A Filipino writer explores his racial identity.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Tizon (Journalism/Univ. of Oregon) emigrated with his family from the Philippines in 1964, “yearning for an equal share of paradise.” Achieving the American dream, they quickly discovered, required them to reject their language, culture and heritage. “Our early years in America,” Tizon writes, “were marked by relentless self-annihilation.” Like his parents, he came to believe that Americans were “strong and capable” and Filipinos, “weak and incapable and deserving of mockery.” Facial features and body size underscored weakness: “Americans did seem to me…like a different species, one that had evolved over generations into supreme behemoths. Kings in overalls. They were living proof of a basic law of conquest: victors are better.” As a child, Tizon saw Asians stereotyped as submissive, primitive, treacherous and indistinguishable from one another, lumped together racially as Oriental or, more derisively, yellow. He was especially sensitive to assumptions about Asian males, often portrayed in movies and on TV as servants or the butts of jokes; Hollywood insisted that Asian male power conform “to known clichés—sage, brainiac, martial artist.” Never was a male depicted as a desirable romantic hero. Similarly, Asian women were seen as childlike and “more pliant, more sensual, more sensitive and attentive to the needs of the stronger sex.” Asian women’s attitudes toward Asian males reflected mainstream culture; most Asian women, Tizon noted despondently, wanted to date and marry whites. The author celebrates some substantial changes in Americans’ attitudes as Asians have become more prominent in sports, entertainment and mass media. He came to understand, also, that feeling shame and self-doubt is widely shared: One friend was ashamed of being too tall, another of being too smart, and some told him “in all seriousness that they were ashamed of being white. They felt guilty, undeserving.” Making peace with one’s identity, Tizon concludes, transcends race.
A deft, illuminating memoir and cultural history.