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That Time I Tried and Failed to Be a Writer

Several weeks ago, I randomly pitched an article idea to a website I was reading. I was shocked when they wrote back weeks later saying they liked my idea and asked for a draft. I wrote it, but they eventually turned it down. (If you know about my obsession with personality tests, you know that I am now analyzing the fact that this perfectly fits in with my pattern of big ideas with flawed execution.) 

After the initial sting of rejection, I felt proud of myself for doing something new and totally out of my comfort zone. That real-life rejection letter weirdly made me feel like a real-life writer! I honestly reevaluated my essay, and realized it probably needed better structure, more of a point, and honestly, just wasn’t a great fit for that website. But to take this “I’m a writer!” experiment to completion, I'm “self-publishing” it here.

I think there are some lessons for me here about being courageous, taking action, and giving myself grace. Maybe topics for a future essay…

It’s several hours past bedtime, and Paul McCartney is starting to close out his epic 2+ hour set at Austin City Limits Music Festival with “Live and Let Die.” As the band begins to play the chorus, bursts of fire erupt from the stage. Lights begin flashing, and fireworks explode in the sky. The crowd of thousands is caught up in this moment, gasping with surprise and taking in the spectacle. I manage to tear my eyes away long enough to glance at my two boys to see their reactions.

My oldest, age six, a classic introvert, is hiding inside his baby brother’s stroller. He has ear protection headphones, is wearing sunglasses, and is generally trying to hide from all the lights, noise, and massive hordes of concert goers. He reluctantly peeks around the stroller cover to see what all the fuss is about.

My youngest, age three, my tiny extroverted doppelganger, begs his dad to lift him up so he can see better. He claps his hands, squeals with delight, and takes it all in, totally enthralled by Sir Paul.

I make eye contact with my husband, and we knowingly smile at these totally predictable behaviors from our completely opposite children. But at least we are all here together, enjoying this major cultural milestone…the first time any of us saw a real live Beatle.

My kids are opposites in every way, including their looks. My six-year-old is small-statured, has golden brown skin, nearly-black eyes, and wavy black hair. My three-year-old is solidly built, has fair skin, light hazel eyes, and straight, light brown hair. The occasional similar expression might give away that they are brothers, but they otherwise look and act completely differently. Taken together, my family looks like a band of misfits. My husband, the first-generation American son of Indian immigrants, has dark mocha skin, a full beard he can grow in approximately two days, wild, curly black hair, and enormous hazel eyes. I have fair skin and tons of freckles, so I read as white, but that’s only half of my story. My mother is a Filipino immigrant and my dad was Caucasian. Unable to come up with a proper word to describe our family’s ethnicity, we usually go with…brown.

But now the boys have started to ask questions about their skin color, their grandparents' accents, and the fact that no one in our family seems to look alike. I want to help them to embrace all the cultures in their DNA, but it's difficult because I still struggle with my own cultural identity. 

Growing up in a small Louisiana town, reading as white made things easier on me. While I was always somewhat aware of my otherness, it wasn't really a concern. I always considered myself a normal American kid. But my childhood wasn't exactly typical. We attended weekly Sunday lunches that lasted all day, where the kids would run around while the titas and titos would roast lechon, there would be all-day buffets of adobo and pancit, and the lolas would play mahjong. The foods we ate at home could best be described as Filipino-Cajun fusion. 

As I start making my own parenting decisions, I'm beginning to realize that many of the great debates of my own childhood about grades, slumber parties, dating, and after-school activities weren't necessarily due to personality clashes between my parents, but were the clear result of living with an "American" parent and an "immigrant" parent. There was a constant push and pull between fitting in with all the expected American social mores and traditions and reacting to my mother's differing perspectives on everything from school, to clothes, to friends.  

But being mixed-race means that I can't really know what it's like to be a first generation American, because only one of my parents was an immigrant. I have never felt comfortable embracing my Filipino heritage because my mixed-race status makes me feel like an outsider. Having only one Filipino parent meant that Tagalog wasn't spoken in our house. We didn't visit the Philippines at all. My grandparents were concerned about my mother bringing home a white husband and mixed children, so they would visit us instead. I attempted to join the Philippine-American association at my college, but I just didn't quite fit in.

I quickly dropped out of the Phil-Am association and joined my school's music entertainment committee instead. Here, I found the kids like me who grew up obsessed with pop culture. This was the culture that made me feel at home. Pop culture wasn't about your past, or your ancestry, or your religion. Just by living in America, you had access to the same movies, tv shows, and music as all the other kids. Being fluent in the language of New Wave, grunge rock, and pop music helped me find my tribe, including, eventually, my husband.

Like most parents, we don't necessarily have a specific game plan for raising our kids. We know that we want to raise kind, respectful, thoughtful young men who are good global citizens. But we're mostly just winging it. And while we want them to understand who they are and where they come from, we seem to be raising them in a more "American" way, reflective of our personal experiences. They know more about Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Radiohead than the average adult, but they still don't know much about either their Indian or Filipino heritage. We have tried in small ways to introduce them to the small aspects of our cultures that we are familiar with. We take them to the park to celebrate Holi. I cook them Filipino food at least once a month. They call their grandparents by their Indian and Filipino grandparent names. But they can never fully comprehend the experience of growing up with an immigrant parent. They are another generation removed, and like it or not, their parents make decisions that are reactions to their own childhoods. 

I worry that the boys will be at a disadvantage because not only are they even more mixed than their mother, but their mother still hasn’t figured out her own identity. I worry that maybe I have allowed popular culture to supersede my actual cultural identity, and this will be reflected in my kids. I worry that I’m passing on to them my underlying need to fit in with other “American” kids and am not helping them appreciate their own diversity. I worry that this means that I am inadvertently holding them back from understanding who they are. 

And I worry that their questions will only become more complex, and I won’t always have good answers. And while we are extremely lucky to live in an inclusive, progressive town like Austin, my biggest worry is that they may not always be treated with civility and respect due to their skin color. How do any of us prepare our children for that?

The diverse crowd, my family included, sings all the “Na na-na na-na-na-nas” in unison as “Hey Jude” reaches its conclusion to finish Paul’s set. This is the same crowd I found incredibly annoying about three hours ago, as we struggled through food and drink lines to feed a couple of cranky kids. But all that frustration has dissipated, and here I am smiling, nay, beaming, at the masses as we sing this song we’ve known for our entire lives. In this moment, we aren’t defined by our ethnicities, genders, or political opinions. We all know the words to this pop song, and for the moment, that’s enough.

We begin to slowly file out of the venue. It’s dark, and strangers pull out their cell phones to help light our way when they see that we have two sleepy children in tow. A young couple asks me several questions about the level of parenting difficulty we had to endure to take the kids to a music festival. They are genuinely curious, and they seem genuinely impressed with our gumption. I casually explain that we just couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t take our boys to see one of the Beatles when we had a chance. 

Maybe my family’s values can’t be easily defined by any particular culture. But we have the power to define our own values, informed by our own personal experiences, which have been colored by the many cultures of our heritage. Maybe staying up late and seeing pop icons is a tradition that can be completely ours.


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