1) Please enter a valid race
I am applying for a Singaporean visa and it takes me five tries to guess my own race. “Eurasian” finally dispels the error message. In my home country of the US, I am two separate boxes: Asian (check) and White (check). In the UK, I am “Mixed – Asian and White,” selected from a dropdown menu. When someone asks me “what I am,” I sometimes want to explain that the answer depends on location and the people around me. Occasionally, I want to reply, “What do you think I am?”
I am a child when my Filipino grandmother calls me “Goldilocks.” My brown hair is only light at the ends from sun and chlorine, but she touches my head like it’s something to be guarded. My parents and I visit her in Manhattan at Christmastime. She turns our family of three into four as we steer past golden window displays, strands of my hair unspooling from under my hat in the cold wind.
Now I understand that she wasn’t just complimenting my hair, but my Whiteness.
I am twenty when my grandma discovers that I’m back together with my Indian boyfriend. She sends me an email: “You were raised in America, it would be tragic to enter an entirely different culture and be happy with that choice. Think and reflect my granddaughter, this is your life, don’t throw it away.”
My grandmother is a huge fan of the American Dream. At twenty, she marries my grandfather in the Philippines and becomes pregnant with my mom soon after. She drops out of college (something she’ll always regret) and soon has another child, my uncle. When my grandfather gets the opportunity to complete his medical residency in the United States, they move across the world. Initially intending to return to Manila, they stay in the US after Marcos declares martial law in 1972. This is why my mother grows up American in New Jersey.
Despite my grandfather’s infidelities and enforcement of traditional gender roles, my grandmother doesn’t divorce him until 2001, long after they’ve “made it” and my grandpa is a successful cardiologist. They’ve already sent their children to elite schools. My mom is a doctor and my uncle is a lawyer.
So I do understand where she’s coming from when she writes, “My cautionary advice to you is this: Asian men are very different from Caucasian men because of the culture. Your grandfather who is half-Chinese is very controlling and did not allow me to work outside the home.” Is Chinese worse than Filipino, then? And are all Asian men worse than Caucasian ones? My sympathy for her difficult life doesn’t excuse her words; of course I am offended. But it’s so ludicrous to discourage me from dating any man from the entire continent of Asia that I laugh out loud. My boyfriend also laughs, shaking his head.
In between the lines of her email, I read her true wish: that I marry someone like my dad. A tall, handsome, successful, nice White born-in-the-USA American man. My dad is one of my favorite people in the entire world, but that doesn’t mean I should end up with someone just like him, or of the same race as him. I self-consciously finger the sun-bleached ends of my hair.
I am working abroad in Singapore when a blonde, Dutch colleague discovers that I am half Filipino. “Oh, I just thought you were White since you’re American!” she exclaims. I laugh, but internally cringe.
I am in elementary school when my best friend and I tell someone that we’re “half Asian, half American.” Our parents correct us immediately: “We’re all American, sweetie. You’re half Asian, half White.” I’m not sure why our mistake is such a big deal.
I am fourteen when my Black friend assumes that I’m part Black, and fifteen when I’m invited to a “Race and Hair” event at my school. I look at the recipient list: every Black girl in the school and me. After college graduation, I receive an invitation to the BSU Alumni Association. I’m disoriented. I’ve felt White-ish for so long that it’s strange to realize that I can be seen as part Black.
In Spain, a man assumes I’m Latina. In Mexico, people are surprised that I don’t speak Spanish. When a drunk White dude comes up to me and my Puerto Rican friend at a Seattle bar and asks if we’re the same ethnicity, my friend tells him that we’re both Puerto Rican. My mom thinks that the two of us look like siblings.
I’m with my boyfriend and his parents, and his friend assumes that I’m his sister. This is truly surprising– my skin is pale next to theirs, and we look absolutely nothing alike.
Suddenly, I feel a stronger claim to the term “POC,” although nothing about me has changed. And the more people think that I’m something I’m not, the more confused I am when I look in the mirror. Sometimes, I feel as if I could be a completely different person if I wanted to be.
Surrounded by friends with Asian moms and White dads in Seattle, I never feel out of place as a child. This sense of belonging is a privilege. But the older I grow and the more places I visit, the less certain I feel of my racial identity. Often, I feel as if the levels of White and Asian within me are in flux– one may retreat like the ocean pulled out toward the horizon, and the other may come rushing back in with the tide.
The first time I meet my great-grandmother, I am a baby. The second time, I am nineteen and visiting the Philippines for the first time. Her memory is mostly gone, and I don’t know Tagalog (or Spanish), but one word she says registers clearly: mestiza. My mother cries upon seeing her again, and we are so glad for that visit when she passes away soon after.
I am shocked to find photographs of myself on the walls of her house. How strange to find my face here, in Manila. My image looks out at me from its frame, as if to remind me: part of you belongs here, even if you don’t yet know how.
Always, people tell me that I look just like my mother.
I start identifying as a “person of color” in college. After two years of competing on the very White cross-country team, I study abroad and find a new racially and nationally diverse friend group. The more I’m around people of color, the more I identify as one. But I am always aware of my Whiteness and my lightness and am often afraid to overstep.
After we’ve been dating for a couple years, my boyfriend reminds me that I once called him “exotic.” I immediately get defensive and say that I never said such a thing. Is it worse that I deny what he knows to be true or that I called him exotic in the first place?
I am lonely and single during the pandemic and spend more time on dating apps. I “X” White boys with the speed of a lab rat pressing a lever for food. Am I trying to prove a point by wanting to date a POC? Do I simply enjoy rejecting one White man after another, even if they’ll never know? Am I trying to distance myself from Whiteness?
