When I tell people I’m part Filipino, they take one look at my pasty white skin and thin blonde hair and unsurprisingly raise their eyebrows. This is usually followed by an impromptu interview of sorts, to discover the basis of my curious claim.
Really? You don’t look very Filipino to me…
“Well,” I’ll confess, “Not by blood. But I’m part Filipino on the inside.”
How does that work? Did you grow up there or something?
“No,” I’ll admit, “But I lived there for awhile, after high school before university. And I have family there.”
Oh, so do your parents live there?
“No,” I’ll finally relent, and award their persistence with an abridged version of the story. “My Grandpa started a Children’s Home there, which he ran for over 20 years. The kids he raised called him Dad, and when I went to the Philippines for the first time, they called me Niece, Sister, or Aunty. So I kind of inherited a family.”
The pieces start falling into place. Those with some connection to the Philippines – Filipinos living abroad or fellow honorary Filipinos – are usually ready to take me home to exchange stories over halo halo like old friends at this point. The rest are still a little bewildered. Not entirely sure what to do with me, but fearing the impending onslaught of a life story, they concede something along the lines of “that’s cool” and change the subject.
When I was a little girl, too little to really even understand what countries were, my Grandpa would tell me about the faraway land that he lived in when he wasn’t in Canada. “I’ll take you there one day,” he promised, “They will love your beautiful blonde hair.”
I treasured those moments, partly because I didn’t think there was anything special about my hair. Blonde hair was the most normal and boring type of hair, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would think it interesting. But somewhere out there, in a magical, faraway place, there might be someone who did.
The Philippines disappeared from my mind almost entirely as I grew up, until my Grandpa passed away and my Grandma, Uncle and I paid a visit to the Children’s Home to make sure everything and everyone was taken care of in his stead. I was indifferent towards the trip at the beginning, and we were there for less than two weeks, but as the car pulled away from the Home at the end of the trip, I pressed my face against the window and cried long past the end of the street. I began plotting my return before we had even landed back on Canadian soil.
“What’s the opposite of a banana?” My Filipino brothers are trying to figure out what to make of the white girl who eats balut, rides on the back of the jeepney, and belts out “Hoy, Pinoy Ako!” in the videoke bar on a regular basis.
“Bananas are Asian on the outside and white on the inside, right? But she’s white on the outside and Filipino on the inside…”
“How about an oreo? No… that’s still backwards…”
“I know! She’s a siopao!” And so it was decided.