Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ethnicity & Identity


I grew up not knowing my father.  I knew his name, I knew that my parents divorced when I was a baby, and I knew that he was a very bad man.

My mother did not like talking about my father.  If she ever mentioned my father, it was to alternate between saying how stupid she was for being in love with him and sometimes doubting that he did the bad things he did -- even though she saw it with her own eyes.  Both my brother, who shares my father's first name, and I were painful reminders of my father.

I often felt that I sickened my mother.  My mother and I were RH incompatible. I was born severely anemic and shortly after I was born, my father was flown to Fresno, CA to give me a blood transfusion.  As a result of our incompatibility, her breast milk made me sick. My childhood was dotted with comments from my mother regarding my blood.  "You have more of your father's blood" and "you're the only baby I didn't breast feed."  Knowing what a bad man my father was, I felt that this tainted blood made me unloveable.  I have grown since then and realize that the blood he gave me that saved my life was quickly recycled by my body. My blood is my own. I can only thank him for my existence...and little else. But it doesn't change how I felt as a kid.

In the midst of this mental torment that my parentage caused me was a simple fact that was neither positive nor negative.  My mother told me that my father was half filipino. I grew thinking I was part filipina and despite all the bad things I knew about my father and wondering about the unknoweable things, I knew this fact. I knew that I was 3/4 mexican, and 1/4 filipino. In 6th grade, I made a report about the Philippines for Mrs. Prober's class. I was proud of my mexican and filipino heritage.

The year 2011 changed what was unknowleable.  Those unknoweable things were my siblings, my extended family, my aunts and uncles that I had no names of.  My mother never wanted to talk about my father and I didn't want to press her on these things.  Then my father's eldest daughter, Violeta, found me and opened the door to the whole Payan family.  I suddenly had my father's side of the family in my day-to-day existence.

I never thought to question his ethnicity until today.  Turns out, there is no filipino side. I went from knowing something about my ethnic identity to having it erased.  Aside from the bad things he gifted my mother and my siblings, one vital piece was gone.  Even my sons say they are 1/8 filipino. That's gone too.

There is a great sense of loss that perhaps is not justifyable. I did not cook filipino foods. I have very few filipino friends. I cannot speak any of their languages. It was just a part of me like my hair and my skin tone.

This feeling will go away with time but it does change me. Irrationally, I feel like he stole it from me.

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