And even then, I’m not that angry and not that Asian.
I have been asked plenty of times in my 25 years on this Earth, “What are you?” which has been the bane of my existence as well as the source of my self-confidence. The question, “What are you?” implies someone unique, someone interesting, someone unknown or mysterious. For a long time, at least 21 years of my life, I’ve never had a problem with being asked this simple, three-word question because it made me feel interesting and beautiful in a way no one in my immediate world was. Never, until recently.
Now, I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment I snapped; who was there, where I was, the time of day, the season, what I was wearing, what I had for breakfast, what I didn’t have for breakfast, who pissed me off with some inane question in class, or if I had been berating myself for some anxiety - all I know is that one day, I snapped. “What are you?” became an insult instead of a compliment.
I can name dozens of girls who are not of the same ethnic descent as me but who are also plagued by this question of “What Are You?”. Half of the girls I know consider that question a compliment (as I did all those years ago) and others who consider it an insult masked behind ignorance and awe. And ignorance is bliss, right?
No. Not right.
I am half-Asian and half-White. To be more specific, half-Pacific Islander and half-European. To be more specific, I am half-Filipino, one quarter Scottish and one quarter English. To break it down into the most politically and culturally accurate statement, I am an American with ethnic roots in the Philippines, Scotland and England. But I usually just say, when asked “What are you?”, My Mom is from the Philippines.
Which doesn’t even answer their question properly but they seem satisfied.
My best friend, Kaela Garvin and I, created this little web series called 2 Girls | 1 Asian to unpack the mystery behind the ethnically ambiguous. A story about two young half-Asian women trying to make it in the Big City who come up against obstacles in their careers and interpersonal relationships and find through the racial and social muck that their friendship prevails above all else. It’s not at all autobiographical so don’t worry.
It’s absolutely autobiographical and pure fiction at the same time. The issues that arise in our episodes are problems we deal with in our everyday lives and the fiction lies within how the not-so-fictional characters of Caela and Kelliye view themselves. A dramedy that explores what it means to be a young, ethnically ambiguous minority in show business, in Bushwick, and in practice. “What are you?” is a question that leaves more questions than answers when you begin to pull back the layers of social, political, and racial reprucussions of the mixed-race American.