Blog16 Jun 2020 11:53 pm
Things have been getting heated all across the United States. On top of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much racial tension everywhere. It is frustrating when leadership fails to address obvious problems. Every time there is a racial incident, the issue gets put on the backburner. This time it will not quietly go away because it has hit a nerve with so many more people with the #BlackLivesMatter social media hashtag. I support the reason for the hashtag because racial issues have been pushed aside for so long. Sadly, my personal experiences with race started way back in elementary school. Nothing emotionally damaging, but to this day it still sticks with me. I was always one of the smallest kids in the class, so I didn’t want to bring more attention to myself then I needed. In first grade, you get to bring lunch with you to school for the first time. My mom packed my lunch: a thermos with rice/meat, a spoon and fork, fruit, and probably some cookies. I remember grabbing my StarWars lunchbox and sitting with the other kids at lunch with their pb&j sandwiches and bags of chips. I remember I got a lot of weird looks from my classmates. I don’t remember if anyone laughed or said anything, but as a shy little Filipino kid I didn’t want to stick out anymore than I already did. That afternoon, when my mom picked me up, I immediately requested a sandwich and chips for lunch. I also remember that whenever I had friends over we would eat spaghetti or pizza. This changed as my diet got more diverse, but I was always conscious of what we ate whenever my friends came over. At an early age, I knew I was different so I just wanted to be accepted by everyone. When I got to high school I finally experienced what it meant to be judged differently because of my race.

I haven’t talked about this since it happened, but the experience has stuck with me ever since it occurred. It was my first real experience as an ethnic minority. Let me paint the situation, there was a lot of tension between my high school and another local high school. I think one of my classmates got jumped by students from the another local high school, so tensions were high. We had a dance at our school the week the tensions were escalating, so the police were called to our high school to manage any potential situations. I arrived at the dance with my high school girlfriend in my varsity jacket adorned with wrestling and track medals. When I parked my car and walked towards the dance. We were then approached by two police officers with huge maglight flashlights . I was told to stop and immediately return to my vehicle. I had the light shined in my face and started getting showered with questions. This was the first time I had ever spoken to a police officer on duty. I was a new driver so I was already nervous. “What’s your name?” “Do you go to school here?” “Is this your car?” “Where were you before coming here?” “Who were you with before coming here?” While this was going on, all of my friends were arriving and calmly strolling into the gym, wondering what was going on. I remember being alone with the officers thinking, “This is embarrassing, I’m just trying to go to this dance.” My dad recently got the car and hadn’t added my name to the registration, so when they ran the records, my name didn’t show up. The officers radioed the station to contact my parents at home even though we had the same last name to verify we were related! I was shocked that I was being singled out. It seemed matter of fact, but the way they were questioning me was extremely forceful. How come none of the other students were being interrogated? Why was so much time being spent on me? I was the only student that was stopped and interrogated the whole night. I had never felt so different. I was a straight “A” student, champion athlete, and student leader, BUT I was the ONLY ONE that got interrogated the whole night! None of that mattered to the officers. To them I was a trouble maker. I realized that the only thing the police saw was the color of my skin, they could have cared less about everything else. Other classmates would get drunk or high in the parking lot before dances, but I always played by the book. I never got in trouble and in elementary school I was mocked for being a “goodie-goodie.” For the first time in my life, I felt like I was different and I was being judged for it. Until then, I knew I was different but it was never held against me. No guns were drawn and there were no acts of violence, but I definitely felt singled out. I couldn’t enjoy myself the rest of the night. That event made me realize that I was truly different. No matter what I accomplished, I was always going to be the non-white kid trying to fit in. First impressions are affected by preconceived notions. The color of your skin is one of the first things people notice when meeting new people. Being exposed to people and cultures that are different than your own at a young age can help, but ultimately it will come down to personal interactions. I’ve noticed that there is little interaction between different communities. Why is that?

First impressions are instinctive. I get that. Whenever I travel to different countries, I get A LOT of stares and curious looks because I use a wheelchair/scooter or crutches to get around. There are times when I wish people would stop staring and just talk to me. First impressions generally stick until they are disproven. Again, I am faced with preconceived notions, not only as a person of color, but also as a person with a visible physical disability. I’m viewed as either “someone who deserves your pity” or an “inspirational hero who can do no wrong”. It is human nature to develop personal opinions, but I’m unsure how to address this issue of preconceived notions. I think that perhaps early exposure/meaningful face to face interaction could make things easier. This is why I like interacting with students and kids. They are not yet set in their ways. They can be taught. It will be up to the youngest generations to change these preconceived notions. These are some historic times, so it will be interesting to see how race relations play out. They cannot be ignored any longer.

As a Filipino-American and Asian Pacific Islander American, I understand why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so important and fully support it! While my negative experiences with the police pale in comparison to other people, the #BlackLivesMatter experiences need to be recognized. I’m glad they are being shared. Under represented populations need to show support for each other. The next step is rectifying the occurrences. Personally, I would like to see more positive interactions between different communities. Perhaps law enforcement academies need to do more community outreach. Or perhaps update their curriculum. Food and sporting events are the only things I can think of that have the potential to bring people of color and law enforcement officials together. Suggestions?