If ‘being American’ is defined as someone who’s flexible, bold, risk-taking, fluid, adaptable, and innovative, I’m more American than you.
Just like you, I attended (public) school here. As a kid, I learned to read through a subscription to Walt Disney books, watched Romper Room, New Zoo Review, Mister Rogers, Might Mouse, Rocky and Bullwinkle. I ate Campbell’s soup from a can, Lipton soup (with rice), made peanut and butter jelly sandwiches, drank soda, chewed Bubblicious gum, slurped snow cones in summer, played jump rope, dodge ball, tether ball, ding dong ditch, swung high on the swings and jumped off at dangerous heights. Played in empty barns, swam in public pools, rode my bike, roller skated all day, played with Barbies. Owned a pet rock. Walked around barefoot.
Just like you, I watched Little House on the Prairie, Mutual of Ohama nature shows, The Brady Bunch. I played monopoly, with yo-yos, hoola hoops, Atari games, foos ball, Centipede, Asteroids, Space Invaders. I studied hard, made good grades, got on the honor roll. Took family road trips to LA, San Diego, camping trips to Yosemite, Lake Camanche, KOA Campgrounds. Had sleepovers, attended sleepovers, had crushes, signed slam books, made prank calls, listened to The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Motown artists like Mary Wells, metal bands, rap, punk rock, ballads. Got addicted to General Hospital thanks to my grandma.
Just like you, I celebrated Fourth of July, President’s Days, recited the pledge of allegiance every morning, know all the words to The Star-Spangled Banner, This Land is Your Land. Jumped off the couch screaming during any Superbowl with a Bay Area team. Worked at a McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. during high school. Had crushes on Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon and, later, Matt Damon. Hung out at Great America, Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Universal Studios.
Unlike you, I navigated this childhood with immigrant parents, one with a heavy accent and broken English. It once took me hours to explain to my mom that I needed her to sign a permission slip for school so I could join my first-grade class to see bunnies in someone’s back yard. She didn’t understand what a ‘field trip’ was, why I had to leave the school grounds (dangerous), why we needed to see bunnies. It wasn’t until I cried and said I’d be the only one left behind in school if I didn’t get a signed permission slip that she eventually signed it.
Unlike you, I excelled in my kindergarten class even with a racist White teacher excluding me from games and pinning a note on my shirt everyday that read, Teach Your Daughter English. Excelled when a third-grade teacher sat me down to say I needed to slow down on my SRAs, that I was reading them too fast and moving too far ahead of the rest of the class, and I ignored him, and continued to read the stories, answer the questions, and move up to the next level.
Unlike you, I watched my older sister get pulled by her long ponytails while wearing skates as the neighborhood kids called her a ‘gook’ and a ‘chink.’ Unlike you, before I even started school, I watched my dad fistfight with a big White man on our front lawn after he’d been harassing us for months about not parking on the street in front of our Navy housing. Unlike you, I watched my parents pour time, money, energy, and tears into petitions to bring relatives over from the Philippines, seeing my parents wait patiently for five, ten or more years until the petitions finally got approved.
Unlike you, I had to explain to my newly emigrated grandpa that he couldn’t barter for the cost of grapes at Alpha Beta. That I didn’t want any of the broken pencils, run-over combs, rubber bands he’d found on the street while walking or riding his bike.
Unlike you, I had to grab the phone from my mom when bill collectors talked down to her, confused her even more with their lengthy explanations of what was due, only to change their tone completely when I, her daughter with perfect English, got on the phone.
Unlike you, I continued to love bukayo from the Philippines even when I brought a bag full of it to school and all the kids said it looked and smelled gross.
Unlike you, I ate rice with eggs, put heaps of bagoong in my rice to eat with fried fish, grated fresh coconut in the backyard for the kutsinta, crushed the ice for halo halo in summer, ate pigs feet, tripe, and lechon while everyone thought my food was disgusting.
Unlike you, I listened to story after story about the war, starvation, disease, death, Japanese occupation, losing everything, martial law.
Unlike you, I cussed out a Harley Davidson motorcycle rider who told me and my mom to go back to our country after his claim that she almost hit him with her car.
Unlike you, I get up and get to work trying to raise money for low-income communities even when someone at the BART station stalks me after a client meeting and tells me to go back to my country.
Unlike you, I and my Asian brothers and sisters have found a way to be both American and Asian at the same time. If being American means being adaptable and flexible and moving forward even in challenging times, then I, and we, are more American than you.