of opening myself to new situations. However, this time I won’t have false hopes and won’t expect too much too quickly from too many people. Not everyone is evolved enough. Nor are they prepared enough for the richness to be found in diversity.

A Realistic Optimism

There will always be something that would make us feel different and set us apart from the rest. It could be physical, political, religious, or moral. But uniqueness and diversity should be celebrated, for amidst diversity is the capacity for tolerance to be nurtured and where deeper enlightenment becomes possible. This is how we evolve as human beings. This is how we are able to accept each other for who we actually are. You could be turning away from a potential loyal friend, wise mentor, or the love of your life if you shun anyone that appears different from you. You’ll just never know unless you become open.

Our utopic world, where differences are embraced and equality is genuinely alive, is not quite here yet, so as I had written before, in the meantime I think it’s best for us to stay realistic and be aware of the continued presence of prejudices, yet doing our best to aim for more evolved minds. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here again –

Navigate the world knowing that race (still) does matter, but behave like it does not.


About Joy Page Manuel

Joy Page Manuel, who describes herself as a former academic, is currently a blogging mom, writer, astrophysicist, gazillionaire philanthropist and goddess, and undoubtedly a perpetual dreamer, hopeless romantic, and overanalyzer.’ Find more from Joy on her blog Catharsis!

  • Marie
    September 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I love the ending and the choice of the word “behave”. So many people don’t know the meaning or the power in that word.

    • Joy
      October 1, 2011 at 8:13 pm

      Oh yes….We take that word for granted a lot.

  • Hocam
    September 30, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Wonderful post Joy. Many of us feel different for varied reasons. Some, as in your case are more visible than others. I think it boils down to self- acceptance first. With this, it becomes easier to live “a richer, more colourful” life. Aging is also part of the process. When I was younger I wanted to blend in and be part of the crowd. Now, I revel in being a more “colourful” personality
    Thank you again Janine for bringing us this series.

    • Joy
      October 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      Great point Mary. Acceptance is key. I often wonder though….why must it come so late?..hehehhee….wish we had the ability to fully accept ourselves at age…ummm…..13 perhaps? 😉

  • Scrollwork
    September 30, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Bravo, Joy! You gave an excellent introduction to the essence of Filipino culture. Then you captured exactly what it feels like to be marginalized for the flimsiest of reasons—appearance. You ended on an upbeat note while maintaining an eyes-wide-open stance about a continuing challenge.

    Commendation also goes to Janine for hosting this significant issue on your blog.

    • neanster77
      September 30, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you for your support and kind words!

    • Joy
      October 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm

      Your comment means a lot, Marie, coming from a Filipino herself. I am happy I did our culture justice 🙂

  • Thom Brown
    October 1, 2011 at 12:53 am

    Perfect. There are more than I few people with whom I would like to share this, but I’m not confident they will ever “get” it. Thanks.

    • Joy
      October 1, 2011 at 8:17 pm

      Now you got me curious…..

  • Muriel
    October 1, 2011 at 1:02 am

    Thanks for this post. I was surprised to see that you received a special treatment because of your ethnicity. I think that it is best to ignore such behaviours and move on…I hope that you managed to find some friends eventually. Thanks for sharing.

    • Joy
      October 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      Muriel, generally, I still have some problems making friends with most ‘moms’. I never had problems making friends while I was still working (though most of them were single) so I wonder…..The more impt. thing is that I find that not obsessing too much about trying to make new friends here has made me a happier person 🙂

  • Samantha Bangayan
    October 1, 2011 at 1:21 am

    “All my life, I have felt ‘different.'” Wow, Joy! I think anyone can relate to this post. How interesting to learn that your grandfather was American! =) Isn’t it funny though that there’s a huge mestizo population in the Philippines whether it’s a mix with Spanish, American or Chinese ancestry. It has me thinking about how mixing has now become more of the norm than the exception all over the world! You make me proud to be different! =) Hugs!

    • Joy
      October 1, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      Yeah, Sam…I guess it was really great to grow up in such an open society like the Philippines. I’m happy you enjoyed the post!

  • Joy
    October 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I’ve said it before, but really, THANK YOU Janine for this opportunity. Reflecting on my culture and experiences on difference was such a blessing!!

  • Lalia
    October 3, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Joy, wow! Wow wow wow!! What an amazing post. I relate to so much of what you say because of my choices to look the way I do. It’s sad that people make snap judgements and put you in a little box of what they think you are. I don’t see that kind of thing ending in my lifetime, but I so wish it would. Thank you (and Janine) for sharing so much of yourself with us. xo

  • Adriene
    October 5, 2011 at 8:56 am

    So interesting, Joy. On the one hand, your “Americanized” features set you apart in the Philippines, yet in the States, you also experience bias, apparently based on your looks. I think it goes to show that, generally speaking, people seek out differences and similarities because of their insecurities. They are seeking to protect themselves or hide in the crowd. Great post. Thanks again for this series, Janine.

    • neanster77
      October 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting Adrienne, and for supporting the beautiful Joy.

  • Piri
    November 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Wow Joy, this is so perfect! I loved your post so much, I had to share it. I hope I can share it with the world.

    I especially love how you have realistically portrayed: “…not everyone is evolved enough, prepared enough for the richness that can be found in diversity.” A sad reality in the, sometimes, “so-called” tolerant world we live in today.

    Yet, you have ended with words of hope. A realistic optimism: “Navigate the world knowing that race (still) does matter, but behave like it does not.”

    It saddens me everytime I’m reminded that there are still people out there blinded by something so flimsy as race. But I rejoice in finding those who have opened their minds, and endeavour to always be such a person myself!

    You have taught all of us the richest lessons in life 🙂

  • Penelope James
    November 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Difference is

  • %d bloggers like this: