A Perspective on the Asian-American Identity: Eyes

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A friend I went to pre-k and kindergarten with found me on Facebook a few years ago and it brought back a lot of funny and bizarre memories of growing up Filipino.

Jennifer and I attended Charles D. Wyche in Miami Gardens. We had the same bus stop since we lived in the same neighborhood and our dads hit it off right away. I tried to be friends with her because we looked alike.

I think at this age, I didn’t really know of different Asians. To be fair, I don’t think I was really aware of different ethnicities and cultures in pre-k and kindergarten. I just thought anyone who looked a little bit like me was a Filipino.

Classmates always asked if we were related:

“Are you guys sisters?”

“No.”

“Cousins?”

“Still no.”

“…you sure?”

I don’t exactly remember when I found out she wasn’t Filipino. I probably found out in one of those class presentations where you had to talk about what country you came from. It’s where I figured out the Philippines was a country no one knew existed, so I was learning all kinds of new shit that day. I mean, I was in general awe of learning about where everyone was from, but I was kinda shocked with Jennifer’s reveal. Because I could’ve sworn she was Filipino.

People were familiar with Jennifer’s country, mostly because they would usually order the popular cuisine of her country like orange chicken and lo mein for dinner (I want to say she wasn’t even Chinese). No one heard of the crazy shit Filipinos ate yet, so no one knew what I was about. But they did know that I wasn’t the same as Jennifer because while we sort of looked alike, something was still different. Like my eyes or something.

Nowadays everyone has that one Filipino best friend whose mom makes amazing food and so everyone’s an expert on the Philippines. No one approaches me with a “Ni hao!” anymore. Now they ask, “Are you Filipino?” and when I confirm their suspicions they say, “I could tell ’cause your eyes are bigger!”

My eyes have been a fascination for so many people, I started becoming fascinated with them. At one point I thought maybe they’re not a normal size? Am I somehow offending people with them? Mind you, no one ever described my eyes that way out of malice, it just happened so many times. It’s gotten to the point where when people ask if I’m Filipino, I follow with, “Did my eyes give it away?”

Don’t get me wrong, asking where I come from or even assuming I’m Filipino or Asian doesn’t offend or annoy me. It’s everything that comes after.

Like when you joke about how I’m not really Asian, or ask if I know Tagalog and then not caring how to properly pronounce Tagalog after I’ve corrected you, or asking me if we really do eat balut and other thoughts about it, or how I remind you of an old girlfriend and how you’ve always thought Filipino women were beautiful (for the record, approaching people to mention you’ve always wanted to be with a person of their race/ethnicity is a thing that happens).

It’s these statements that made me very aware of how different I look and it made me kind of obsess over how I looked. I mean, I’ve been hearing this shit since pre-k.

The “not really Asian” statement bothers me the most. It isn’t news that there are some outrageous standards of beauty in Asia and in Asian-American communities, so this insecure Filipino girl who sometimes wasn’t even considered Asian had a lot of self-esteem issues growing up.

There was a time when I was heavy into Japanese and Korean Pop, so those were the beauty standards I was trying to reach – pale, skinny, tall and doll-eyed. Also known as all the things I am not.

I wished my eyes were a little narrow so they looked more doll-like, less dead-fish. I practiced weird stares I probably thought those pop stars did in the mirror to make my eyes more appealing.

Eyeliner and makeup is what gave me self-esteem for a while. I liked how my eyes looked if I drew a thick black line on the outside corners to thin them out and curve them up. I’d line my waterline with a white or peach-colored pencil to brighten them up, darken my brows and highlight my brow bone to lift and pull my eyes.

This shit became an art, science and a chore.

Then the script flipped and light eyes were the new thing. I think at this point, I stopped caring about my outward appearance altogether, so I regrettably never was an Asian with purple eyes*. This was purely due to laziness and brokeness, not because I never wanted lighter eyes. My dark eyes always made me look dull, of course I wanted them at least a little bit lighter. I actually got into an argument with my parents because they kept telling me my eyes are brown and I was pretty sure my eyes were comparable to actual black holes.

As my laziness increased with age, my daily makeup routine took a backseat in the mornings. A nasty break out and terrible sleeping habits also played a part in me using less makeup; I wanted to let my skin heal and I never woke up early enough to properly put on a face before starting my day. I eventually went from using 12-13 products for a full face of make up (because I couldn’t just do eye makeup without fixing my whole face first), to brow gel, mascara and a tinted lip balm. Somehow, in all the time it took me to be okay with using fewer and fewer products, I also managed to love my face without much on it. Go figure.

I don’t think my eyes are dull anymore. I actually think they’re my best facial features (maybe second to my eyebrows because of the time it took to grow these suckers). I still love to wear eyeliner and put on a full face of makeup because I love feeling like I’m putting on war paint for the day.

They’re not exactly Asian, but they’re Asian enough? I don’t know about all that. But, they’re my dad’s eyes. For sure… or my mom’s? Either way, they come from some great genes, so I better wear them well.

 

 

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*Because Sailor Mars.

 

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