I hated being different. Growing up, I wanted to be the same as everyone else. I lived in a predominantly white city. I was the token “brown kid”. I was looked at differently. I was teased because of the colour of my skin. It happened often enough that I came to expect it anytime there was some sort of conflict I had to face.
I hated my parents for coming to this city. I hated my parents for giving me the colour of my skin. I hated my parents for making me stand out like a sore thumb. I hated the white kids for making me feel less than human.
There were days when I had some reprieve. I was not the only one who fell victim to this intolerance. It happened mostly on the school bus, each morning. The same kids would target other unwilling victims because they had some visible difference: their facial features, their bodies, their skin colour — things that weren’t considered “normal”.
I regret to say that I was relieved when I fell under the radar and other kids bore the brunt of the pain… at least for that day. I would shrink into a corner and look away, hoping that my averted gaze would minimize any attention to me. If only…
The intolerance I felt came about in different ways: sometimes it would be as blatant as the name-calling; other times it would be subtle: like not inviting me to a birthday party or excluding me from an event. Sometimes my attempts to fit in by contributing to a discussion, or making a comment, was met with side glances and smirks between people, followed by a snide response. It made me feel even smaller… more irrelevant.
I wasn’t ever physically beaten or blatantly harassed. But the nuanced behaviours: the looks, the laughs, the rejections and the way they made me feel drove me to resent my situation even further.
As I emerged into high school, I started rejecting where I came from. I found myself separating myself from my heritage, not wanting to participate in cultural dances or celebrations that would clearly label me in the very light upon which I drew attention and disdain.
Subconsciously I was rejecting my heritage, my parents, and the traditions from which I was raised.
When people would ask me where I was from, I chose a different culture more accepting. “I am Spanish,” I would say. It made me feel better, if only for a moment.
I’m not sure if my parents were ever aware of how I felt. We never really had this discussion. But if they knew I’m sure things would be different for me, although I’m not sure how.
When I moved to Toronto, things were different. I was surrounded by many cultures of every colour, creed and religion. It was wonderful. I blended in. I wasn’t different. For the first time I realized I didn’t have to stand outside of my own skin and become something I was not.
For the first time, I didn’t feel judged. I didn’t feel I had to prove myself to be accepted. I just had “to be”… and that was okay.
I haven’t felt I had to be this vulnerable and write this post… until today… until the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
I understand the hatred for an organization that has cowardly hid behind the veil of religion to justify its actions. But more so, I am pained by the implications of its actions and how it has impacted Muslims everywhere.
Because of fear, there are those who have chosen to paint one swift brushstroke across an entire religion… across an entire people. Because of fear, there are those who impulsively become insular and out rightly refuse to lend aid to those who are destitute on the off-chance their own security is compromised.
In the last few days I have become numb to all this. In some ways, I feel like I am living the same nightmare, vicariously through those innocent ones who have to live with the stares and jeers so much these days.
I posted this on Facebook the other day.
As much anger and sadness as I feel, I am so grateful for my daughter and my son. Perhaps they represent a generation that has more tolerance because they don’t see color… they just see each other.
They haven’t run away from their culture. They wear it like a badge – proud to be both Filipino and Canadian.
They’re intolerant of intolerance. They judge those archaic mindsets with punitive responses. My daughter is a defender of those who cannot defend themselves. She is harsh to people who speak with ignorance, and continues to stand her ground and challenges them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.
She has the strength and perseverance I wish I had when I was her age. That was a different time, or so I thought. And as far as we’ve progressed, sadly, we’ve taken too many steps backwards that it ignites those same vulnerabilities and feelings of irrelevance I had experienced many years ago.
I have hope and while it seems like the world is becoming increasingly separate, there’s enough voices in the world who choose to act from a foundation of knowledge, and not fear.
Through my children and their generation I have much greater hope in humanity.
This post originally ran on Huffington Post.