Here’s an embarrassing confession: I used to write Harry Potter fan fiction. My aunt gave me this beautiful hardbound purple notebook with the Hogwarts crest embossed on the cover and I filled it with stories spun in my wonky pre-teen scrawl. But my main characters were never the dynamic trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Instead I gave Cho Chang a spunky, much less weepy sister and made her my protagonist. Cho Chang, really?! You might be thinking. But aside from being one of the only Asian characters in the series, Harry crushed on her pretty hard, and he was Harry freakin’ Potter. Thirteen-year-old me was happy to work with that.
As adolescents, we look for our counterparts in pop culture just as children look for dolls matching their own skin tones. But what the hell kind of narrative do you fit into as a part-Spanish/part-Swiss/mostly Filipino/native-English-speaking citizen of the world? The Disney Channel’s marketing team did not have a plan for this demographic. Instead they and their peers propagate existing stereotypes that lead to the following cringe-worthy conversations:
Guy at a Bar: Where are you from?
Me: I’m Filipino.
GAAB: But you don’t look Filipino.
Me: I’ve got Spanish ancestors.
GAAB: Then why do you speak English?
Me: It’s my first language. I always spoke English growing up.
Others: Oh, okay. So you’re not really Filipino.
We human beings are funny aren’t we? We have this strange obsession with boxing everything into narrow definitions. This is useful for scientists discovering new plant species, but not so great when it turns into into confining individuals personalities to limited parameters. I could ramble on about the paradoxes of post-truth 2016 (like how globalisation was supposed to make everyone embrace diversity, but instead we’re more pre-packaged for advertisers than ever, courtesy of Facebook filters and their friends) but instead I thought I’d share my preferred strategy on spinning annoying conversations in your favour:
GAAB: Where are you from?
Me: You have three chances to guess and may ask yes or no questions. If you guess right I get you a drink, if you don’t you get me a drink. GO.
Congratulations, you’re now having an actual conversation with a real, live human in real time. Plus, odds are you’ll get a free beverage out of it. Whatever will you do with such power? My hope is that you’ll school this ignoramus, and get him to think of you outside the box, but that, friend, is entirely up to you.