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.


  1. Wow, talk about life altering occurrences! Do you plan to embrace Judaism? You must feel good knowing that you have good Jewish friends that will point you in the right direction without pushing you. Keep one thing in mind. According to Jewish belief if you are born a Jew then you will die a two; whether or not you choose to live as a Jew is up to you. Don't take this lightly. Give this as much thought as the situation merits. In my humble opinion it's merits are immeasurable as the universe itself.

  2. I think I know who you are, anonymous. lol. If I can embrace Judaism without letting go of my Christianity, then I might consider it. :-))

  3. After stumbling upon this post, I felt compelled to leave a comment. You have it all wrong. Being Jewish is not something that just happens on a whim, it is MUCH more. Below is some information for you to research:

    Quoted from

    Judaism is not a race... Jewish is not a nationality. (As this blog implicates)

    Judaism is both a cultural and religious identity. Being Jewish means that you are part of the Jewish people, because you were born into a Jewish home**** and culturally identify as Jewish or because you practice the Jewish religion****.

    If a person is not born Jewish, s/he can convert to Judaism by studying with a rabbi and undergoing the process of conversion****. Merely believing**** in the precepts of Judaism is not enough to make someone a Jew****. They must complete the conversion process in order to be considered Jewish****.

    Taken from:

    The items with an asterisk are what pertains to the instances you describe above as well as pertain to how your words are conflicting. I gave you the website so you can study the topic of your confusion, or identity crisis as you call it.

  4. This is an interesting blog, Chic. I really appreciate it, becuase for once that I know of someone that I know has experienced something similar. I was born here but lived a few years outside of this country, where my parents were from. In high school and ever since, people have taken guesses at what nationality I am too. I been told I look Jewish, Arabic, Italian, Irish and mulatto, as well as some other nationalities that I can't even remember. Back in the day, when the Rodney King trial was going on,I was called an oreo and thrown from a distance a liquor bottle that missed my head by a few inches. I as well, have the same religious background that you have and 90% of the times get confused for a hasidic jewish woman. As a matter of fact, alot of times the Jews try to win me over. Wish is fine, I don't mind. They're often shocked, to find I'm not, and are almost sure that I am but just don't know it. Well, I said all this to say that I know how feel. But, i wonder if it's something that is limited to mostly people in our country because there are so many diffent ethnicites. When I lived in the land where my parents were from, no one wondered or questioned where I was from. It was never an issue. Being here however my struggle has been to keep my first language, which is my parents language as well as keeping myself articulate as much as I can in the English language. So, I studied and majored in my first language to retain it as much as I can. Growing up, here in NYC, most of my peers who had similar experiences to mine, did away with their first language. This always bothered me, as it was the same language I spoke. They often would get angry and embarrased and would not respond to me, when I spoke to them in our native tongue. No more, English only. They would say. So, I found myself trying to read and watch shows and movies in my native tongue, just to keep, and I guess not lose my roots. I was afraid of losing myself and who I am. Still, today, when I speak Spanish, some are shocked because they think I'm caucasian, and find my Spanish Americanized. Others think, I'm Mexican, Colombian and on and on. So, I guess, what I mean is that I understand some what your experience because mine is similar and maybe just maybe, I'm Jewish as well because my parents had last names that were of Jewish and Arabic backgrounds. But at the end of the day, does it really matter Chic? I mean we are who are, and ultimately we'are all children of God. Jew and non Jew alike, the Lord is the Lord of all of us. The importance ultimately is knowing who the real God is and not our backgound. Genealogies and backgrounds, in my opinion are just there to enhace who we are in our human experiences. Sorry a bit long, but I'm notorious for writing novels to explain what I have to say. Lol. Hope this helps, in some way.

  5. Sorry, I didn't see any of these responses so I will comment in the order they were sent. Anonymous with the asterisks, I really am not implying anything. I'm blogging according to to the process of events as they happened, including the way my thoughts moved. I, by no means, want to be Jewish on a "whim" nor do I want to be Jewish by conversion or in any other way. This blog outlines an event that recently happened in my life and I'm responding to it with both shock and humor. And yes, my blog implies Judaism as a "nationality" because, quite clearly, that was how I saw it. One of my really good friends is Orthodox, the first one I shared this discovery with. He was the one who responded immediately, "You're Jewish, Anna Marie!" because that's what's stated in their Book of Law, not on a random website. That is how they determine who is Jewish and who is not---a Jewish lineage from the mother's side. My boss, who is Hasidic, had the same response as my Orthodox friend. And my response to their response was and is: "That is crazy. I don't agree with it." So, Anonymous, whoever you are, you can go ahead and speak to my friend and my boss. Personally, I do not care but as you put it rather bluntly, the two of them "have it all wrong."

    Last Anonymous, I agree absolutely! At the end of the day, we are all God's children. Male, female, Jews and Gentiles. Frankly, it hasn't changed a thing for me having found all this out. I have loved the Jewish people since I was very young but I am, and always will be, Christian at the end of the day!

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  7. Ok, here it is, as per the Halacha who is Jewish:

    "According to Jewish law, a child born to a Jewish mother or an adult who has converted to Judaism is considered a Jew; one does not have to reaffirm their Jewishness or practice any of the laws of the Torah to be Jewish. According to Reform Judaism, a person is a Jew if they were born to either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father. Also, Reform Judaism stresses the importance of being raised Jewish; if a child is born to Jewish parents and was not raised Jewish then the child is not considered Jewish. According to the Orthodox movement, the father’s religion and whether the person practices is immaterial. No affirmation or upbringing is needed, as long as the mother was Jewish."

    Anonymous, the website you've provided supports the views of Reformed Jews. I only know Orthodox, Hasidic, and Secular Jews. As per the Orthodox movement, you could be a Jew and not know it.