Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Identity Crisis

Until recently people who have met me can't seem to identify where I'm from.  In a couple of occasions, guessing my ethnicity became a "bet" and in both of those times, no one won.  I'll never forget the first time it happened.  My son was in intensive care, recently diagnosed with diabetes.  I walked by the nursing station.  There were probably four people there, including the doctor.  Eventually, one of the nurses, blonde and blue-eyed, came in the room, struck a conversation after checking my son over and ultimately asked about my background.  I told her I was from the Philippines and she winced and said she was sure, so sure, I was from South America but alas, she did not win the bet.  As she left, the doctor walked in.  She also checked on my son and then, strangely, the conversation led to my nationality.  I told her I was from the Philippines.  She walked away.  She too had lost the bet.  She was Russian and had insisted earlier that certainly, I was mixed with Eastern European blood.  The Filipino nurse had bet I was from China.  She was shocked to discover we came from the same place. Everyone lost the bet.

I've had numerous guesses come my way, from very close (You're Indonesian?) to somewhat close (You're Tibetan and White?) to extremely far fetched (I thought you were Mulatto! Half black and half white!)

The second bet that I know of took place in graduate school from a group of women who carpooled to college together.  One of them was a Filipino woman.  She wasn't a very good loser as she insisted to her group I lied about coming from the Philippines.  I wondered if they had bet money.

I've looked like Pocahantas, the Virgin Mary from the movie Jesus, and most recently, the martial artist and actress, Maggie Q.

It used to matter how I looked when I was younger.  True to how Filipinos are, I did not want to be mistaken as Chinese.  I, in fact, did not want anyone guessing that I was indeed from the Philippines.  I was, however, open to anything resembling Western features.  As I got older and eventually had exotic half-Haitian children, I embraced anything that came closest to my Oriental descent.  And whenever someone said Filipino, (hardly ever by a Filipino, by the way) I would be struck with a sense of excitement mixed with surprise and relief that someone had guessed my identity correctly.  I suppose I wanted only to be identified by my real origin since that's the part of me I've given to my children.  They know they are half Filipino and half Haitian.  And that half, that Filipino half, came from me.

Yes, yes, of course I have Spanish blood.  Four hundred years of Spanish rule, pillaging the land and subjecting women into cohabitation, will render a Filipino half bred.  But the most of me is Filipino and at almost 40, I am not only at peace with it, I am quite proud of it.

Those of you that know me know that in the last few years some changes have taken placed in my life that may bring on an identity crisis.  My Dad had somewhat turned Buddhist (he insist he's a Christian but spend 5 minutes with him and you make your own conclusion) and my mother had started claiming she's a Messianic Jew. I tried to tell her repeatedly that you first need to be a Jew, get converted and then become Messianic.  I was raised an Apostolic Pentecostal, in a church where trimming hair led to eternal damnation and being eternally damned was a favorite subject.  But after a minister Dad now Buddhist philosopher, and a Messianic mom and now a gay brother, I want to be nothing more than just a Filipino who believes in Jesus Christ and hopes somehow, someway everyone makes it in the pearly gates.

And aunt died 3 weeks ago.  Her death, though painful and mourned, sadly did not come as a surprise.  She had been battling cancer for some time and in her last week, she said her goodbyes.  She was tired, she missed her mother, and she wanted to be with the Lord.  

Her death was expected.  Her burial...shocking.

"We are Jewish!" my mother laughed with excitement when she saw me.  "The rabbi in the Jewish cemetery confirmed in our genealogy that your great-grandmother  from my mother's side was a full Jew from Spain who relocated to the Philippines in the 1800's.  Your aunt is buried in the Jewish cemetery.  We are Jewish!"

I looked at my mother.

"Do you hear what I'm saying? According to Jewish law if the mother's side is Jewish, even a thousand years back, their children are 100% Jews.  We are Jewish! I always knew I was.  I always said I was! And that means you too. You are Jewish!"

I kept looking at my mother.

Three weeks have passed and I don't think I've quite recovered from the shock.  How could that be?  That Law makes no sense.  How could you be so watered down and still be 100%? 

"Wait a minute, wait a minute.  If your great grandmother is Jewish, then your grandmother is Jewish which means your mother is Jewish.  And Anna Marie, you are Jewish."

I was on the phone with my Hasidic boss.

I stared at the computer screen in my office, mouth agape.

So, here I am, almost 4 decades old, trying to be the Virtuous Woman, a position I had concluded long ago to belong only to Jewish women.  And as of 3 weeks ago, it looks as though I may be in the running of really becoming one.

I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, well, that really will throw a monkey wrench in the works, wouldn't it?  The next time a group decides to bet, no one will come even close.  At this point in time, I also want to join that bet.  

And from the look of things lately, I too might walk away a loser.