“I have sacrificed so much for you,” my father yells at me.
His voice rings through my ears like sirens outside our apartment building. It’s my freshman year, I’m having a panic attack over school. It’s a usual school night.
The concept of the American Dream is nothing new to me. It weighs down on my shoulders slowly crushing me like Atlas bearing the world. I can manage, but there are trying times when my knees have collapsed, my arms dropped to my sides.
The American Dream has haunted my family for generations. Since my mother’s parents passed when she was at a young age, she and her brother clung onto my father’s family and a steel-woven web of expectations was born. My father and his brother went to the U.S. with my grandparents in the 80s and instantly fell in love. I can see it in his eyes when he talks about how much he loved America. Past tense, yet he still clings onto those aging values he once held. He speaks of 80s movies and music. Technology. Everything he wanted to be when he first stepped foot in San Francisco in 1985. Everything he wanted me to be.
My mother is no different. Riding the trolleys in a Goodwill imitation of Ming-Na Wen in Joy Luck Club, yet she still pushed the expectations of the group’s mothers on me.
When I was younger, I remember being in preschool and kindergarten trying to teach my friends and teachers Tagalog words I’ve heard. Teachers praised me, but my parents were concerned. My mother wanted me to learn Tagalog, but my father feared I wouldn’t blend in. They stopped teaching me immediately. Later that year I discovered a VHS tape of Mulan and watched it religiously as a kid. I told my parents I wanted to be called Shang and that I wanted to go to the Philippines. They told me they named me “Reilly”, an Irish name, for a reason. I stopped watching Mulan.
When I was in the third grade, I was called to read aloud a passage in Charlotte’s Web. I was stopped mid-sentence, by my teacher who told me I had a Filipino accent and that I needed to learn better English. English was my first language, yet it was apparent I was different. My parents speak three languages and have perfect accents in each. I feared what they would say when my teacher told them I said “da” instead of “the”, or “pume” instead of “fume”.
Until this year I completely shoved my Filipino identity under the rug. Growing up in middle school during the Pinoy Pride movement was rough — being accused of being whitewashed.
I just told them I was American, and the level of self-hate I had expanded to the point of white kids in my class convincing me to join “The Asian Elimination Association”. That’s right, me, a darker-skinned Asian-American, joining an anti-Asian club at school. Those years had me isolating myself from other Filipinos and lightening my skin with DIY lemon scrubs and whatever a twelve-year-old could get their hands on.
The night before my first day of senior year, my parents gave me a two-hour lecture about their expectations. All of my flaws spewing from their mouths at the dinner table. That I had stopped playing the piano. That I’m trans and I dress differently. That I’m someone I’m not. That my grades dropped. That I’ve changed. That I’m going into film and not accounting. That they don’t recognize me. I didn’t even get a chance to explain myself as I was berated and frankly it felt like we were talking through a barrier. I noticed that they weren’t looking me in the eye. It made sense — I know they don’t see me. After seeing Joy Luck Club, I understood. They see me but they don’t see me.
I’m a ghost in my own “home”.