It is my father’s birthday today; he would have been 86. Happy Birthday Dad!
I reflected back upon my childhood growing up with men who were straight out of Japan, China, the Philippines. Many came to Alaska the past 100 years, like my maternal grandfather who was Filipino/Tibetan, and directly after WWII, a flood of Filipino men came to Alaska, my father was amongst them. These men married the Native women; they rarely married women who were not indigenous.
Most of the Asian men spoke broken English, though there were a few who knew no other language but their own. A few learned the indigenous languages though everyone, including the indigenous people like my Alaskan relatives, were forced to learn English; and we were not allowed to speak our own. So English was the “common” language that we all had to learn in order to communicate and “get along.”
Like I said, it was not until a friend mentioned his experience in Korea most recently where he was not even looked at, not acknowledged once they saw that he was a foreigner — that got me to thinking and reflecting back. I wanted to “see” his viewpoint.
It is true. They don’t look at you when they see you are a foreigner.
Basically, no matter what country in Asia from which they are from, they generally do not acknowledge foreigners. Why is that?
It has been my experience, Asians tend to “stick to their own kind” — even in modern times. Why make relationships complicated with cultural differences? Relationships are already complex and we make it complicated when we inter-marry. Even in the Alaskan Filipino communities, now that their own women come to the United States in this modern day, they stay away from any other nationality, they associate only with one another.
I remember how in my childhood, those of us who were “mestizos” felt awkward being amongst the “pure-bred” Filipino kids and their families whenever there was a Filipino community event. They didn’t really “look at us.” At the time, we did not understand why we so-called “half-breeds” felt “funny” in their presence. it wasn’t until many years later as an adult that I came to understood what that was all about. While the indigenous people of our land were wide open yet cautious of the foreigners, when they gained our trust, they became a part of our communities. Yet the Asians always tended to keep themselves apart. Even though it was the Native women (who were married to the Asian men) who worked hard to raise funds to buy a building in downtown Juneau for a Filipino community to host their events, there is little to no acknowledgement from the Filipinos. Asians have a very strong sense of pride. It’s that strong pride that is a strength and it is the part that sets them apart.
Part of why they tend to “stick to their own kind” is because the Asian communities tend to be very tight. They are community-oriented. They take care of one another; they think in terms of helping one another excel, to help support one another, and to help rejoice. If one grieves, they all grieve; if one has achieved something, they celebrate as if each individual achieved the honor. They speak the same language. They have the same sense of humor, their foods tie them together, they enjoy the familiarity. They tend to steer away from the “different.” If you are different, they are shy of differences, they are cautious. They cannot relate, so why force relating?
My father was the youngest of the Filipino men who came to Alaska after the war and married an indigenous woman. Although he became friends with the indigenous men, he continued his life-long friendships with all of the Filipino men. Over the years, one by one, he buried his comrades. Pretty soon there were only the offspring of these men he could relate to if any of them spoke the Filipino language. He missed being able to speak his language daily. He felt very alone and as each year passed, he buried himself in his gardening. And although there were more Filipinos migrating to Alaska, they were young, arrogant men and women who he took no interest for whatever reasons. He could not relate to them. When my father died, an era died with him; he was the last. None of his friends were there at his memorial, though all of his friends’ children and grandchildren were in attendance. We all knew we were the offspring of a by-gone era.
Even though my nationalities are comprised mainly of Asian blood (Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian), I am not fully accepted. They will glance at me and wonder what I am and once they find out that I am indeed part Asian, they rejoice that I am part Asian blood, but only for a brief moment am I acceptable; still there is that arms-length distance because my blood, in their eyes, has been “tainted” with indigenous blood, and Jewish blood and Norwegian and Finnish blood.
And of all the Asian nationalities, I have found that the Filipino people are more accepting than any other. The Filipino are more joyful, playful and not as harshly judgmental. Though they still keep to their own and rarely “stray” to inter-marry, at least nowadays they will look upon you.
There is no way around it; I find that Asians are hard-core when it comes to identity. It’s just in their blood. And I understand them. That hard-core identity is also in my blood.
I have no judgement about the way things are or were; it just was and it just is. In my mind, combined with the awareness of simultaneous lives and if we go back far enough, the fact that we are a mixture of bloods, I figure we are all mutts, so when it comes right down to it, there is one human race, THEN there are nationalities of cultures.