Normie, Token Asian, Whitewashed
Tarsus Arciga

Tarsus, thank you so much for writing this. I’m a Filipino woman who had the privilege of growing up in a very racially diverse area, so it wasn’t until I entered the workforce that I felt the feelings you’re describing here. I’m still in that early stage — the alienation, confusion, self-consciousness. It’s also soooo exhausting being in a constant game of identity ping-pong with yourself. Like, which version of myself will gel best with who I’m seeing today? What part of my identity am I playing up (or turning off)?

One thing I grapple with is the shame of “turning off” certain parts of me, because the part that so often ends up being turned off is the ethnic part! The part whose accent comes out whenever mad or really excited lol. The part that gets to eat delicious food (like empanadas and cheesy pandesal). I’m ashamed that I’ve deliberately quieted such a unique and beautiful part of who I am, and more importantly, who my people are.

Aaaaand I feel like that’s sort of where you’ve landed, too. This place of shame reinforced by this girl who called you on being whitewashed. And shame for ever reducing your personality down to be more digestible to a bunch of people who ultimately didn’t support the positive changes you were making. My suggestion though (and I’m trying to do this too) is to train yourself out of the idea that your personality is something other people consume. Your identity is not a product; it’s you. It’s whatever tf you are on the inside, communicated out, and the smaller the gap between who you are on the inside and who you are on the outside, the more at peace with yourself you’ll feel.

This is no easy task for POC, but one thing that’s helped me a lot is reading as much material on the diaspora as I can find. That’s actually how I found your piece lol. Have you ever read Alex Tizon? He was a Filipino Pulitzer Prize winner, and his book Big Little Man is about the Asian-American identity. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s next in line. I also liked The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

Anyway, I hope my response helps you even half as much as your post helped me. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

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