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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.


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.


Don’t Challenge Him May 30, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Dad, Jesusitis, Who Am I?.
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My dad and I didn’t always have a rocky relationship. I learned to question from him. I learned to love math and science, German and literature, bluegrass and classical, the pleasures of hard work and the pride of supporting the underdogs of society, all from my dad. Then somehow we got parabolaed, and instead of zooming along, parallel to his life and experiences, we collided head-on and sped off, Newtonian, in equal and opposite directions. And oh, how opposite.

The point we bent around was Christianity. He found Jesus and his followers, warts and all. I found it all repulsive, angels and all. And that point is beating his plowshare into a sword, and my sword into a plowshare.

Our views on Christianity color our relationship like green mold on a vivid yellow lemon. I cannot really fathom what he thinks of me and my empirical approach to life, although I do know from the analogies he uses that he thinks I personally am dangerous to all he holds dear. Our last discussion turned ugly as he threatened to use his gun against me and “all my liberal ilk.” The prompting for this death threat? My body language. He didn’t like how I held my wine glass when I talked hard science back to his pseudoscience.

We can’t have any kind of discussion. Everything leads back to fags, liberals, and…well, fags and liberals mostly. He follows the Fundamentalist Christian Party Line like it was handed down from his Master Chief. I can’t understand how someone who understands a concept like Chain of Command so thoroughly won’t understand a simple evolutionary flowchart.

My uncle, who is also my dad’s older brother, had a few quiet moments with me at my niece’s birthday party last week. I know my dad talks to my uncle, and I also know that Dad was either avoiding me at the birthday party or he was genuinely interested in what was going on outside. Anyhow, my uncle started by identifying with me. He told me he was a Democrat, and that there were just things he didn’t say anything about in conversation with my dad. He said he respects my dad and the decisions he’s made, and so he just doesn’t say anything about anything political. Then, he quietly urged me to do the same. “Respect him,” said my uncle, “don’t challenge him.”

And therein lies my current family dilemma. I don’t argue with my dad to prove my intellectual superiority, or to strip him of his religious beliefs, or to get my Freudian rocks off. I argue with my dad because I love him, and I hate to see him fight with the deliberate stupidity with which his pastor arms him. I know my dad is better than that. I know this, because he was my teacher whom I did respect.

That’s probably the best analogy I can come up with. Let’s pretend you had a favorite teacher in school who taught, say, English. The teacher taught you to love English, to love language and to care about the words you choose, to devour books that are worth spending time with and to be able to recognize the flaws and the greatness of a piece of literature. Then, one day, the teacher (who had always spoken Pig Latin as a hobby) decides she wants to speak nothing but Pig Latin for the rest of her life. Okay, yes, you respect her decision as an intelligent adult to be a speaker of Pig Latin, but that doesn’t make her decision any less ignoble.

So fine, my dad wants to take some guy’s interpretation of a holy book and base his whole worldview on it. Even when the facts prove his worldview is seriously flawed. Now, if this were someone you loved, what would you do? It would be easy to brush him aside, to say “whatever” and change the subject to the weather and everyone’s health.

I love my uncle. I love my dad. And I just can’t do it.

I can’t sit quietly while he spouts off about how ridiculous it is to spend tax money on education. I can’t sit quietly while he makes up or quotes bizarre information. I can’t sit quietly while he praises Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in one breath and calls young black men “coons” in the next. I can’t sit quietly while he mischaracterizes the context of every political issue his pastor finds important enough to preach about.

I don’t bring up anything remotely religous or political around him. That’s as far as I can go. But, as my dad himself taught me, it does no good to limp alongside a lame man. My mistake is in thinking that the facts will convince him, but really the only thing that will convince him is for tragedy to strike him right where the pastor says it shouldn’t hurt.

I only hope he’s not aiming his real-life guns at me when tragedy strikes.