Unwarranted Opinions: growing up a mixed child


Morgan Kong

In her weekly column “UnWarranted Opinions,” staff reporter Drew Julao takes on a variety of topics and gives her take.

Drew Adrian Julao, Staff Reporter

Family history is not something that the average person knows much about. Most people don’t even learn about their own ancestors until they spit into a tube and send it off to a lab to see that they are part Irish and German, whereas I constantly asked my family members so that I could grasp at least some form of identity in a world where everyone told me I was foreign.

My biological grandmother on my mom’s side was born of descendants from the Shoshone tribe and a Mexican family, though she was adopted by a kind Chinese and Portuguese couple who happened to be doctors at the hospital that she was born at and lived in America and the Philippines. Meanwhile, my grandfather was from your regular Californian family who descended from Black Irish and German-Jews who ran away from Germany to survive the Holocaust, some of them even had concentration camp numbers on their arms. He met my grandmother in the U.S. Air Force, and they had four children including my mom.

On my fathers side, my great grandfather was the child of a large, rich Chinese family that moved from the mainland to the Philippines for what I’m guessing was business reasons since a lot of people from China had moved there to work and create businesses. He was said to be a stern and unkind man who would shoot you if you even stepped foot on his property. 

There, he met the kindest woman imaginable (at least from stories I’ve heard) and had many children, including my grandfather. They said that each child had at least six maids to dress them and they practically bathed in their riches. They were the Goyma family, a family name that they had created by combining two families’ last names long ago, ‘Go’ and ‘Ima’. Their Filipino surname, which I was never able to learn why they had two, was Julao, my last name. At the time, Mainlanders were not very welcome in the Philippines and so, my family took the Spanish sound of ‘Ju’ (hoo) and added it to our last name ‘Lao’ so that they sounded Filipino since Spain had taken over the Philippines for 300 years, and Filipino names were adapted from Spanish.

My grandmother was born in Okinawa in a small fishing village from an unknown American father who was a soldier stationed there during WWII. She moved to the Philippines by accident with her family because she fell asleep when she was supposed to just see them off and they took her with them. There, she grew up and eventually met my granddad in Vietnam during the war. They said that they went there because they wanted to work and realized that a devastated country would probably have a lot of job offers. She said that a walk in the street was like a cemetery where the people weren’t buried and were just left lying there. Eventually they moved back to the Philippines and had five children including my dad.

My mother grew up in America until she was fourteen when her mother brought her to Hawaii and then the Philippines where she ended up meeting my dad and having my sisters and me. I grew up living in the Philippines, but visiting America and Japan for month-long periods of time because we had family all over the place, and I studied at a private school owned by people in Turkey where we used the British curriculum and had tea time every week which was basically a modern tea party. Needless to say, I grew up with a mix of different cultures. We would celebrate some Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and American holidays. We followed different superstitions and beliefs and it seemed normal to me.

Throughout life in the Philippines, my sisters and I were always known as the ‘American girls’ because we looked lighter skinned and spoke perfect English. Everyone thought that we were foreigners regardless of the fact that we grew up in Filipino culture, practised it and perfectly understood the language. In Japan, since I only knew a little bit of Japanese and looked nothing like them, I was also foreign, and eventually when I moved to America, I felt culture shock at how easy it was to get things here and how different public schools are and many other things. I began to feel a real identity crisis at how different I was because I am a culturally ambiguous person. I was so culturally ambiguous that I didn’t get any citizenship until I was three because no country would claim me! I was a child of no nation, no nationality, all because I was confusing to people. We got that sorted out, but even I wouldn’t know what I identify as.

I grew up with everyone telling me that I was one thing or another because society likes to slap labels on things and people in order to understand them, but I don’t have one because I don’t fit into a mold. I look Mexican/Native American with probably a little bit of White with my dark thick hair and light-brown skin, my older sister looks really Asian with her yellow tinged skin and dead straight hair, and my oldest sister has the whitest skin and darkest hair that you have ever seen, but she looks like a mix of European and Japanese. We don’t have a label because we don’t need to belong to any one culture or race. We are mixed children and we accept it. We don’t want to be called “American” or “Filipino” or “Japanese” or “Chinese” because we don’t wholly follow a culture from any one of our ancestors.

For a long time, all I wanted was to understand what I was and where I’d come from. Who I had come from was what I was grappling with to show me who I was. I learned when I moved here that race doesn’t matter, but culture does. It doesn’t matter what you look like, but knowing who you are in a culture is important and you should accept all of the different things that you are. 

So, I am an American. I am Japanese. I am Filipino. I am everything that my family’s stories tell me. I am the unkind great grandfather and the kind great grandmother. I am the little girl from the fishing village, and I am the man who fought in the Air Force. These people all made me who I am today not the places they came from, but the cultures of the places they came from, so I have learned to just live and carry on the pieces of these many cultures that I was taught to do. Jade will always seem lucky to me, and I will always wear white to a funeral. I will celebrate Christmas at midnight for our Nochebuena, and I will light candles for my dear beloved passed ones on All Souls Day. I will dance traditional fan dances in a kimono when I feel like it, and I won’t ever wear shoes in my home. I will be me and practice what generations of family has done for a long time and even things that my Turkish school taught me. I will be proud of what I am, and I hope that you learn to feel this way as well.