I’m Shayne Nuesca. I’m a Filipino-American born in the Philippines and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. Yes, you read that right -- Alaska. My dad’s family has been in the states for a few generations now. They first settled in central California and kept moving north, to San Francisco, and eventually to Alaska for job opportunities.
I speak mostly English; it’s what I’m most comfortable with and have the highest fluency in. I don’t remember a time I didn’t speak English. I also understand Tagalog and Ilocano, which are two completely unintelligible Filipino languages. I think speaking any Filipino language can be tricky because you have to be precise in your pronunciation, and I think that makes it a little more arbitrary. If you add emphasis to the wrong vowel, you pretty much change the word’s entire meaning.
There isn’t a language barrier at all within my family. Everyone can speak English, and a lot of us can communicate in more than one language. In my mom’s family alone, you’ll hear English, Tagalog, Ilocano and Mandarin.
I can also read and write Chinese, and I think it’s a lot simpler than what it’s made out to be. I learned Chinese on my own so that I could communicate with family on my mom’s side, who are Chinese-Malaysian-Filipino.
I feel like it’s difficult to generalize experiences for any group of people because we’re all individuals and we all interpret our life experiences differently from the next person. I do know that there is that stereotype that Southeast Asians or Southeast Asian-Americans are the “lower-class” Asians. I know that people may not necessarily like to bring that up and would much rather say otherwise, or that the Asian American experience is inclusive of all Asians in America, but let’s be real – it’s not.
The “Model Minority Myth” in and of itself doesn’t – for the most part – really include Southeast Asian-Americans. A lot of the time, Southeast Asians aren’t who people think of when they talk about that myth. On top of that, being Filipino is already a complicated cultural identity that comes with its own stereotypes. Honestly, there was even a time that I didn’t feel Asian enough to say, “I'm Asian!” because other Asian-Americans made me feel less worthy of having the same identity. It’s actually crazy to think about it.
To be honest, the most Filipino part of my identity didn’t come from my parents. We didn’t grow up going to Filipino-American functions. We didn’t hang out with a lot of other Filipino families, even though I did grow up in a predominantly Filipino neighborhood.
I had to find what being Filipino American means on my own. Growing up, I looked for public figures I could identify with and books that I could read. In recent years, I’ve been trying to search for my own family history.
I was born in the Philippines and spent about six years of my life there, so I did have a sense of what being Filipino means. However, I ended up spending more than half of my life in the U.S. Whatever being Filipino meant to me then, as a child, sort of diminished into more trivial aspects of life like food, mannerisms, general values every Filipino has. Growing up, I didn’t have an individualized sense of what being Filipino actually was.
My dad’s family has been in the United States since the early 1930s. During World War II, my great-grandfather joined the United States Navy in hopes of becoming a citizen. That side of my family’s history is so deeply rooted and intertwined with American history, and I think that’s why I am so interested in Filipino American history. My great-grandfather was actually lost in a mission and, to this day, we don’t know what exactly happened to him. He was never found. I think that story alone influenced the way my dad raised us to be as American as we could possibly be, because his grandfather came to this country, fought for it, and made it his home.
My mom is the first person in her immediate family to ever even step foot in America, so she has a totally different perspective than my dad. I think for a while, she tried to keep us centered on where we came from - not necessarily where we came from culturally but rather more about how that part of our lives played a role in where we ended up.
Honestly, I’m a little tired of hearing about Asian representation in the media mostly because I can’t believe it still isn’t happening for us fairly, with a narrative that’s all inclusive. To be even more frank, I’ve often felt like the term “Asian American” is actually referring to East Asian Americans. I might be wrong and please correct me if I am, but most of the stories I’ve read from this narrative talk about East Asians. If we’re going to talk about Asian American representation, let’s talk about all of us.
I mean, even when we go back to the first Asian actress I ever saw, Thuy Trang who played Trini Kwan a.k.a. Yellow Ranger, we see a Southeast Asian playing a different kind of Asian. I feel like that says something about our community and how we’ve, in a sense, systemically put ourselves in different categories – who’s more worthy of being represented versus who isn’t. I think that conversation needs to happen, and maybe then we can dive head first into the larger narrative.