I am an almost model minority. And this is my story.
I am an occasional writer, accidental rapper, comedian by birth, activist at heart, an axiomatic pessimist (or pragmatist depending on how optimistic you are) and educator by nature.
My family last names could be Pampangan or Irish for “Jack of all Trades-Master of None.” Depending on the day, it could be Tagalog or Scottish for “MacGyver” because we are a people who can jerry rig almost anything given enough binder clips and rubber bands. But that’s another post.
High performer in school- yet constantly running my mouth. Stormed into the office to demand someone do something about the horrible sub in our Spanish class, but got sent to the counselors office (often) for almost getting into fist fights with one of my life long best friends (a dude) and bickering for the first half of our 90 minute block period.
I graduated with high honors, got into all 6 schools I applied to for college, but often had to take my finals in isolated settings because I was too distracted/distracting. Maybe I just have undiagnosed ADHD.
I am an almost model minority.
The house my parents live in in San Francisco- the top flat of a two story victorian building, owned by my grandparents, becoming more and more dilapidated by the day- sits on the border of two neighborhoods. Two blocks to the right live upper middle class Applers, Googlers and Facebookers who own Audis and get charter bussed down to Palo Alto every day. The neighborhood that used to be called Upper Noe Valley (too hood to be associated with Noe Valley) has been rebranded by non-natives as Stroller Valley, Fairmount Heights and Pierre Valley (‘who the fuck is Pierre?’ asks my father). Aside from the techies, interracial couples- Asian Wife, White Husband or ‘Yoko Johns’ as comedian Rex Navarette calls them- push their blond haired blue-eyed babies with Asian eyes in doublewides. Those without children have four-legged dependents- after all, this is San Francisco where we passed a law to be known as pet guardians, not owners.
Two blocks to the left of my parents place however- we’re in the Mission. Not completely overrun by hipsters- but certainly not free of them. A few empty properties just 2 blocks away that I’m convinced are meth labs (Thank you Breaking Bad for this unreasonable paranoia) that even several grown men I know run past at night- they do not play. The Safeway around the corner from that house has been the site of MANY a shooting in my life- never gets on the news because 30th street is a no mans land – not quite the Mission or hip Bernal Heights.
No man’s lands on the periphery are places of privilege.
But, I’m not silver spoon privileged. I’m 3rd generation Mexican-Irish/Filipino-Cape Verdian/San Franciscan on my mother’s side, and 1.5 generation Filipino American on my father’s side- privileged. Cape Verdian great grandma raised three kids through the great depression on her own. Dad’s dad walked the Bataan Death march in World War II, and then moved to California and picked crops along side members of the United Farm Workers/Cesar Chavez’ crew. That’s the shit movies are made of.
But our story is not just a ‘survival story.’
Yes, my parents scrapped together sometimes. We wouldn’t have been able to afford living in SF had my grandparents not inherited the building from my grandpa’s Mexican mother.
It could get hot on our block- I’ve lived on periphery of all that bad shit kids could get into. On the border of that shit that separates the neighbor and hood. I experienced the kind of trauma you’d find in an after school special but also lived in close proximity to shit that got deeper. Like any city kid, I’ve lost friends to all kinds of ignorance. I’m lucky I’ve never been on the front line and that a handful of protections that kept me from being there.
I’m an almost model minority.
Almost, because none of these things disappear. I may wear button downs and pencil skirts from J. Crew (80% of which were purchased on super sale mind you- a Pinay girl does not forget the value of a good sale) but it’s not all gone. I never banged, or got into turf set drama, but I feel weird hanging out on any street lower than 21st, that’s Scrap territory after all. Though I had nothing to do with Norteños- living on this periphery means something, hella years later. It’s like residual Catholicism despite being a recovering Catholic and saying a prayer to St. Anthony when I lose something. At 30 I still find myself thinking- though it’s not like I really find myself in a position to do so- “I do not fuck with Scraps.”
