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this is one of those days that i’m really glad i’ve got a blog, and can record somewhere (that i won’t lose) what i was thinking the day barack obama was inaugurated. decades from now, when i, or perhaps even my children revisit this, i’m sure it’ll make for pleasant recollections.

anyways, on to what was on my mind tuesday (besides bacteria and my thesis). of course, there was the excitement of finally having a president who is fabulously eloquent, intelligent, and capable of getting a wide array of people to work together. it’s a wonderfully refreshing change, and the news has been awash with these sentiments all week. (future-me: don’t look here for further discussion on those topics — i won’t bother wasting digital breath on something that’s already been written about to death.)

still, i think i harbor at least one unique perspective that’s worth recording, one that i have yet to see reported in any article or even have heard another person discuss out loud.

yesterday’s inauguration actually made me feel like i fit into this world just a little bit better.

i know that sounds a little melodramatic, but let me explain.

my parents were both born and raised in the philippines. they met in new york city in the early 1980′s; i was born the year after they married. both agreed to make a conscious effort to facilitate my assimilation into american culture by speaking only english at home. consequently, i never learned either of the filipino languages my parents are fluent in: kapangpangan or tagalog.

there were foreseen, and unforeseen, consequences of my parents’ linguistic policies. as expected, i got good at english and speak american english without a discernible accent. i almost certainly under-appreciate that latter benefit. but, what i think my parents didn’t quite foresee would be that not knowing tagalog would help cause a small tear in my sense of identity that i have still yet to mend.

i recall first trying to work out my racial / cultural identity in first grade, as i stood over one of those trough-style urinals in elementary school. a classmate had asked me in the bathroom if i was related to bruce lee. my thought process went something like this:

  • of course not. he’s chinese and i’m filipino.
  • wait, can i really call myself filipino if i was born in new york city and don’t speak tagalog?
  • in any case, why would you even think i’m related to bruce lee. do i sound chinese to you?
  • i guess bruce lee and i do have the same haircut and he is pretty badass.

“yes, i’m related to bruce lee.”

variations on this tune have played out innumerable times since then. the basic harmonies are: i walk, talk, and act like an american kid (+1 american); i don’t look anyone i see on TV (-1 american); i can’t truly consider myself filipino while lacking the fundamental component of filipino culture: language (-1 filipino).

even as i write these sentences, the liberal/hippie streak in me (i get it from mom’s side) wants to say something like: “it doesn’t matter what you look like, you’re whatever you consider yourself to be,” or “americans aren’t just white or black.” the problem is, those arguments wear pretty thin by the 16th time someone in polite conversation asks:

“where are you from?” [me: new york]

“no, where are you really from?” [me, slower: new york city]

“ok … where are your parents from?”

years of asides like that, as well as the thankfully rare, but still maddeningly subtle hints which belie strangers preconceived notions regarding my background (the slowly paced and overly annunciated greetings drive me crazy), add up. toss in the occasional awkward scenario where i’m the only asian person within a 300 person radius (usual offending locations: county fairs and country club tennis courts), and you start to see why i still can’t help but second guess how american i am.

so those preceding paragraphs are in a nutshell, why barack obama could have stood on the inauguration stage for 30 minutes without opening his mouth, and said something profound to me. clearly not white, debatably black, and perhaps even indonesian, obama is one thing for certain: not your average looking american. and yet, he now occupies the role of the foremost american in the world.

i don’t think i’ve ever felt so american.

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