Thursday, August 1, 2013

Didn't Go To Pista Sa Nayon, But Didn't Seem To Matter

(image from Lost Boot Media)

©  Sharon Chang and Multiracial Asian Families Blog, Aug 1 2013

Last weekend I took my son to an outdoor birthday party.  When we drove up to the park it seemed atypically crowded. My first thought of course, “Wow parking’s a nightmare. Crap. Can I convince my preschooler to walk 3 city blocks later after he’s run around like crazy and eaten too much sugar? How far could I really drag/carry him if I had to?” But then something distracted me from sliding down the avoid-tantrums-at-all-cost rabbit hole. Something familiar. What was it? I looked at all the people moving down the sidewalks. Double take. Triple take. Aha! Asians. Tons of Asians.
We had stumbled across Pista Sa Nayon. Celebrated across the nation, it’s the largest outdoor Filipino American event in the country. We’ve been before when my son was a baby. It’s a beautiful celebration of culture/community, and is extremely well-attended here in Seattle. So needless to say, spirits were high. Folks were relaxed, happy, and much more friendly than us Seattle-ites tend to be on a regular “rainy” basis.

I smiled to myself. Resumed the very crucial task of finding child-friendly parking. Good luck! Rounding the corner, an Asian man was just getting in his SUV to leave. Sigh of relief. Then it got a little surprising. Asian Man spotted me. Big smile spread across his face. He made a few hand gestures. I rolled down my window. “Do you want to park here?” he called amiably. Well, yes. “I’ll wait for you to turn around!” What?? Basically he used his car as a placeholder for us until we were ready to park. I swear I can’t remember that EVER happening, even when I was living in L.A. and driving all the time. Gratefully I nabbed the spot. Waved cheerfully to Asian Man as he drove away. “How nice,” I congratulated myself and unloaded my 3 year old.

Kiddo and I started walking down the street. After a few minutes I got a weird feeling again. Sure everyone was glowing happy and that’s unusual up here in the Northwest, but what else was I noticing? I reflected for a second and realized, we were getting what seemed to me an extra amount of interest and eye contact from the other Asians floating down the sidewalk. Teenage girls exclaimed and giggled over Kazuo’s cuteness. Other parents smiled encouragingly, gave me a nod. “Well that’s sweet,” I thought, “But a little different.” Not that people are generally rude around here. Just not used to strangers outwardly expressing so much camaraderie. I shrugged my shoulders, guessed everyone was just in a good mood.

I finally woke up on our way home after the birthday party. Walking back up the hill a Black man shouted out his car window at us. This time, “Are you parked around here?” Again SUPER friendly, big smile, SUPER engaging. I confirmed, pointed out where he could follow us to and turned my tired attention back towards Kiddo. But the man wouldn’t let up. He kept chatting personably out his window, “You guys leaving already?” “Your son looks worn out!” “Beautiful day, huh?” I tried to be nice back but you know how it is after you’ve just left a kid’s birthday party. Anyway. Driving away in our car, I did at last wonder to myself what in the WORLD was going on. Why had everyone been so above and beyond friendly to us? Why the knowing nods, the familiar smiles and familial eye contact? And then the light bulb went off. O geez, of course! People thought we were mixed Filipino!!

My husband pinned this one right away when I told him the story later. Not surprised in the slightest. “Of course everyone thought you were Filipino," he replied simply. I had a lot of mixed (pun intended?) feelings around the whole afternoon. One, I admit it. I felt a swell of pride that our phenotype was strongly Asian enough to signal to other Asians. There was such a profound much-needed warmth in having solidarity with the Asian community; a connection I often struggle to feel and maintain. Two, it felt good to be welcomed unquestioningly by other people of color as a person of color. Sometimes being multiracial (esp Asian/white), I’m not sure if I have enough “color” to count. Three, it was such a wild and awesome experience being mistaken with my son. I’m used to being folded into other ethnic groups. Having an ambiguous appearance has sometimes led people to “claim” me as one of theirs. It’s usually done very kindly and typically doesn’t offend. But I’m also used to being alone when this happens and alone with the lonely aftermath; that leftover feeling of, “But Sharon, you don’t really belong.” To have been mistaken again but this time with one of my own, really changed the whole process for me. Now there was no lonely aftermath. Now, I could share the experience with someone. And perhaps even more powerful, now I could look at my growing son (who’s still trying to figure out what he is) and know that at last – I might have some answers about what it means to be mixed Asian.

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