SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2011       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Raisa Ferrer

Labels, labels, labels

And this is where it starts: After a long day at school, I get home and first thing I do is check the mail. Not knowing what to expect I open the envelope and it hits me. I am moving to great America fulfill my dreams. Lost for words, all I can do is burst into tears.

I had lived in the Philippines my whole life. Both of my parents had been living in America for about eight years and both worked hard to send remittances to me and my three sisters. Now my parents wanted me to join them in the U.S. Then the day came, I was leaving my home and coming to America.
I had a hard time making friends the first year in Phoenix. I lived in an apartment with my sister and my parents. I would go to the swimming pool every day to try to meet people. The first people I met were friendly and would always invite me to their parties at the complex. I remember emailing all my friends back home, telling them that I finally found a group of friends. I even called my uncle to tell him about it and he told me to be careful, but I did not take in his words and ignored what he said.

One day I went to my friend’s apartment for a game of Poker when a “friend” called and told me that she had been hearing stories about me living in the country illegally. She was told that I was lying about being Filipino, and that I was really Mexican and that I didn’t have legal documents to be in the United States. I asked her who had told her this and she mentioned that it was a gentleman who happened to be African American.

Not knowing what to do, I felt extremely bad and so I went home to tell my parents. My mom insisted that she talk to the gentleman but I lied and said he was gone, so I could avoid the embarrassment. I asked myself why that man would say that. Was it because I had a dark tan? Was it my heavy accent? Did I have too many errors in my grammar? Did I dress too differently? Right at that moment, my happiness disappeared.
I started hating everything about this country. All along I thought that America was about diversity and different cultures. I had been exposed to racism but it was all from American blockbuster movies that had made it overseas. Growing up in the Philippines, I had no idea why racism happened and why people allowed it. All I knew was that I disliked seeing it and thought that it only happened between Blacks and Whites.

I now realized that racism was not only toward African Americans and that it didn’t only happen in movies. Racism is one of the biggest problems in America and I was just one of the many that was experiencing it. I now understand my uncle’s warning to be careful.

There were two things in my mind at that time. Either I could work hard and leave to go back home to the Philippines, or prove everybody wrong and stay with my family. I looked up what it meant to be legal and then asked my mom for my green card and my social security card. She asked why I needed them and I told her that I needed them for a job. The next day, I went to my friend’s house and showed all my documents. I wanted to prove to them that I was here legally and that I was allowed as many rights as any other law abiding citizen. They asked why I felt I had to show my documents to them. I told them that it was so that they would know that I wasn’t illegal like the rumors implied. After showing them my documents, I had a feeling of ambivalence. I was happy that my friends now knew the truth about my status but at the same time angry that I had had to show them my documents so they would believe me.

Putting myself in my mother’s shoes, this was what she might have thought: I don’t know what to do right now. All I want is for Raisa to be happy and love America as much as I do. I want her to appreciate what I did, leaving my whole life back home, and her two other siblings, to work and give them a better life. This is just all in the beginning. Most of us experience being homesick and depressed when stepping outside our comfort zone. I want that man to know that what he is doing is unacceptable. He has to know that we have the same rights. I just want her to know that I love her and I want what is best for her. I want her to have a better life here, for her to go to college and achieve her dreams. This is something that she won’t be able to do in Manila. I can’t let her go back home. I know that this is what she wants to do right now. What do I do? Did I really do the right thing in letting our kids migrate here?

Remembering the heartfelt emotionally tugging conversation I had with my parents is unforgettable up to this day. My dad was there as a true father figure wanting me to be strong for my own sake and my mom on the other hand tried her best to comfort me. I stared blankly at an old photo of me and my friends on my wall, wishing my friends were right there with me at that precise moment. After talking to my parents, my cat provided me some sort of "creature comfort" when she began licking my fingers as if trying to cheer me up. She seemingly wanted to cuddle to her human alter-ego. Looking back at all these old photos just tugged my heartstrings. I realized that God and family comes first, and maybe my friends and my cat. The love that comes from the family is bigger than any problem that can appear from time to time. With this love and faith I am more brave and ready for any other challenges coming my way.

Being labeled as a Mexican illegal immigrant disturbed me, not just because of the Mexican part, but also the illegal part. Here in Arizona, everyone not white gets taken for a Mexican immigrant regardless of the fact that Arizona was owned by Mexico until 1849 and many of its people just remained in the U.S Southwest. I didn’t like being called Mexican just because of my skin color. I also didn’t like being called illegal just because of looking Mexican. Being ignorant about one’s history and other races makes racism so much worse. For example, banning ethnic studies in Tucson and proposed laws such as SB1070 aren’t helping this anti-immigrant, anti-Latino epidemic in Arizona.

There are people that are undocumented in America that are not Mexican. There are numerous people from many countries that move to America, especially Filipinos. Knowing that Filipinos face discrimination because of being Asian immigrants made me ask myself what it would take to become an American citizen. For me to become a citizen, I must stay here for five years to become naturalized but at least now I could do it, unlike during 1870, when citizenship was limited only to those of White and African descent. I remember vividly when I was in grade school in the Philippines when my social studies class first discussed the end of the 400 year rule of the Spaniards in our country. 400 years, how could it have lasted that long? And to be sold for 20 million dollars to the United States? How could my ancestors let that happen?

Filipinos were labeled as peasants by the Spaniards; they were called "indios". They were discriminated against because of their beautiful brown skin and were made to work day in and out for Spanish bourgeois.
My country as beautiful as it is, has a rich and colorful history, but that history was always shared with foreigners who wanted to steal our land and our people. These are the things that I learned growing up and now that I am in the United States. It makes me think about how difficult it is to be an Asian immigrant. History will always repeat itself and although the hardships that happened years ago will not happen in the same form, specifically wars, just because the world is more aware now than ever, discrimination will remain deeply embedded in people's consciousness.

Our world today is getting smaller and smaller because of technology. The advent of gadgets and gizmos, should lessen discrimination because we can see each other more easily now than hundreds of years ago. Different reactions to discrimination can be seen throughout the world with just a click of the finger. Unfortunately, all this technology has not lessened this sad facet of our world history. Discrimination continues and although more people are aware of how ugly it truly is, if we do not fix our immigrant laws, it will continue to pervade our society.

In a perfect world, this social conflict would be merely a bad dream that the world could wake up from. Since we are living in the real world, people are not going to be treated fairly. Thus, the people that are racist will continue to be racist and the people on the other side of the spectrum will struggle to overcome this conflict. Since labeling is essential to an imperfect world, I had to accept reality; I will always be labeled no matter where I go. I realize that there will be more obstacles that I will have to overcome and being called “illegal” is just one of them.

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