How White am I? How Asian am I? I ask these questions knowing that only I can arrive at the answers, and yet I still don’t know. Perhaps the questions themselves are flawed, for how can I quantify myself within racial categories that were invented to service White supremacy? The best I can do is describe myself not simply as half-and-half but as both; as an estuary where the sea meets the stream.
2) Please enter a valid name
I have both of my parents’ names. The back of my high school senior sweatshirt reads: “thisisshorterthanmyname”. It is, by one letter and a hyphen.
I love my name. The hyphen is a bond between the two people who made me, a stitch between the two cultures that hold my halves together. I will never change my name, for it is a part of me as much as my first name, and I am honored to carry the two-patch quilt of my mother and father with me wherever I go.
My parents meet at medical school in Chicago in 1988. My mom, from the East Coast with Southeast Asian heritage, and my dad, from the West Coast with Northwest European ancestry, meet in the middle of the country. They’re in the same anatomy lab and hit it off right away. Eight years after those first days of working over cadavers, following their completion of med school and residency, I am born near the shores of Lake Michigan and they give me both of their names. When I am six weeks old, they pack up and move to my dad’s hometown just north of Seattle to start their first jobs as internists at the clinic that my dad’s grandfather helped found.
I grow up in the Pacific Northwest, not far from the Gunderson Building that honors my great-grandfather. I know him only briefly before he dies when I am three years old. I am in the hospital room when he passes, and though my parents try to explain that Grandpa Harold is gone, I insist that he is still right there, stubbornly pinching his toes as proof of his existence in this world.
People tell me that my name is difficult, but it’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. What about names that are actually hard for native English speakers to say? Why does length intimidate people so much? Or are people thrown off by the dissonance between its two parts?
My first name, on the other hand, makes my life very easy in this country. I never have to give a “White name” at Starbucks like some of my friends do.
I am sixteen when the announcer at a cross-country meet reads my name as “Rebe Delacruz-Gunderson.” I know it’s because the “cca” gets cut off when my name is written “Last, First.” Ree-bee. The nickname sticks, and I come to love it.
Empire is written in my name. A Spanish name inherited from the colonization of the Philippines joined with a Norwegian name carried over from my paternal European ancestors. I have the blood of the colonized and the colonizer, but my name echoes the colonizer more than the colonized.
At the college bookstore, it takes me multiple tries to guess how my name has been entered into the system. After a few searches, the cashier finds me under “Delacruz-Gun.” Looking down at me over my stack of books, she says, “You should find yourself a boy with a three letter name!” Ironically, I am already dating a boy with a three letter name, but I tell her as politely as I can that I don’t plan to ever change it. What she doesn’t know is that taking the name of another person would be like erasing myself.
I check in for a doctor’s appointment and tell my name to the woman at the front desk. She looks up and exclaims, “Now THAT is a name!”
More often, receptionists at my doctor’s office will ask me if I’m the daughter of Dr. de la Cruz and Dr. Gunderson. I like the way that my name reveals their relationship to those who don’t already know.
I am a sophomore in college when I get an email from the registrar’s office informing me that my name is not Rebecca Delacruz-Gunderson. I’m amused and confused and write back affirming that that indeed is my name, as shown on all of my forms of identification. They then tell me that my Social Security on file says that my name is Rebecca Delacruz Gunderson, sans hyphen. It turns out that my name on my birth certificate has Delacruz as my middle name and Gunderson as my last name. My parents think that they simply must’ve not thought to put both names in the “Last Name” spot at the hospital after I was born.
How do I not even know my own name? How do I have a driver’s license and passport with a name that is not legal?
Soon after, I pay 200-something dollars and go to a county courthouse to officially change my name. I stand and raise my hand before a judge, and she rules that it is okay for a hyphen to be slipped between the “z” and the “G.”
Whenever I feel sad that I don’t know Tagalog and grew up so American, so distant from Filipino culture, I am deeply glad that I at least have my mother’s name. Even though it’s squished together as Delacruz rather than de la Cruz, I am grateful that it is part of me. Ofthecross–SonofGunder. My name is a crossroads of identity.
As I’ve come to recognize the vast violence of binaries in our society, I am all the more proud of my name and my parents’ fierce feminism, their equal gifts to me. My name is not a choice between the paternal and the maternal, but a combination of both.
Yet I am acutely aware that a hyphen is unsustainable: a solution only for a single generation. What will I name my children?
3) Please fill in the required fields
My name is a bond, a bridge, a stitch, a link, a migration, a marriage, a mixing, it is myself, and yes it is important to me to have the hyphen, no it’s not the same if my mother and father’s names are cleaved by a space, so respectfully I would like to submit a request to change the wording of your error message because maybe the requirements for this answer box are invalid, not my Name.
My race is an inheritance, a gift, an ability to shapeshift and slip into spaces that others cannot, it’s a surprise, it’s the start of a conversation and the end of an assumption, a tribute to my mother and father, a power that comes from being not one or the other but both, so respectfully I would like to submit a request to change the restrictions for this answer field because maybe societal categorizations of race are in error, not Me.
Rebecca Delacruz-Gunderson is a mixed Filipina & White Washingtonian. Since graduating from Williams College in 2018, she has served as Field Director for State Senator T’wina Nobles’ campaign, worked at The Bush School, lived in Singapore, and taught essay writing classes. She aspires to be a high school English teacher and is excited to begin her Masters in English at the University of British Columbia this fall.