I am a 46-year-old mother of two girls, 7 and 4.
I am a Filipino, Pinay na Pinay and my girls are Americans, Kanang-Kana.
You see, nature has directed my daughters to cling more towards their father’s racial heritage, that I make pony and pig tails out of hair that naturally turns colors—depending on the season—from brunette to dishwater blonde with golden highlights.
Their eyes are lighter than mine, too. Both were born with blue eyes. But around the time they started walking, my firstborn’s eyes turned light brown. My youngest‘s peepers danced around with so many hues until they settled permanently on hazel green. She was around two-years-old then.
Both of them are light-skinned, too.
So obviously, the Pinoys took a beating in my little family’s racial features battle. The whities won! And with this defeat came my drama as a Pinay yaya in America.
I have lost count on the number of times strangers at the grocery store would ask me if the baby sitting in my cart was mine. “Is she yours?” was a question that I learned to answer with a smile. Or a laugh, depending on the mama mood meter of the day.
On a cold day at the park, it was not unusual for some overprotective nannies strolling with their wards to give me strange looks –why this nanny has a sock-less baby in the stroller . One time, a well-meaning grandma on the playground even admonished me for not dressing up my “ward” in warm clothes. “Why did your employer allow you to take the baby out of the house in those flimsy clothe?. My gosh, no jacket!” she barked. (The truth was I had babies that easily got hot, they didn’t need socks or jackets unless we were in some snowy place).
And I would just give myself an imaginary thump in the head and I would laugh. Again, comments like the ones above wouldn’t get a rise out of me.
The one comment that made me frown, however, was when a former journo colleague said on national television recently that some members of the Azkals are not really Pinoys because they’re halfsies, with European blood running through their veins.
The television personality could be referring to my girls because like some members of the Azkals that were singled out, my daughters have European blood in them (my mother–in-law is half Swede and half Norwegian and my father-in-law is of English descent).
My Pinoy body bore two girls and yet they are not real Pinoys because they have European heritage in them?
My ex-colleague’s statement made me take a step back to (over)analyze my kids. How Pinoy are they really?
They don’t speak nor understand Filipino. They don’t eat a lot of Pinoy food. They don’t watch Pinoy TV (we don’t even have cable and they don’t watch live television). So where lies the Pinoyness in them?
The question brought me back immediately to Martin Luther King’s Day last year when Sabby, my oldest, who was then in first grade came home from school with a special story. She recounted to me the stories about MLK and Rosa Parks that she heard that day; and how she concluded that if she had been born during the time of MLK, she would be sitting in the back of the bus. “Why?” I asked. “Because Mom, I am like you.” She said that she is an American like her Dad, but she is also a Filipino like me.
I didn’t press harder to extract any more “nuances” to her statement because as far as I am concerned, both of my daughters are color blind when it comes to race. There’s no use to play the race card with them.
Annika, my youngest, demonstrated this quality at age three, when we brought the girls to The American Girl Place at the Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for their presents two Christmases ago.
As the drill goes in this store, a little girl steps in, is met by a happy, smiling sales associate and is ushered into a display case filled with dollies, to look for the one that looks just like the little customer—the doll that would have her hair color, her eyes, her skin, her smile, even. The associate is extra careful because at $99.00 a pop, plus another $100 or more for clothes, shoes and accessories , the girl must find the right one.
“Here she is! Look, Annika, she looks just like you!” crooned the sales associate as she picked up a box bearing the doll that’s light skinned with hazel eyes and with brown hair with golden highlights.
Annika made a quick look at the doll and said, “no she’s not. She doesn’t look like me. ” Pouting, she squeezed my hand so hard to make her disappointment known. I asked her what she wanted and she pointed to a doll on the far side of the aisle.
“She is the beautiful one; she looks just like me,” she said as the associate took out of the box what would soon become Little Annika, a doll with her hair and eye colors, but with skin the color of dark clay. My daughter picked an African-American doll for her doppelganger.
I was fighting tears of joy as we were checking out of the store. That was one of my proud Mama moments.
Every so often, my girls would comment about events at home, at church or at their school that would make feel that they’re looking at things from my perspective—my own Pinoy perspective, which usually are off the safe side. At an early age, they know how to make a stand.
They may look Kana all right, but the fire in their bellies are mine—Pinay na Pinay; real Pinay.
• Ruby Clemmons, a former Manila-based journalist is a full-time mom who currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband James, a rocket scientist and her two daughters.