Friday, February 15, 2008

The State of Brownhood

When I was younger, I hated when my dad pinched my nose. Out of nowhere, in the middle of trying to wield permission to attend a weekend slumber party, his face would grow into a big smile and I'd watch his long brown fingers extend to pinch my little Filipino nose. Hard.

In pain, I'd jerk back, "DAD!" He had problems with gentleness at times. I often wondered if he remembered I was not my brothers, but a smaller framed girl, a very impressionable young girl.

"Your nose is flat," he smiled as if to justify the pinch.

"Yeah, I know. So's yours, " I would retort, rubbing my sore nose.

"The irony of mixed-heritage Filipinos not being accepted as Filipinos is exposed when one considers the pains that Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad take to maintain a standard of appearance that has its roots in colonization: for example, keeping out of the sun so as not to get 'too dark' or pinching the nose to make it less flat," writes Linda A. Rvilla in her article Filipino American Identity: Transcending the Crisis.

I grew up bicultured: in the US, but in a Filipino home raised by Filipino parents. In the long roads of sifting through identity and arriving to a loving appreciation for my culture, never did I anticipate the work of analyzing my own parents' upbringing or their learned inferiority. For every inquiring feminist, all questions begin and end with your family. What runs in their blood also runs in mine.

As I sprinted out to play outdoors, my mother would yell out the summer door, "Don't get too dark!" My father pinching my nose. My round curvy brown body was surrounded by white girls dying to be thin and dieting for attention. It's taken nearly three decades to purge the poison, especially when I read how skin whitening is now on the rise in the Philippines.

The pinched noses and cautions not to get "too dark" remained an unchecked part of my childhood until I began to read magazines and notice the high energy levels for conformity. Where did I fit in? Would I ever fit? The questions were cyclic and relentless. I considered my options. 1) Rearranging my face 2) Pretending I don't have thick straight jet black hair 3) Staying out of the sun for the rest of my life because I tan deeply in less than 10 minutes. I was left with no options but to begin accepting my state of Brownhood. I could spend a lifetime in shame or learn how to fight and love my skin, my color, my eyes, and hair.

In college, I found myself in an elevator with a few White women who kept glancing at me. Familiar with stranger gazes and rude stares, I looked back at them. One asked, "How do you keep your tan so even throughout the year?" It was winter at the time. I replied, "I spend a fortune at Jamaica-Me Tan," and walked out of the elevator.

I chose and continue to choose pride because I never wanted to be tall or White.

I choose Pinay. I choose me.


  1. Jamaica me crazy with your Jamaica me tan, baby!
    (officially the least intellectual of any comment ever, but I could not stand it...)

  2. Anonymous3:23 PM


  3. Great post! I'm glad you addressed this issue and coincidentally, I just wrote a post about this pervasive "mestiza posturing."

  4. Anonymous1:53 AM

    Good post, and I can't get over how stupid that question in the elevator is.


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