Gang-related- sort of- several times removed. Straight A student who did a lot of clown shit. Fought for causes but rode broken tricycles we found on the street down the hall at lunch senior year. Became a spokesperson for random protests on my college campus, thought I could change the world with my writing and whack I mean rap skills. Always have jokes for days. Smoked plenty of ganga, but didn’t start drinking until 4 or 5 months before I turned 21. The one time I did a man made drug- a study one at that - a girl came to my room looking for a dude I used to mess with and introduced herself saying her name was a food item. Like literally, “Hello my name is Apple” or “Tell him Candy was looking for him” shit. I was convinced I’d taken something much harder, because when I left that poor boy a message he later told me he had no idea who I was talking about. I thought “Oh shit, I just seen a ghost.” Turns out he only knew her by her government name. That ‘almost model minority shit’ does not put one above warning labels and doing drugs that aren’t prescribed to us Nik. You’d think that San Francisco upbringing and Asian fear of failure would have taught me better.
My mom was not a tiger mom. Nor were my parents helicopter parents. I was privileged however in that I had parents who advocated for me. When they couldn’t, I lived vicariously through the work of all the white parents and upwardly mobile former activists now successful members of the brown community moms & dads who advocated for my peers. Even though I had communities who supported me- and the gang of classmates I was in school with from K to 12- there was room for error, if I so chose. I didn’t have to though.
By origin, I fit the Model Minority and Non-Model minority archetypes- shit Filipinos do not a top rank in the Asian/Pacific Islander world receive. But I ain’t a nurse. I do not play piano. I’m a product of bilingual education- not as an English language learner, but as a native English speaker learning Spanish. My grammar and spelling be jacked sometimes. Unless I’m using slang, in which case it’s intentional… son… hella. I bombed the SATs. Back when they were only out of a 1600. I don’t even think I broke 1200. As an ex once noted: I’m an Ethnic, the test wasn’t set up for me to succeed (how thoughtful of him right?). But I had the extra curriculars. The personality. The 12 thousand racial lineages and was the San Francisco girl looking at East Coast Schools. HELLO AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, so nice to meet you since you left the University of California system, where I got in for being in the top 5 percent in my class (of 80). Luck.
True blue San Franciscan, I bleed black and orange, and if you cut me my guts are red and gold. I ride or die for the SF Giants, and I have the most dysfunctional relationship with the SF 49ers. Also- um…Warriors in the post season?! 3 post seasons in a row for our teams could lead to an aneurism for me this year. We’re damned lucky.
But we need to stop seeing it like that. I need to stop seeing it like that. During the 2013 Superbowl, completely SHOCKED that these dudes were able to get this far, I kept yelling, “Play like you’re more than just lucky to be here.” Sending Kaepernick all the mixed kid magic I could muster, ‘more than just luck’ became a refrain. People of color are always told we ‘should feel so lucky’- but our work can’t go unnoticed. We earned this shit, and we need to act like it. Good reminder not just the 49ers, or the Giants, or the Warriors but for myself.
A brown girl who’s first generation American- product of public education- and went to one of the 7 sisters on scholarship- I am more than just lucky to be here. I’ve worked to get here. My parents, grandparents, and great grandparents worked to get me here. My community worked to get me here. I’m lucky I never got jumped into a gang. Lucky I never got jacked for my Jordan’s and damned lucky I didn’t let starting college the week of September 11th- in upstate NY no less- ruin me. But progress didn’t come without work.
I’m lucky having AIDS education engrained in me since early elementary school, and a general fear of STDs/ boys depending on what age we’re talking about- kept me from being a young mom. Luck was what got me the resources to know better – working at being informed and independent is what helped me make smart choices (or instill fear, whichever you like).
I was too smart to fail, too committed to being ‘right’ or knowing everything to not study. Felt I owed something to those who worked to get me here. Maybe it’s that Asian Guilt, or maybe even that Catholic guilt for not attending church at least on Christmas. “It takes a village. We were raised by a tribe. Don’t shame your people.” All that good stuff.
I’m an almost model minority.
Growing up in the periphery has meant not only negotiating racial borderlands ala- Anzaldua, but also making decisions- conscious and otherwise, about which side of this line to be on.
The periphery is a safe place. A place to hide. Full of protections, but also uncertainty. A place where tribes feel divided. Where door knocker earrings aren’t retired but saved for ‘going out’. Where pencil skirts out number minis. Peripheries are spaces where a class clown can get straight A’s. Peripheries are where people who have non-profit hearts, but low-level government jobs can thrive. A borderland where multiple borders collide. Some days it feels suffocating. Other’s liberating. The choice to decide which day it will be, can at times be the only comforting part of occupying such a space. Having the choice at all, and knowing it’s not just luck that propels me to the side that is most to my advantage, is the the real privilege.
I’m an almost model minority, and that is my story.