Whenever I dust off the cover of a world atlas and open its large, rarely turned pages, I get a whiff of childhood curiosity: my long search for my place in society as a Filipino-American. My parents gifted me map puzzles, pin-maps, and globes over video games as a child to keep me occupied, building the foundation for what would grow from an obsession with identification of countries to an eagerness to learn everything about the world. While history was not a heavy focus in my Montessori curriculum, it drew me in with its promises of stories about mankind: who we have become, who we used to be. I soon found, however, the word ‘we’ was not inclusive. I still have a shelf full of picture books about the 1950s Civil Rights Movement that gives insight to my brief obsession with that part of American history; my mother claims I was once adamant on naming my future children Martin and Rosa. With an immature understanding of history, I saw these abridged glimpses into the American fight towards equality and tried to seek my own history within it, even once asking my mother where my family would sit in a segregated bus. The purely black and white focus in these books set me up with a flawed understanding of where I belonged as an Asian American, leading me to believe that I needed to fall under one or the other: black or white.
History textbooks mirrored these picture books in their inability to include other cultures. “World History” class meant “European History and Others” class – even past elementary school, my peers and I were spoon-fed a Westernized version of history that failed to mention other countries except in the context of colonization. While textbooks have recently gone through a significant change in content, I often wonder how ignorant these textbook writers and editors could be to label any non-Eurocentric history as unimportant. “Unimportant” always seemed to be the word of the day – because I did not see myself in history, in media, or even in my school, after transferring to a middle school with only three other people of color in addition to myself, I began to feel unimportant.
In middle school, I expected theater to be an all-inclusive environment where teachers worked to make sure that no child felt left out. Unfortunately, it was not helpful that there was no precedent for my directors to cast against a character’s given race. If Dorothy had light, fair skin, the girl cast as Dorothy would have the same. In a funny way they eventually did so: casting myself as a black female character, and two young white boys as Chinese characters. The discomfort I, along with the few other people of color, felt during this musical only further engrained into our minds the same repeated message we had always heard, “As a person of color, you are unnecessary.” The Garwood Whaley auditorium stage, where I perform today, was a monumental factor in changing how I viewed myself as a Filipina. For the first time, I had not only seen diversity among characters generally cast as white, but I saw a Filipino boy cast as a lead role in a musical. Reviews of the show praised his exuberance on stage and his reception of an award for his performance affirmed a truth that I had long been blind to: that could be me. My junior year was marked with my role as a lead in our spring musical as well as my nomination for best featured-female actress. That experience helped me recognize the importance of representation and the urgency for it; society is discouraging to people of color in many ways, and not only in the theater and film industries. Representation opens up doors with a resounding shout of, “Look, someone just like you can do this too, why not you?”
Post by Gabby Baniqued