Personal Reckoning

Interview quotes that touch on “personal reckoning”—an acknowledgement, acceptance, and, hopefully, appreciation of one’s Asian heritage and Asian American identity—appearing in interview order.


I don’t think I’ve ever had a realization of, like, “Oh, I’m Asian!” because I kind of always knew that. I was always very proud of being an Asian person, and I was very open to telling people that I was born in Malaysia. [. . .] But then I got to, I think middle school, and I was in Malaysia and it was July. And I was talking to my brother about Independence Day. I was like, “Are we going to see fireworks?” Our mother was like, “They don’t have the Fourth of July in Malaysia.” And that’s when I [realized], “Oh, I’m also American.”

Janine, WWU, Class of 2023

I feel like my parents did a good job of introducing me to Asian culture. Like, as kids we would get the red envelope with money after the new year. We did do a Chinese cultural class for a couple years, right at the beginning of my life, then life happened of course and that’s why we stopped doing that, but I did get that experience. And then it did help that my family was friends with other families where the parents were Asian. And so, we would do things like get-togethers, and so that way it was, like, [me being exposed to] people who had [a] more traditional Chinese cultural experience, and so that way I get some of the Chinese culture in there as well.

And then going to China itself kind of solidified my picture of what Chinese people are, whether they’re in China, whether they’re in America. [. . .] That was probably the first time I noticed that Chinese people, they are very community-oriented, that they do a lot of things with a family.

Maya S., UW, Class of 2021

We always talk about, in health care, that there are some disparities and in hospitals that there are translation issues when talking to someone in person. So, my first patient was Vietnamese and another patient of mine recently at the hospital was also Vietnamese, so I just see my ability to speak [Vietnamese] and my ability to embrace being Vietnamese is really important to patients who are Vietnamese and who don’t speak English.

That’s definitely a moment where I embraced [my identity] more. Knowing that these people need that, I need to show them I’m Vietnamese.

And when I planned the cultural show with my friends my [third] year [in university], that was also another point where it really came to be prevalent. Like, the stories of my family coming over from Vietnam are really important. [. . .] That’s the most I got to talk with my relatives, the most they ever told me about their story.

Peter, SU, Class of 2020

One year, I was visiting my grandparents in Germany, and I was going out with them, and it was just with my grandparents, my mom wasn’t there. And I remember we met some of my grandparents’ friends, and I forgot how old I was, but I feel like this is the moment when I realized I was, like, a bit obviously different from them, because my grandparents’ friends asked why I was brown. I guess they didn’t know my mom. But they were wondering why I was brown and if I was adopted and, like, they asked a lot of those kinds of questions, and I was just confused. I was like, “Why are you asking that? I’m obviously their granddaughter,” but I guess it’s not obvious.

So, I guess that’s the moment when I realized, like, oh, maybe I do look different from my dad or, you know, the people I surround myself with. So, I guess that’s when I realized that, but also coming to Seattle U . . .

I feel like Seattle U is just a super diverse school, and especially joining UFC [United Filipino Club]. I haven’t really been around a lot of, like—the only time I have been was when I went to the Philippines to visit my family, but other than that I haven’t really been surrounded or just been around a lot of other Filipino people.

So that’s also been really nice, and just different. It’s just nice to experience, I guess, and I’ve learned a lot already.

Nicole, SU, 2022

[In high school] I was kind of like, “Okay, I’m really different from all these people in my high school.”

And then I started working at Valerio’s [a Filipino bakery] and I realized that I wasn’t quite “Filipino enough” either. It felt like that because I didn’t know the language. I knew some but my coworkers would be talking, and I just couldn’t carry a conversation and they knew that I was different too. And they would always be like, “Oh, it’s because you’re American.”

So then when I went back to school, I was kind of like, “Am I really allowed to be flaunting around that I’m Filipino? Am I really allowed to be identifying myself and saying that I’m part of this culture when I don’t really fit in with the people that are of that culture, or are from the Philippines?” [. . .]

But once I came to college and I joined UFC, I went to my first Barrio [cultural celebration]. We talked about how you are enough, you know, your experience is your own, and that we all come from different backgrounds regardless of sharing a “common background.” We can all come together at the root and just, you know, accept the differences, and become closer, because of our different experiences. Learning that—that it’s going to be okay—was a big thing for me.

Kayla, SU, 2022

The moment that I fully recognized that I was, like, “Oh, I’m Filipino,” and acknowledged it and took more pride in it is actually when I filled out college applications. I went to a college preparedness place and they helped me with my college essays and my SATs and all of that.

And so, when we were doing the personal essay and all the other individual school essays, the advisor just kept emphasizing, “You’re Filipino, you have some history, you have that family background, use it and write about it in your essays because that’s what makes you different from other applicants.”

And that’s when I was like, “Oh yeah, I have this culture. I have stories from my grandma.”

