One of the biggest reasons why I chose SF State over an institution such as Cal was the sense of community I immediately felt when my feet first stepped on to campus. It was a beautiful university; the mighty, robust trees and fruitful vegetation that scattered throughout campus found harmony with the cold concrete buildings and towering dorm rooms. The student center was adorned with murals, celebrating the different communities of color that resided in San Francisco. There I saw the mural that altered the course of my life: The Filipino Community Mural.
I didn’t know any of the figures on the mural at the time, nor did I know much about the mark Filipino Americans made on the city of San Francisco, yet the mural still tapped into a part of me that has never been touched before. For the first time in my teens, I felt the resilient, militant energy of my ancestors rush through my veins. I was overwhelmed with pride for my people, something I had never truly felt before. Growing up mixed, I was never seen as Filipino or white enough. My father’s side of my family looked down on my mother and looked at me as the product of all the hatred they felt towards immigrants. They blamed my mother and I for all the problems my father had as a white man who married interracially, constantly erasing my Filipino heritage and misleading me to grow up thinking I was white.
But I wasn’t. I was a brown girl, with deep brown-black eyes and jet black, silk hair like my mother. I was short, built like a warrior fit for battle. I inherited my mother’s full nostrils and the bridge of my father’s nose. The hair on my body grew freely, in healthy black-brown patches. I was in love with myself early on as a child, because I was lucky enough to inherit the traits of my mother that I saw as most beautiful.
The rest of the world thought differently. My mother would keep herself covered from head to toe whenever she’d walk outside on a sunny day. She’d slap on exorbitant amounts of sunscreen to prevent the darkening of her skin. These same values were imposed on me indirectly, and I subconsciously started to look at darker skin tones as ugly. I became too brown for myself, yearning to fit the box of what I thought an Asian American should look like: pale.
It wasn’t until I entered the Filipino community at State that I started to comprehend the legacies left before me. I started to develop a deeper meaning as to what it meant to be a Filipino, other than walking around in a jacket that had my flag on it. The stories of the old Manilatown, the i-Hotel, the thousands of veteranos that have been given little to no support from the American government all started to piece together my place as a Filipino American. I started to realized that we are displaced people due to corrupt economic, social, and political conditions in the Philippine. My mother’s background and upbringing started to make more and more sense as I pieced together my history and started to really understand who I really was.
As we enter the month of October, we celebrate Pilipino American History Month (PAHM). This is a time of learning our history and embracing our struggles as Filipino Americans. We reflect on our upbringings and question why we were displaced. We immerse ourselves into the history of the manongs and manangs, questioning their mistreatment as veteranos and residences in the city of San Francisco. We embrace ourselves and the beauty of being Filipino, whether that be our line of militant guerrilla fighters, or something as simple as our flat noses. We start to understand that to know history, we know ourselves and without it, we are lost.
In my time studying at State, I realized something critical about organizing and building community: love. Self love holds tremendous power in a world built on hate. Love transcends fear and elicits hope. Love is essential to organizing and allows one build with those around you. At our core as human beings, we thrive off of love within ourselves and our community. To be loved and accepted, to surround yourself with individuals who only want to help you become the best version of yourself, to never worry about malicious intents within your community changes a person. You start to see the world you fight for unravel before your eyes; a world made for the people by the people.
I eventually came to love my fat nose, so much that I pierced my nostrils twice. I started to embrace what it meant to be Filipino and surrounded myself with people who held kindness in their hearts and a hunger for change. Everyday, I give myself time to reflect on where I’m at in my process of unlearning and self liberation. Everyday I pass by the Filipino Community Mural and remind myself of the world I fight for. Everyday, I smile as full as I can, never worrying about how huge my nostrils may get.