I’m Filipino-American, raised Catholic by immigrants, raised WITH immigrants and raised with pride. (We also had seven dogs and never ate them.) I was raised in the Mission in San Francisco and being Asian was never a problem. I was certainly not in the minority and neither were any of my Black, Latino, Asian or White friends in my Catholic school. And it was because of this level playing field that we saw it as innocuous to blatantly point out each others’ race/ethnicity (both of which were words we would ignorantly interchange with nationality…but that’s a different article.)
But I knew I was in the minority, amongst my friends. Being gay was that deep dark secret that I and all of my Catholic school buddies were taught to shun. Abominable, I was. I didn’t even know what that word meant! The word only brought images of giant snowmen to mind, and I certainly wasn’t THAT. (He was white, after all.)When I came out (selectively) at sixteen, I felt this inexplicable alleviation. “Whoa,” I’d say to myself. “My straight friends still like me.” I was so proud to have these friends. I wanted to start PFSAH, Parents and Friends of Straights and Heteros. I was proud of my straight friends. And coming out to my family? Not as easy, but it became a piece of cake after a while with a willingness to learn coming from my mother and both of my brothers.
Boy was I GAY. I was proud. I donned rainbows and pink triangles and got involved with various organizations and publications and wanted to sing it from the freakin’ mountaintop. And I felt ready to enter the gay community.
Enter…the gay community.
After years of working in the Castro and being out and proud, I realized that I would feel something I’d never felt before from my life as a straight man: Blatant judgment. I’d never heard so many anti-Asian jokes blurted so loudly. I worked for a man who called me “Lotus Blossom”. And I felt myself wanting to hide.
And one night, I was working in the store on Castro, eating a tuna melt when one of my Filipino friends walked in and asked me what I was eating. Actually it was more like:
“What the hell is that fishy smell?”
“A tuna melt.”
“Yuck! You eat fish?”
“That’s so ASIAN of you,” he said with a shudder. “I would NOT eat that in public.”
Forgive me for over analyzing his words, here, but aside from the obvious self-loathing on display, I couldn’t help but notice how he closed off his statement. “I would NOT eat that in public.”
…implying that he would in private.
I remember feeling this weird Spielbergian wash come over me. I don’t know if it was pride, self-worth, motivation, or a combination of all three (or just caffeine) but it was pretty profound. I had to question why I was so ashamed of being Asian.
Not that I would ADMIT to being ashamed, at the time. I was proud when it was convenient. (“Ooh, I know, girl – I LOVES me some lumpia…ASIAN POWER!”) But for the most part, I would make sure to walk more American, talk with lots of aggressive slang and just prove that “I’m just like everyone else.” These would be traits that I see in a lot of Asian-American actors on television or film. You see the traits a mile away: the swagger, the lazy almost cowboy-esque glower, the seemingly casual slur that proves that they don’t exhibit those staccato rhythms utilized in the language of Chinks, Nips, Gooks and Flips. (Hey, that rhymed…I see a musical in the works…) And that was me! I was “that guy”! WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING?!?
I’ll tell you what I was doing. I was buying into antiquated notions insidiously being pumped into the minds of the masses, funded by millions… BILLIONS of dollars of mainstream media that perpetuate the two most emasculated figures on the big or small screen: the gay male… and the Asian male.
Holy crap! I’m “those guys”!
When I started embracing my culture and wearing it on my sleeve, I felt this inexplicable alleviation. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
Sure maybe I was fanatical, aggressive, and downright pissed. I was bitter about having a new shame instilled in me later in my life by people who should know better than to make another group feel like poo. I was angry at Long Duck Dong, Mr. Yunioshi and that puppet from “Chinaland” in Tom Thumb. I know I may have been unreasonable. Hell, I was unreasonable for years. But I HAD to get it out of my system before I could be completely comfortable with myself.
It’s not completely out of my system, yet.
So, while it’s easy to point fingers from the peanut gallery and laugh at those Asian-Americans fighting the good fight, suddenly eating balut, learning Cantonese and talking about the works of Ozu, I really do believe that there is a place for this. It needs to happen. The same way Born Again Christians need to testify. The same way gays and lesbians coming out need to don rainbows and give copies of The Celluloid Closet to their straight friends for Christmas. I’d rather be angry than complacent. And I’d rather be active than not.
“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (Some dude named John 3:1-7)