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My Life Defined, Part II August 16, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Dad, Individualism, Who Am I?.
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Some more memories to catalog…

My First Political Awakening:  It must have been 1984.  I would have been starting the third grade.  Of course, it was an election year and my elementary school was doing mock elections.  I grew up in a particularly military-heavy community, so most everyone’s parents were conservative Republicans and adamantly pro-Reagan.  A classmate asked me who I was going to vote for.

“Reagan,” I said, without a thought.   Then, she asked me a question that changed something in me.

“Why?”

The words started coming out of my mouth before I could stop them, and I remember the thought process as if the sentence was being diagrammed as I spoke it.  I knew as I spoke that I WAS WRONG.

“Because that’s who…my…dad…would….vote…for.”

Then it was crystal clear.   I was NOT my dad.  I was ME, and I was about to do something that had been drilled in my head was my SPECIAL RIGHT as an American.  I was going to vote, and I knew that it should be meaningful.  My answer was horrible.  An interest in politics was born.

I started paying attention to the six o’clock news, which was always on when my dad was home.  This was well before the age of twenty-four hour news networks, back when you read the morning news in the paper over coffee and caught the nightly broadcast before Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!  I started asking questions about the broadcasts, about Presidential speeches and national news.  Then I’d question my dad’s answers.  Dad took these questions as arguments, and would eventually answer my questions with this awful phrase:

“One of these days, Kristina, you’ll realize that you’re wrong and I’m right.”

I am thirty years old, and to this day, my dad considers my political preferences to be nothing more than rebellion against his superior ideology.   The fact that I am a liberal progressive today has much more to do with an abiding interest in creating a society I believe is good, not nostalgia for a society that never existed except in the minds of 50’s TV scriptwriters.

My First Awareness of Racial Differences:  My best friend growing up was the girl who lived next door.  Her name was Tracy, and she was three years older than I was.  She had an AMAZING collection of Barbie dolls, Barbie toys, Barbie clothes…baskets and baskets full.  We played Barbies together every day on the walkway in front of my house.

One day, I decided to ask her a question that had been sitting in my head for a few weeks.  “Tracy,” I asked as I changed my Barbie’s clothes, “what’s it like to be black?”

She gave me a funny look.  “You’re not white,”  she said, and that was her entire answer.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much her answer shocked me.  My dad has blonde hair and blue eyes.  My mom is from the Philippines.  I had never thought of myself as anything BUT white.  I remember looking down at my arm and SEEING, for the first time, that my skin was really not white, but a deep tan from playing outside all summer.

Sure, I had grown up listening to my mom speak Tagalog to her friends, and to my mom and dad speak Tagalog at dinner when they wanted to keep something from us.  Yeah, my favorite foods were lumpia and pancit, and my favorite bedtime story was my dad’s version of Brunettelocks, where Goldilocks turned into an “Ay, ‘sus!” exclaiming, change-the-f’s-to-p’s talking scatterbrained Pinoy.  But all this was COMPLETELY NORMAL.

I think a huge part of my perceived whiteness stemmed from NOT being members of the Roman Catholic church.  Filipino households, to me, were like holy sanctuaries in and of themselves.  Gilt-enhanced paintings of The Virgin Mary and The Sacred Heart were ubiquitous in every Filipino household, as were statues of Mary looking down while standing in a fountain and omnipresent candles burning behind stickers of Jesus on tall glass canisters.  Oh, and there was the vinegary smell of fried fish that permeated the air in most Filipino houses.  Not ours.

The other part of my whiteness came from having an extremely ordinary name.  The Filipina girls I knew were named Rummalee and Cinderella, Madonna and Natividad.  They had last names like Macapagal, Abacahin, de la Cruz, and Santos.

Who, especially me, would have pegged Kristina Brown as a Filipina??

I thought I was going to uncover some great secret about Blackness; instead, I discovered my obvious Brownnness.

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