I am not exactly sure when I became aware of my skin colour, my identity, my accent, my Father’s unique job or even my birth country and how obviously out of place it all was to my surroundings. One move seemed to blend into another. The only thing I seemed to know, was how to navigate new schools, and airports.
By grade 8, I was 13, we were posted back to Canada. My apparent home and native land, I am not sure how homey it really was for me. My parents made the decision to move back to the neighbourhood we had been living in before we moved to the Philippines. It was a familiar neighbourhood, I knew some people, I knew the school. There was only one glaring difference when we came back, it felt more foreign to me than anything else.
I would find myself trying to navigate something I hadn’t been completely aware of before. Back in the Philippines, I stood out. I was very pale, blue eyed with hair that was turning a shade of auburn, I was always in a sea of beautiful tanned skin, dark hair and petite frames. I looked around my school, and it was a sea of WASP kids. I could apparently blend in a little more easily, or could I?
Before school started, my Mother and I went shopping to buy some fall clothes. I had been living in the tropics and owned nothing that had long sleeves or even legs, or boots for that matter. As we walked through the mall, everything was awkward, and uncomfortable. The shops only carried clothes in shades of black, brown, and dark green. I had been used to bright sun shiny colours that made you happy. My Mother commented on the prices, she almost passed out when looking at them. We were used to stopping in Hong Kong, and going into the fashion district, everything there was $10 and under. Here, it seemed everything was over $100, including my running shoes. My Mother got nervous. We didn’t have lots of money. She said we had to start slow. I could pick out a couple of things, but I was not getting a whole new wardrobe at once. I understood. Gone were the days of getting something made for a couple of dollars, or only having a wardrobe for one season. I made sure I picked out an outfit that would blend. I spent a better part of a day observing what everyone around me was wearing.
When I arrived at school, my mouth almost unhinged to the floor. Everyone, and I mean everyone, looked more like me. It was an odd experience, something I became leery of. I quickly observed, that there were only 2 minority kids, one Chinese, one Korean. The weird thing for me, was I identified more with the minority kids, than I did with the rest of the student population.
As soon as I opened my mouth in class, out came a Filipino accent. I answered a question and out came a lilt to my words that jarred everyone awake. They all laughed, and began to make fun of me. My accent made me stand out. As we moved into our French class for the day, I had slunk down into my chair, trying to be invisible. When I was called on to answer a question in French, I hesitated, then answered slowly. The teacher, remarked how beautiful my accent was. My classmates, confused, unaware of my ability to copy accents in other languages, yet, I couldn’t get rid of my very Filipino lilt as quickly or as easily.
I went home. Not understanding how to fit in, or where I really belonged. As much as I looked like everyone on the outside, I was nothing like any of these kids on the inside. It was at 13, I realized, I just had to somehow figure out how to hide my true self, and just blend as best as I could.