Counter Counternarratives

As the moderator of the “Counternarratives of Women of Color in Academia” event,

I introduced myself as a second-generation Filipina-American.

This was the first thing I said about who I was,

Before I even talked about my position in the academy, my intellectual and community interests,

And blah blah blah.

Identity. Salience. What really matters to me.

 

It was the first time in a long time for me to be invited to moderate an event.

Not to mention a panel composed of all people of color,

Women and non-binary people of color.

Talking about a newly published anthology

Of women of color counternarratives.

 

The event seemed to go well.

The room was full.

It was great to see students in the audience.

I started off the Q & A session with a question to the panelists about their biggest takeaways

From reading and curating the inspirational stories to make up the anthology.

What strategies, ideas, actions did they glean

That surprised them, or caused an “aha” moment in them.

 

What I really wanted to ask, but didn’t, was:

“Why aren’t there any counternarratives from Asian Pacific Islander American women in this book?”

 

At the end of the Counternarratives event, I watched a student walking towards me.

I knew right away she was Filipina.

We’re not hard to spot.

I smiled at her and said hello and asked her name.

She started saying “I am Filipino-American too and I was so happy to see you as part of the panel. Because it’s good to see…”

And then her voice broke and she started crying.

“It’s good to see someone up there that looks like me because that doesn’t happen a lot.”

 

I wanted to give her a big hug and cry with her.

Because I see myself in her and her feelings so, so much.

It doesn’t matter that I’m 20 plus years older than her.

I am her 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 1 year ago. Yesterday.

I don’t see anyone who looks like me on our campus.

Students, yes.

Faculty, staff, administrators?

I know one Filipina professor at my school. No. No.

 

We talked.

I asked her what year she was in school, and what her major was.

I asked her about her student group activities, and where she grew up.

At one point we talked about how hard it is

To be Filipino American in this particular context.

In Virginia. In the South.

At an institution with no Ethnic Studies program, no Asian American Studies program.

When I think about this, it makes me realize how fortunate I was to have been at an institution before this one

To have all this. Not that they didn’t have to fight for it either.

And hope I didn’t take for granted, but probably did.

And how jarring it is to be at a place with barely any of this.

With students, of course, leading the charge.

To try to get an Asian American Studies minor. A minor. To start.

 

At one point I said “We Filipinos, we gotta find each other and hold each other close.

Especially in a place like this.”

 

We talked about where in the Philippines our families are from.

We discovered that we have family members from the same province.

I gave her my business card and wrote, underneath my name and contact info

“My dad is from Naic, Cavite.”

So she doesn’t forget to ask her family if we happen to know each other.

 

I asked if I could give her a hug, and she said yes.

We parted ways.

I’m sure I’ll see her again.

 

It was the first time that my presence

As a Filipino American figure, collaborator, leader (what am I?)

in an academic setting

Caused someone to cry.

Tears of relief, and of happiness.

Tears of frustration, and of wanting.

Tears of wanting to be seen.

Tears of being seen.

 

Representation matters.

And yet–

 

What I really want to ask, and want to ask more often, is:

“Why aren’t there any counternarratives from Asian Pacific Islander American women in this book? We exist in academia, do you see us? Why don’t I see myself in this book? Why is my voice missing?”

 

When I think about this, I want to cry.

Tears of invisibility.

Tears of exhaustion.

Tears of wanting to feel like we belong. Like I belong.

 

And then I want to write this book.

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