¡Hola, APC! Me llamo Marcella Emanuelle, y soy filipina con herencia española y china. A lot of us Filipinas are mixed raced, believe it or not. Yes, we still have pure-bloods.
Finishing homework on the road and studying for finals on the plane was my norm. I’m Manila-based, but I’m everywhere else if I’m not otherwise attending classes. Picking up the semi-nomadic norm, I grew up without attachments. I couldn’t name a favorite city, and I couldn’t name a sole best friend.
Up until I was nine, I grew up traveling back and forth regularly between Cebu and Bangkok whilst attending classes in Manila. We, however, didn’t limit ourselves to those two cities. We spent family trips in other places too.
Amongst the three dominating cities of my childhood, Bangkok influenced me the most. Growing up in a roman catholic dominant city, studying in an exclusive roman catholic school, things were odd to me. I was raised praying to both Buddha and God. That being said, I grew up with two cultures. As a result, I didn’t grow up a very religious kid like the rest of the girls in my school in Manila.
My two childhood cities are known for their bazaar-like markets and remarkable cuisine. Thailand was known for its authentic, native dishes. The same goes for the Philippines and all our seafood, but the recent food industry in the country has boomed in venturing on other cuisines. Filipino chefs excelled in replicating and reinventing other cuisines. Asian fusions are a big thing now.
When I turned ten, we changed routes. The next few months became months worth of to and fros between California and Manila. In the sixth grade, I transferred school from Manila to California. I spent 15 months living in Orange County. I studied in a local public school a little out of my district, where everything was different from the reality I knew. We were a mix of genders, races, and religions in our school, and nobody talked about it. Flag ceremonies weren’t held every morning, let alone every Tuesday. Nobody wore uniforms, and classes were 45 minutes per subject rather than a solid hour. Lunch tables were per class rather than per friend group. Nobody was left out this way. We didn’t pray every start and end of the class as we did in Manila. Diversity was rich.
“Don’t talk to strangers” was something I was constantly told growing up. California changed that for me. “Yes, mom,” I replied each time, but it was inevitable. I was shorter than 5 feet tall, and I constantly needed help to reach my favorite cereal. Strangers were the best help at the grocery, and small talk was the norm. Oh, and I finally got to use my Spanish. I always thought I was wasting my time on it, growing up in a Spanish school.
June of 2014 I returned to Manila, returning to the school I left. My family and friends recognized that I had changed. I didn’t need a nanny to follow me around as I did before California. I used different words, and I sounded different. I didn’t sound like much of a Filipina anymore, save for when I spoke Tagalog. My work ethic wasn’t like those of the girls in my school. Adolescence is when my schoolmates started to develop a sort of clustered persona, and the fact that I never lingered in my school made me different.
Things weren’t comfortable at first. I respected the strong catholic spirituality, but it was uncomfortable when they questioned why I simply stood quietly while everyone prayed. While some were understanding of it, others judged it.
I was mocked for things Thailand and California taught me. I cried about it for a while until I had a sudden realization. Sonder. I didn’t understand why they treated me that way for being different, then I realized that they didn’t understand me either. I cried all the tears I had to cry, then accepted my truth. Like other Filipinas, I wasn’t a pure Filipina by blood, let alone by culture. I accepted the difference in norms, and I embraced diversity as California taught me to. I was different, and I was proud to be who I was. The less I tried to fit in, the more I was accepted as an individual.
In middle school, my class was crazy enough to have a fake awarding ceremony. We had the weirdest awards: math queen, class clown, cram angel, and so on. To my surprise, I wasn’t forgotten. They awarded me, class foreigner, despite the infographics I made for them for every test. I guess being recognized for my cultural character was as funny as it embarrassed me. Still, they welcomed me as that kid, and I have never felt so at home with it despite their fuss about my Californian persona. They enjoyed laughing at my different pronunciation of words like bank, water, and tan. Tan and ten sounded the same to me, much like writer and rider. I learned to accept that this was my identity to the school now, so I let it be.
I was sort of a batch toy until tenth grade. Sophomore year was my favorite. I had a solid group of girls, and I finally served a respectable purpose. Drama was inevitable, but it defined our relationships. I took care of our Japanese exchange student. I knew her host family, and I knew how to work with foreigners. I had a taste of her life when I was a sixth-grader, so I had an idea as to how she felt. I was her ultimate study buddy and her closest friend in our girl gang.
Years passed since my return, and the number of students who left our school increased. Some to the UAE, USA, and so on. Not many new kids came till eleventh grade. One of them came from Qatar, and she sorta had it easier than I did. They welcomed her warmer than they welcomed me. It would’ve been unfair to me if I hadn’t come to terms with myself a few years ago. She was a completely new face from a foreign land, and I was a familiar face who studied with them all of my youth but sixth grade. She was welcomed very warmly, and very quickly. She was probably one of the most Filipina girls in the batch. My schoolmates are now more mature, and rather active in advocating diversity. Activism boomed after middle school for my batch.
I’m almost a quarter into twelfth grade, and I’m just three quarters to the end of senior year: graduation. Everyone has found their place. The past few months have been nothing but girls helping each other with college applications and planning last hangouts before we all split up. A number of us are moving to the USA for college, and a number of us are pursuing other universities across the country parting ways with the girls we spend more than a decade with. Au revoir to the school of beloved mudbloods.
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