Contextual Identity of a Student Abroad






Before I came to Japan, I had lived in America for most of my life. Though I was born and raised in America, I’ve mostly lived in towns where the population is white. This includes my current home which I’ll be returning to; Portland, OR.


View of the Willamette River in Portland, OR.

Now, I’ve always known I’ve been “different” to put a blanket term on it. I’m half white and half Filipina, and present as what people have called “Asian, oriental, brown,” etc. You name it, people have said it to me. My appearance doesn’t fit my name, and I’ve often times been singled out while in public. Throughout my life, I’ve constantly been asked by strangers things like “What are you?” “Where are you from? No, I mean where are you really from?” “What’s you’re nationality?” “What’s your home country like?” “What race are you?” Sometimes instead of asking, people just make statements instead. Not getting into racial slurs, statements like “Go back home” have been all too common throughout my life. But these are all things that have been said or asked of me while at home. It’s been so consistent throughout my life, it doesn’t even phase me anymore.

Before I first went abroad to the Philippines to go visit my mom’s family I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to fit in, make friends, and just be like everyone else. But I got there and it was almost like nothing had changed, only the context. In America, I was “too ethnic” or “too brown” to fit people’s idea of what a “someone from here” looked like. In the Philippines the tables had turned. I was now “too light” “not dark enough,” and definitely stuck out in a crowd. This was something I noticed immediately; people’s gaze would linger a little longer than necessary, people wouldn’t use native Tagalog when speaking to me and would try to use English, they even said things like “It’s okay, you don’t have to do xyz”. But everyone else had to do xyz, why not me? I was seven years old my first time abroad.


Manila city skyline.

As I grew up I went to the Philippines a handful of times. I could better process this experience as I got older. After periods of ignoring half of me (which half would usually change), trying to change the way I looked, scouring magazines for anyone that looked like me, just trying to get some point of reference on who I was, I realized that there would probably never be a good end point where I could look in the mirror and say, “This is it. I’ve now finally figure out who I am.” And that’s okay.


Osaka city skyline.

Coming to Japan, I’ve noticed many differences between how I am treated by the general public vs. how people of other races are treated by the public. For one, I get stared at almost every time I go at, but not for nearly as long a time as my black or white friends. I can go to the grocery store and ask for assistance without the personnel running and fetching the one “English-speaking” person they have that works there. It’s almost if the tables have turned – again. Though the idea of a “real Japanese person” is a whole other topic, I’ve almost felt safer here. Like I’m part of a whole, or a bigger picture. If anything, it’s really strange being in the majority (even if I’m not really), and it’ll definitely be something I’ll have to adjust to when I go back home.