Sunday, May 8, 2011

don't explain your life...

while talking to my sister the other day, she said something i have not been able to get out of my mind.

she pointed out that my dad has never been anything BUT tongan, thus he could not understand what it is like to try and figure out who he is.

a simple statement, but one that really struck me. i tend to think that my life situation is completely original, there is no one out there who understands what it is like to be me. call it left-over teenage angst, call it whatever you like. in one sentence, i realized how similar our childhoods must have been, my sister and i. we both had the same parents, lived basically the same places, but most importantly, we both had to decide who we were. what culture we more identified ourselves with and, most importantly, what that meant for our lives.

i felt a strange bond with my sister right then. beyond the bond of siblings, or best friends. we were suddenly in the fight of our lives, defining who we were and fighting racial struggles together. it was a dramatic moment, but i don't think i could have it any other way.

you see, this is a pretty sensitive subject for me. i spent my childhood knowing that i was tongan. living in hawaii, people always wanted to know exactly what my heritage was. it was a simple answer for me, "i'm tongan." and then they moved on to the hawaiian-portuguese-chinese-scottish-korean-filipino next to me. as i grew up, the answer to the question became more difficult for me. i started adding in the "half" to my response. suddenly, i went from having one culture to only half of a culture.

we moved to utah, and i continued to be half. i didn't feel like i could claim being white or being tongan. both answers felt like a lie to me. so, i avoided the question until high school, when i firmly decided i was not tongan. i was white. my mom was a girl from idaho, and my grandparents had just moved back to my grandpa's farm there. for the first time in my life, i could walk places that my ancestors walked. i could walk through a cemetary in idaho and find graves from my grandma to my grandpa's great grandparents. my grandparents moved into the house my great great grandpa built. there was family history everywhere. my heritage was suddenly accessible to me and i loved it.

i think another reason i decided i was white is that i was tired of people writing off behaviors or opinions of mine to my race. i was not stubborn because i was tongan. i am just a stubborn person. i wanted the world to know my white side so they could see that stubbornness runs in that blood, too. i didn't skip school because i was tongan. i did it because i was a teenager who was bored with the system. i believed racism was wrong not because i felt it as a tongan. but because i felt it as a white child, too white for some of my tongan relatives.

my dad's closest relatives, his sisters, were all half a world away in australia or new zealand. i became disconnected to that part of me, and wanted to prove to the world that i was not who they thought i was. so, i spent a long time refusing to be, or even act, anything but white. as far as i was concerned, i was just another white utah girl from utah. sure, most white people still saw me as the tongan girl, and i am sure some of them judged me by that assumption, or even made judgments on all tongans based on my behaviors. but i did not care. i knew i was white, and nothing they could say would change it.

then, slowly, a change began to happen. i got into contact with some of my first cousins in aussie land after high school. before i knew it, i was on a plane halfway across the world to australia. for the first time in my adult life, i was acting tongan, doing tongan things and around tongan people. for the first time in my life, i was meeting my tongan family. i was among not just relatives, but CLOSE relatives. i started to rethink some things that i had believed so firmly about myself.

i am not really sure when the change completely happened, and i am sure i am not done changing. but, at this moment in my life, i have never been more content with myself.

i know that i am half tongan and half white. i know that to most of the world, this knowledge means a completely different thing than it does for me. but, for me, i'm ok being both. i am ok with the tongans who think i do certain things because i am white. i am ok with the white people who think i do certain things because i am tongan. and i am even ok with all the other halfs out there, who think i do certain things because i am half. i am overwhelmed with grattitude for the people out there who think i do certain things because i am me. who don't need a cause beyond that.

i know who i am, and i don't really need the world's approval for it anymore. maybe more importantly is that i don't want the world's approval anymore.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

the water's always changing

i found this post in my drafts, and decided to post it. i posted a revised version not long after i wrote this, but have decided i like this one a whole lot, so i'm posting it!  (also, the new job i mention at the end is no longer new, and no longer my job. i am now a full time student :)

once upon a time, i worked as a tracker for a junior high. i had two full time jobs, but the tracker job was my favorite. it was usually pretty chill compared to my other job, and i loved being so busy.

one day, though.

that day was horrible. it was just one thing after the other. i was physically tense, and so aggravated. i had to go into the auditorium, so i opened the door, turned on the house lights and just stood there.  all i was aware of was the a/c humming away in the background. the rest of the world faded away, and i could literally feel my tension level drop. it was like pulling the plug in a drain.

well, hours didn't pass. minutes didn't even pass. it was literally moments before i was completely calm. even thinking back on it now calms me down. i was so amazed at the turnaround, but i could not explain it. it wasn't until a few weeks later, when i was stressing out that i realized why that room worked miracles.

i ducked back into that room again and promised myself i'd only stay a few minutes. but then i stayed for a while. i lost track of time, it could have been hours but was probably a few minutes. it was then that i realized how calming white noise is. it cancels out other noises and provides a smooth baseline. hearing the humming of the white noise helps to slow my heart rate and loosens up my entire body.

it truly works miracles for me.

since that day, i've looked for other calming places. at my old job, we had timeout rooms that i loved to be in. you could hear the hum of the fans and be alone. i was recreating that day in the auditorium.

i've realized that water has the same effect. it calms me. listening to it cancels out all of the drama, all of the fuss from real life. i can get lost in my thoughts when i'm around water.

my new job is directly across the street from the provo river. (yes, the rapist river for those of you who are super specific.) i love going to sit there during lunch. it's nice to just sit and stare at the river. it's fascinating to see the things that float by. i am oddly fascinated with trash that floats down the river. whenever i notice it, i follow it down as far as i can see. little pieces of plastic, just bobbing down the river or bottles floating calmly down the river.

i imagine myself as that plastic, just floating down the river, with not a care in the world. only the next bend in the river to worry about. i think a lot of us would like to be that piece of plastic some days.