American Asian

An abstract mosaic comprised of numerous triangle shapes.

A version of this post was originally published on Seven Yrs Later.

By Guest Contributor: Nicole Rapatan

I nudge my laptop and stretch my legs along the backseat. Working from home has lost its charm and extra effort needs space, so journals litter 4 sq. ft. floor mats and hide a college application essay from 11 years ago. I refresh for updates and realize that another person was shot, that he survived what eight people at two spas did not. I graze posts by women who look like me and ingest each one that I can. There is anger articulate and dismay indefinite while I flip through my papers blankly. I’m looking for the throughline of something wrong, how I’m at a loss to feel something so obvious. I’ve been American for as long as I could remember. It’s taken weeks to see who I am before that.

Mom and Dad came through JFK, closer to Ellis Island than Angel. I’m a city slicker by birth, cowkid by youth, Pinoy by milk and blood. Lola tended to her first grandchild as Mom and Dad worked when and where they had to. Memories overwritten, I imagine sewing machine laughs and strong whiffs of my forehead until Lola was pulled back to her homeland. A scattered village took place and I slept over at every Tita’s I wasn’t related to. Decor and playmates changed, but the lumpia still crunched, loganisa sizzled, fish bubbled, and rice plopped. I traded them for Lunchables at school as I liked the Reese’s and ham, water added.

Lesser tastes rhymed and stretched eyes to deem me Chinese, but I’d retort I was Filipino, even if the best movie was Mulan. When I started Spanish in first grade, the grown-ups proclaimed its shared base with Tagalog, the Philippines’ national language, yet that was an ocean away from Arizona; I wasn’t Mexican though we were the same crayons. I browned with glee on family visits and classmates would notice, often with envy as Dad confirmed. Donning my “Filipina with a Brain” shirt, I still heard “Chinese,” less insult than mislabel, but it didn’t stop me from tackling assholes. Otherwise, I was reputably high-achieving and polite, which are supposedly Asian qualities, but I’m my parents’ daughter. I remained so after the divorce, new schools and addresses, but some things had to give way.

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