What Wake Forest taught me about my minority status as Filipino-American

I am the last person I ever thought would join a sorority

If there is one part of me I am the proudest of, it is my heritage. I was raised in a beautiful tapestry of life from my immigrant parents to my Filipino-American friends with Chinese and European blood. My friends ranged from the darkest colors of this tapestry to the lightest ones.

The one common thread that bound us all was our shared love of our heritage. The Filipino culture embraces the best of humanity: faith, family, a strong sense of self. I got the best of both worlds with the opportunity that arose from my parents’ footsteps on American soul but our deep roots to a faraway yet familiar place.

My high school was just as diverse as the tapestry I was born into. Surrounded by fellow first-generation families, I never questioned such things as “diversity,” or “cultural identity,” since I was immune to it. I always assumed the world was as familiar with it as we were.

This was why I was initially worried about attending Wake Forest. I had heard all of the stereotypes before about the “lack of minorities,” “preppy, white, upper-middle class majority” and the undeniable dominance of Greek life. When I told a family friend about my choice of university, he even asked: “Why would you want to go to school in North Carolina?”

That one statement contained all the racial divides and negative stereotypes reinforced with a primarily conservative, Caucasian university in the South. Still, I was optimistic about my prospects. I was proud to attend Wake Forest and quite honestly, I didn’t mind standing out. When people asked me about my background, it always started pleasant conversation because I am so proud of my roots.

filipino photo

What happened after that was a mixed bag of results. However, I would never regret my decision to ever come to Wake Forest, as it helped mold me into a more compassionate, intelligent and yes, tolerant human being. There are a few key things I’ve identified since coming to Wake Forest.

For any Filipino-Americans about to experience universities in primarily Caucasian environments away from home, you will miss your culture, especially if you grew up around it. Whether we admit it or not, our way of life is unique: While I missed my mother’s chicken adobo and sinigang, the things I missed the most was our sense of community.

I literally know two other Filipinos at WFU. Sometimes, the social life is stifling and I miss deep conversations, Manny Pacquiao boxing gatherings and karaoke competitions. Amid all the social pressures of my freshman year from trying to find a friend group to joining a sorority, I never knew how much my sense of self was tied to who my parents surrounded themselves with.

For anyone going through these similar withdrawals, I suggest finding similar people or even families or acquaintances in the Winston-Salem area who identify with your culture or background. I found an amazing Filipino family in Winston-Salem that I hang out with on occasion when I need a break. It’s possible!

I also recommend not closing yourself off to new experiences. When I first stepped onto campus, I admit to harboring negative stereotypes about the “conventional Wake Forest student.” I never identified myself as a “preppy, Lily Pulitzer, monogram-loving sorority girl.” I never grew up abiding by any stereotypes. In fact, I am the last person I ever thought would join a sorority.

However, after joining a sorority and getting to know some of these people I negatively brushed aside, I met some of the kindest, most open-minded, loving and intelligent people. They made me better and they were nothing less of accepting of what I looked like or where I come from.

No one (minorities or non-minorities) should ever solely surround themselves with similarly-minded people. While everyone should find the community they are most comfortable with, part of becoming the multi-dimensional, perceptive person we hope to be some day is opening ourselves to others and breaking down the negativity we might reinforce against others. By doing this, we break barriers and we come to tolerate, and hopefully love each other from our mutual understanding and respect of each other’s backgrounds.

With one of my beloved sorority sisters!

With one of my beloved sorority sisters!

Still, some changes are needed. There have been rare instances where I have felt ashamed or questioned where I came from or how I looked, but this does not exclude some of the shameful incidents against people of minority statuses whether that be religion, sexual orientation or race.

Whether it was the urine incident against the Muslim chaplain, the defacing of the LGBTQ center sign or some racially offensive Yik Yaks posted about a fraternity party, Wake Forest, like the rest of the world is not immune to prejudices.

Just a few days ago, I saw this Yik Yak having to due with an oriental woman.

mulan image

This isn’t a funny image to me. To me, it’s tokenizing an Asian woman.

I’ve received some sexually-charged jokes about my background before. All women are fetishized, but especially Asians. We are consistently dubbed as “dragon ladies,” “forbidden fruit,” or “delicate lotus blossoms.”

Truth is, my and so many other minority females’ identities and sexuality lies in more than just our cultural identity. Like all people, we are enigmas, a myriad of so many different qualities that make us beautifully flawed and complex humans.

Wake Forest is making strides. I’ve seen it in my four years here. However, more change needs to be done. Let’s get right to it.

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