I didn’t become appreciative that much until then. And so, that was when I was like, “Okay, I want to know my culture a lot more than what I know now,” and so joining UFC really helped me with that.

Katrina, SU, Class of 2023

[Going to a Filipino party] was simultaneously nostalgic, painful, but then comforting. Painful I think because it was like, “Well, why did I ever stop doing this type of stuff? Why did I stop going to these parties?”

And, yes, there are things within Filipino stereotypical culture that are hard, like the screaming aunties, the—I like to affectionately call them “druncles,” the, you know, the invasive questions like, “Do you work out? You’ve lost weight!” “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”

And yet there was so much love and care in that, beyond just the “How many hamburgers do you want to eat for dinner tonight?” 4th of July party.

And this isn’t for me to take down white American culture. It’s simply for me to say, I had stepped away from the culture that I was brought up in, tried to fit myself into something that I didn’t belong in. Like, no matter how white I tried to make myself, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not white ethnically. (Maybe half-way, but I’m not.) That’s just the reality of it.

So, that’s my key moment, I think, when I realized I’m, like, “No, girl, I don’t care how you feel about your ethnicity, but you are Filipina. You don’t get to wash that away.”

Lorraine, UW, Class of 2020

In college, everyone’s way more accepting, or at least curious, because they’re in college, you’re there to learn new experiences. I missed home so I wanted to make some Malaysian food. So, I made that, and people were like, “Oh, that smells really good. What is that?” and I started to show them. I started making it more for myself, and then I slowly had friends who liked the food that I made. I got to reclaim that and just really understand that this food is delicious. It’s really diverse; I know the history of Malaysian food with the spice passages and all of that. It gives me pride and it gives me identity. Especially because Malaysian food doesn’t really exist here. [. . .] So, I got to be the liaison, the ambassador to show my friends this is my culture.

I don’t know the language. I don’t wear the clothing. I don’t have a bindi on my forehead. I’m not very culturally involved. But I know how to use spices, and I know their stories, and I know the spice routes. This is my culture.

I thought that was really empowering and that wasn’t until college when I was finally given the opportunity to cook for myself and have people that are genuinely interested. There were still people that were like, “That’s gross,” but I couldn’t give two shits. I like it.

Anton, WWU, Class of 2020

There is that sense of self-awareness that comes with being a minority in any place, really. And in regard to that, you know, whether it’s living in California, living in the UK, living here in Washington—the majority has always been white. And therefore, you do feel yourself standing out and you do take that into account and become a little bit hyper-aware of it in every situation. And the same goes even if I’m visiting India, then I have an American accent; I’m not someone who’s grown up over there. I have strong ties to the place but I’m still an outsider there as well. I’m still looked at differently there, so yeah, I’d say with all of these places that I’ve been to, there has been that element. And I don’t know, it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more so than I used to. I think it used to put a chip on my shoulder sometimes and make me a little bit negative and cynical of other people and of society, but I’ve come to appreciate it as it is, I think, and try and look at the positive aspects of that uniqueness, rather than, you know, feel singled out.

Mish, WWU, Class of 2021

I think the notion of kababayan [literally “countryman,” but means something more like kin] is so interesting because one time when I was at UW, I ran into this lady outside the dorm. This older Filipino woman looked lost, and of course, as my Filipino instinct, I could just hear my mom saying, “Ask that lady if she’s okay, if she needs directions.”

And [the lady] was like, “Yeah, I’m stressed out because I need to go to fiscal services and figure out the form,” or whatever. And I ended up walking her to the building and then helping her get an appointment with somebody, and obviously she appreciated it. She didn’t ask me to do that, but it was just this innate thing that, like, “Oh, you know, let me help you.”

And then I was like, “Do you guys want to have coffee at my dorm? I have some San Mig,” from when my parents come. And they were like, “No, it’s okay.”

But [it was] so weird. We always talk about [kababayan], but [it was] the first time [I experienced it] when I was on my own. It was such a weird experience for me in the coolest way possible.

Andre, WWU, Class of 2022

It really wasn’t until college, when I found FASA [the Filipino American Student Association], that I had that “Aha!” moment, where I’m like, “I’m Filipino and I’m proud to be.”

My first full year being involved in FASA, I got into Sayaw, the folk-dance subgroup, and because it was a smaller community within FASA, it was a lot easier for me to get to know people and then it opened up the door for me to get to know other people. But being in Sayaw, particularly doing the dancing, was kind of where I realized that, hey, I actually really like dancing in general. And I felt like—I don’t want to toot my own horn—but I felt like I was pretty good at folk dancing at least.

And so doing that built up my confidence, and getting to learn about these dances, that made me feel closer to my heritage; doing that and performing at events really gave me that sense of pride in my heritage. And from there on, it’s just continued to grow.

Gretchen, WWU, Class of 2022
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