It Isn’t May, But I’m Still Proud to Be an Asian: 03.26.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

It isn’t May, but I’m still proud to be an Asian…

The month of May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, which is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the history of Asian Canadians. Except right now, it’s still March—and I’m still very much proud to be an Asian.

This small reminder happened when my family and I went to visit IKEA this past weekend. While we browsed through the showroom and finally reached the children’s section just before the restaurant and the Market Place, we passed by a bin of plush dolls.

What made me stop while I would have otherwise just passed by was the final arrival of a doll that represented an Asian likeness.

As an Asian woman growing up in the early 70’s as a daughter born to recently landed, hard-working immigrants from the Philippines and a daughter born as a native to Canadian soil—I was born a product of a dichotomy—the east and the west.

The Philippines flag

And though I don’t speak of it often, I did grow up during a time when racism and discrimination towards Asians and what “used to be” ethnic minorities were vocal and ran rampant.

Being “Filipino” was unrecognized. My identity and culture was “lumped” into the abyss of Asian geography, a silent map that blinked its slanted eyes in wounded awareness.

I was ridiculed as a child and verbally abused in school, taunted with threats that shouted, “Move back to your country, you f—ing chink!” I couldn’t stand taking the bus to school and I hated recess.

Me. Age 4.

When I complained to the teacher on duty and told her what the kids in the yard were calling me, she asked in a condescending tone, “Well, you are Chinese, aren’t you?”

 She was wrong on many counts:

1)     I am not Chinese. I am a Filipina.

2)     There isn’t anything wrong with being Chinese.

3)     Why in the world did she condone such brutality in the schoolyard?

4)     Why was she an active participant in racism and discrimination against a four-year-old child and a teacher?

Her answer was not only devastating to me, but instilled my first experience of distrust in adults, teachers, and those in authoritative positions. I had always believed teachers were intelligent and fair creatures. That day, I was taught otherwise. It was the beginning of a life-long lesson that drove me to justice advocacy in all forms especially for the marginalized.

It also instilled in me at a young age, a self-questioning seed of my identity that transpired into an unnamed fear, a self-hatred, a parallel racism. And one I have had years to work against.

I hated my flat nose. I envied blonde hair. I was embarrassed by the smell of the food my parents cooked, afraid the fish scent would travel with me when I left the room. And in toy stores, there were no dolls that looked like me. Barbie was a far cry from what I looked at in the mirror as a child.

And so, it’s taken years to eventually unravel the psychological damage done by those who were not ready to understand or accept someone who they deemed catastrophically different from them based on an old ignorance.

The joy I felt, though late, when I saw this Asian doll while shopping at IKEA, re-surfaced an old anger, a confusion that a four-year-old Filipina girl had no vocabulary to articulate. And it wasn’t because I couldn’t speak English. I could. I do. (I even studied it all the way into university and hold a degree!)

Okay, so it’s not a rights activist protest or camp out (yes, I’ve been part of those, too). But it’s a beginning. A reaffirmation that those who have scorned me and others like me based on ethnicity alone, have been pushed aside to understand that we are not only visible—we are at the very least, acknowledged.

I am still a product of a cultural dichotomy. But, I’m also Canadian. Native born. English-speaking. And as part of an interracial marriage, my children, too, are part of a growing cultural complexity.

The doll was bought and claimed by my two-year-old daughter. I can, with its help, reaffirm to her, who she is, and why she’s beautiful…


M. and her Asian doll.
M. named her doll after herself without my coercion.


Zara Alexis

9 thoughts on “It Isn’t May, But I’m Still Proud to Be an Asian: 03.26.2012”

  1. Thanks for your perspective. I am in a bit of the opposite situation, raising half-white kids in Asia, who each look to be of different races. It’s weird that even here so many of the dolls do not have Asian features.

    1. Thanks for being the first one brave enough to comment on this post. The subject of race and/or racism is a sensitive and complex one, which most people tend to steer away from if they can.

      In what part of Asia do you live? How does your children’s ethnicity as a potential visible minority influence them in where they are living?

      And yes, it does seem somewhat strange that manufacturers aren’t creating toys that better reflect the demographic in which they are selling. It begs the question as to whether the White North Americanized representation is one that dominates most countries or if it’s simply a lack of creativity on the marketer’s part. Or perhaps there is a fear that a racial representation in dolls may seem to be a “racist” act in itself. I’m not sure.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your comments. Hope you return soon. 😀

      1. I agree that the subject is complex but it is one we need to be having – as the events around the tragic death of Trayvon Martin tells us.

        My kids are only 3 and 5 so I am not sure how they feel about having a minority as a mother. We live in southern Japan so not a lot of people around here who are minorities. It does affect my son who is very white, people treat him differently. My daughter looks Japanese so she does not get the attention he does, it is very disconcerting.

        Even here the white man is the pinnacle and you see this in marketing and in the way they are treated – but this is both about his gender and his race. We need to speak up and we need, as consumers, to buy dolls which represent ourselves and our children. That’s the only way the corporations will listen to us. Raising children who believe in themselves and can speak up no matter where they are in the world is very important.

        I’ve been reading Kyo Maclear’s book Stray Love which is a lot about race and how minorities are treated in England and Asia over two generations and it has brought up a lot of really big issues for me. Plus it is beautifully written, highly recommended.

      2. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’m sorry to hear that your son faces an overt racism based on his appearance.

        I completely agree with you on all points especially in regards to: “…raising children who believe in themselves and can speak up no matter where they are in the world…”

        And thank you for the book recommendation, STRAY LOVE by Kyo Maclear. I will look it up and add it to my reading list.

        Our awareness and sensitivity to these issues are a first step. Our continual advocacy for intelligence, compassion, tolerance, and inclusivity is an ongoing fight for justice that will reap benefits, if not for ourselves, but for our children.

        Warm regards to your wife, your beautiful children, and all my best to you in your walk and cultural adventure as a visible minority in Asia.

        Be encouraged. The world is changing every day. Our conversation, however small, is evidence of that. 😀

        Ki wo tsukete kudasai… きをつけてください

  2. BEAUTIFUL!!. I’m also a Filipino living in Canada. They say that people are more “tolerant” and accept the diversity of races now, but there are still those who don’t. I am still proud to be Filipino and this, your blog, makes me even prouder.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad my post was a form of encouragement and reaffirmation for you in your identity as a Filipino. On a whole, I don’t believe we’ve spoken out as a community of the daily racism, parallel or otherwise, that we face on a personal and societal level. But, I’m glad I was able to share this post with you. Hope you return soon! Mg ingat ka at mabuhay! 😀

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