else did, and I hardly ever talked about my Filipino-ness unless one of the other 75% of us also talked about it. I remember a white boy say to me in 6th grade with a sneer, “Ugh, god these Chinese.” Not only was it hurtful and confusing to me as I was not Chinese and even if I was, what was so repelling that he had to look at me with disdain. Also, I could not reconcile the fact that my best friend at the time, the only other Pinay in the class, had a crush on him and shrugged the incident away. I heard my classmates talk about how the home of my other Filipino/a classmate smelled like fish. So, I was careful to only share what I felt I could handle. Some things had to be a secret - because maybe it was too “weird.” The only time that these worlds lived harmoniously was during the parish Flores de Mayo celebrations where the Fil-Am community were front and center, rather than in the background. This continued into high school. Again, at a catholic high school, there were five Filipina/o Americans in our grade. I remember the only Pinoy in our class would share how frustrating it was to have to deal with the white kids in our class, and the things they would say or do. It was years before I really understood what he meant.
Fast forward to college, and I decided to go to Washington State University. Back then, very few Asian Americans attended WSU. In my first year, I tried to connect with the Asian American counselor, but didn’t have a great vibe with him so never went back, and spent the next 3 1/2 years feeling more isolated as most. College is definitely a time of self-discovery and I certainly was stifled in that. My boyfriend at the time, a white man, thought I was being too sensitive when I shared that I could see people stare at us when we were together, or would have quizzical looks when I would speak to people without an Asian accent. It was only when we were seniors and went to a fast-food restaurant that he finally noticed the patrons who stared as us when we parked our car, walked out of our car, ordered our food and sat down. I finally – finally – felt validated, but yet not truly safe.
I recall my classmates complaining about the Asian TA that taught the class, because his accent was too hard to understand. Or others that complained about the Asian workers who only spoke in their language to other. Or those that complained that the Mexican students only spoke in Spanish.
Funny enough, it was my time as a student abroad that really propelled me to really want to understand who I was as a Filipina/o American. Spending 6 months in another country where others labeled me as American was an eye-opener for me. I tried to explain to others that I wasn’t just American, but I was a Filipina American. Everywhere we went, I was simply American. When I returned, to complete my last semester at school, a girl in one of my classes asked me if I was Filipino and invited me to one of the first meetings of the Filipino American Student Association and I ended ujp being a founding member, and their first Fundraising chair. I found my tribe. I laughed louder, smiled wider, and loved harder than I ever did before. I was able to finally be as open about how I felt to be a Filipina AND an American. I distinctly remember going to one of my friend’s apartment and they were cooking SPAM like it was no big thing. For me, though, I hadn’t eaten SPAM since my boyfriend said, “Ew, you eat SPAM?!” four years earlier. I finally found home in the Palouse. The friends I met through FASA are my lifelong friends.
I went on to attend UCLA and earned a Master’s degree in Asian American Studies, taught Asian American Studies at UCLA and Filipino/a American Studies at UCLA and UC Irvine. And now, my focus is on how to help my daughters navigate this world as multi-racial Pinays. They don’t have the anxiety that I did in school, despite not going to schools that are very racially diverse, and are growing into their pride in never having to choose, but being who they are as Filipina/o Americans. This also entails ensuring the community they are in when they are not at home accepts them as well. The school they attend are intentional about how they view race and equity in the classroom and practice cultural competency so the cultures of all children are celebrated. As the Chair of the Families of Color group at their school, I help to lead these discussions with parents and teachers. Simply put, what would this world be like if our children learned the skills to be culturally competent? My eldest daughter is part of the Filipino Youth Activities drill team and her younger sister can’t wait to join her ate.
I’m also working to put together cultural competency curriculum and trainings for the employees at my organization, with a focus on race and equity because it is never too late to learn those skills and in fact it is essential to ensure employee retention, productivity, and morale.
I’m so grateful for what FASA did for me and how it taught me to be proud of the history of Filipinos in America, have faith in how I felt, I did not have to settle to be seen as other, but to demand to be seen how I wanted myself to be seen – as a proud and strong Filipina American. And now, I’m determined to raise my daughters to be the same and do anything I can to create a world that is better for them and for all children and people of color.
Learn more about Kay!
College: Washington State University, UCLA
Fun-fact: I once drove in a vehicle for a caravan for then Vice-President Al Gore. The freeways were closed for the caravan so I got to speed down a normally busy LA freeway at 100 mi/hour. Legally.
Bio: I'm a second generation Filipina American, daughter of Filipino Immigrants, and product of the Filipino/a American immigration histories of the pensionados, manongs and manangs, Filipino Nurses, and the US Navy, a wife to a wonderful chef, who is white, but can cook some damn good pork belly adobo, mother to two intelligent, spirited, strong-willed, and caring daughters, and manage a fantastic group of people who understand and appreciate the importance of working in a culturally competent environment.