Growing up mixed race: part one of a roundtable conversation

Photos by Arabella Paner

Take a quick look at the roster of artistas in the limelight right now, and you’re sure to see a number of half-American, half-British, half-Australian, and a number of other “halfs” that contribute to our local idea of beauty.

In the Philippines, the term ‘halfie’ is one that’s often flaunted on Instagram bios of models and influencers, something that’s displayed proudly along with their Eurasian features.

These kinds of halfies are generally celebrated by the media, but the lack of diversity also makes it difficult for us to imagine any other kinds of beauty.

In an effort to understand the plight of half-Filipinos, we got together three kids of mixed ethnicities (all of whom were coincidentally the same age) for a two-part series about their experiences in the Philippines. Below is part one.

Selina Woo Bhang, 20, Korean-Filipino

Effy Elmubarak, 20, Sudanese-Filipino

Iana Griner, 20, African-American-Filipino

What was it like for you guys growing up?

Effy: Growing up, [I learned that] kids can be really mean. Before I started wearing the hijab, I had really voluminous hair. I still do, actually. Kids were calling me names like taas buhok, or, “Uy, Fatima, taas ba diyan sa inyo?” And for the longest time, I thought that there was something wrong with my hair. I had it straightened, chopped it off really short [until] it was damaged. Only recently, I realized that nothing’s wrong with my hair. I just grew up in a place where it’s not deemed as conventional, I guess.

Shot on location at Hineleban Café

Iana: I can totally relate to what she said about kids being mean. When I moved out of my school which was a little bit more diverse, I moved around a lot because I had trouble making friends. Kids can be really nasty, I swear. The first time I ever encountered the N-word was when I was nine and the kids were all calling me that. I didn’t know what it meant. That’s probably why I’m so against the word at this point. My hair’s a lot curlier than this. I went through straightening it, cutting it off. I’d go to salons to get a haircut and always, they’d tell me: “Oh, you’d be so pretty if you straightened your hair.” And also, you get stared at a lot wherever you go. It’s so hard to do anything, like go to the market — anything, actually. It’s really hard to live life as a Filipino even if you are half Filipino, because you’re never received as a Filipino. So you’re kind of just in the middle, just like floating along.


When I moved out of my school which was a little bit more diverse, I moved around a lot because I had trouble making friends. Kids can be really nasty, I swear. The first time I ever encountered the N-word was when I was nine and the kids were all calling me that. I didn’t know what it meant.


Selina: I came from the province [Nueva Ecija]. I grew up there, lived there until I was five. Then I moved to Manila. I guess it was different from me because I’m part Korean. I got most of my dad’s looks, not much of my mom’s so people automatically think that I’m Korean. And I get the chinita thing. Like I’m not chinita enough or something. I really hated growing up. There was a time some kids also blamed World War II on me, and I stepped out of class because I kept crying. People really isolated me in grade school. But growing up with all the pressure and all the challenges that you face, you get tougher. I just really hate it when people discriminate me immediately. Like because I’m Korean, I’m automatically clueless on some things. But I’m also part Pinoy. Like, I’m really comfy with Tagalog pa. It was a tough childhood, but I’m here right now, so it’s pretty good.

Did you guys grow up with two different cultures?

Selina: My dad’s really strict. Because with Korean culture, it’s really notable that the parents are really strict with their kids. So I know how to bow, I know all the respectful words. Like Korean food, I love Korean food. My mom also brought me up with the gentle side of the Filipino culture. Po, opo, beso. And then punishment in Korea — we grew up with that too. Like with kneeling on salt. You’d have to raise your hands and they’ll hit you with a stick. I also went to Korean school every Saturday when I was a kid to learn the writing language. So growing up, I had two different cultures. I also learned how to speak Tagalog at a young age because of my mom.

Iana: I only grew up with my Filipino mom. So aside from my brother, I think the first black person I met, I was 12? Or something like that. I didn’t even know that I was black. I just figured it out in sixth grade or something like that. ‘Cause I look different, obviously. I thought there was something wrong with my hair. But yun pala, there’s all these people who look like me. Usually I’d see black people with straight hair on TV. Raven [Symone] was my idol forever, but she had straight hair. I really grew up outside of that culture. And on top of that, I didn’t know how to speak Tagalog. So I also grew up outside of Filipino culture. So I was just kind of in this rift the whole time.It’s very difficult to grow up outside of any culture where you can feel like you belong because you just kind of, you really have to navigate it by yourself. And it feels very very lonely. But eventually I did find people online — I have a lot of online friends — and I learned so much about my culture. I remember in high school, there was a point where I’d think to myself “I hope they don’t know that I’m black.”So when I got to college, I thought “Okay, these people don’t know who I am. I’m gonna cut off all my straight hair and I’m gonna go there and act like I’ve been like this all along.” And it worked, weirdly enough. And I was able to own myself and be proud of myself. I saw people who were like, “Wow, it’s so cool that you’re doing this to your hair!” and it really worked for me. I was lucky enough for it to work for me.

Effy: Sudanese culture is really tied with Middle-Eastern culture. And my mom grew up as a Muslim woman. So the culture I grew up with was the Muslim part of both Sudanese and Filipino cultures. My dad, he hired an ustad — a religion teacher — to teach me every Saturday with Arabic and stuff about the Qu’ran. He cooked Sudanese food, middle-eastern food, he hangs out with a lot of people. I also have Sudanese friends because of his friends, kind of. Growing up, it [was] really hard to distinguish whether something was my dad’s culture or my mom’s culture because it’s everything I’ve ever known. I don’t really go out much, and I wasn’t really exposed to as much as a kid ‘cause I didn’t really have a lot of friends.

It’s general knowledge that Filipinos are obsessed with Western culture. But the thing is, that only applies to white people. Other than that, they’re pretty xenophobic, I guess. Like the kids on the street, the people I grew up with — they gave me a bad childhood but it’s also important to note that not everyone has the same access to information as we do. I can’t really blame them. I can’t really resent them for what I’ve experienced as a child.

#culture #friendship #self

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