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Filipino or American

Jordan Ritchie

Filipino or American
a poem by Jordan Ritchie

The hardest part about being Filipino-American is being American

I can talk about how unfair it is that gas prices are higher everyday

Or I can talk about the incidents involving girls who end up dead before they realize the man at the wheel isn’t their Uber driver

Or I can talk about what a hassle it is to go to a busy supermarket during COVID season

I call these situations struggles

I call them disasters

And they are, but they pale in comparison to what happens abroad

Where over a third of rural inhabitants are living in poverty

Where the evil that is Human Trafficking is a household name

Where thousands of children are forced into prostitution rings

Where suspected criminals and addicts involved in drugs are killed on sight

Even if stray bullets turn children into collateral damage

I’d never wish these tragedies upon myself

I just wish I could share the burden of the pain

Because if I’ve learned anything about my people it’s that even in the most tempestuous of storms, we endure

But how can I endure when I’ve never really known struggle?

How can I weather this storm when I’ve never seen real rain?

My Filipino spirit recognizes the sun, but not this California climate

The blood that runs through my veins has been filtered by American oxygen

My skin is barely painted by the sun

Still brown, but not quite the color of the land my ancestors toiled over

And the language of my people, though not foreign to my ear, comes out broken on my tongue

No matter how many Pilipino teleseryes I watch, I will never be able to say,



I will never be able to say those words without stumbling on the first syllable

So how can I even dare to share the burden of their pain when the burden isn’t mine to bear It’s my American mentality to put my ego on display and call it “sharing my point of view”

But there’s a difference between putting yourself in someone’s shoes and leaving them to walk barefoot

How do I take ownership of my culture without stealing it from those it truly belongs to?

It is not only an ocean, but experiences I could never comprehend that separate me from my people in the islands

How do I get closer to a culture that roots thousands of miles away?

I feel such suffocating dread every time I wake up too early in the morning

How lucky am I that I get to wake up at all?

In 2017, 28 out of every 1000 children in the Philippines died before the age of 5

I barely remember when I was 5

Yet to some, 5 was a lifetime

And though my lifetime has been more than 3 times that, my age makes me none the wiser

Because no matter how tan my skin

How broad my nose

How dark my hair

And no matter how much Filipino is in my blood

I’ve lived an American life

And considering that I know how hard the lives of others can be, that should be a blessing

But this blessing can feel like a curse

Because my American life

This so-called blessing

Is the barrier that separates the Filipino-Americans from the Filipinos

My American life separates my privilege from others’ poverty

This so-called blessing distinguishes having a hard time from going through hardship

The hardest part about being Filipino-American is realizing that at times, you can never truly be Filipino or American

At times, you want to be both

But you can’t

At times, you want to just pick one

But you can’t

Because I could never understand what it’s like to be a real Filipino

But other Americans will never understand what it’s like to be me

It’s like trying to find a balance on a broken scale

It’s like trying to fly with a mismatched pair of wings

It’s like I can’t hold onto something without letting another go

But I can’t hold onto both at the same time either

Though I’m born in the USA, I can almost taste the salt water

I can almost smell the food

I can almost hear the busy chatter of people at the palengke

I can almost feel all 8 rays of that radiant Filipino sun

But why does it still feel so far away?

The hardest part about being Filipino-American…

Is being… Filipino-American

- Jordan Ritchie

This poem explores the struggles I face in trying to connect with and find my place in my Filipino culture, while being hindered by my American upbringing. Though the examples I use are specific to the Filipino-American experience, the emotions I try to convey through the piece can likely be relatable to anyone who feels divided within themselves due to their biracial identity.

Biography: Jordan is a half black, half Filipina-American aspiring writer. She’s the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper, The Antlerette, and also an aspiring poet and novelist. When she’s not scribbling half-baked ideas on sticky notes, she’s either reading, listening to music, finding a new show or movie to watch, or daydreaming for dangerously long periods of time.

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