The Clips and Trips blog was put together in preparation for our leaving the U.S. on an indefinite world travel adventure which started around August of 2009 and returned us home in December of 2012. If you want to see where it all began, read our mission statement from before we left.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I'm an American

Here we are in Indonesia, and again I find myself confronted with the question of my racial identity. At least it's not like in Thailand, where most people assumed I was Eric's rented girlfriend. Here, people just want to know where I'm from.

I experiment with different answers, as we've been traveling. In Bangkok, I always responded with I'm from Los Angeles, or I'm from San Francisco. Usually, I'd get some confused looks. Sometimes, I'd let them stay confused, or other times, I'd follow it up with, "I was born in America. My family is from the Philippines." That usually seemed to satisy the asker. But, really all I think they heard from that was, oh, you're from the Philippines.

I also started experimenting with the phrase, "I'm an American born filipino." But, I find myself mixing the phrase up and saying, "I'm a filipino born american."

I've decided to simply say, "I'm an American." On the beach yesterday, three Indonesian ladies trying to push massages and sarongs on Eric and I laughed at that response.
"You Japanese? You look Japanese"
Again, I responded, "No, I was born in America."
" look Korean. You Korean?"
"No, I'm an American."
"Hong Kong?"
They point to Eric and say, "He from America.You look Indonesian"
"I was born in America. I live in America."
"Your mom? She lives in America?"
"Your dad? He lives in America?"
"Yes. Many Asian people live in America."
"Oh...You buy my sarong? Very cheap."

So, my new response, is, "I'm an American." I wait for the confused look and for them to look at Eric and then I respond, with, "There are many Asians that live in America."

Honestly, I really don't know why I care so much. It's not like I'm a flag waving American. I don't know why I feel the need to explain my racial identity so clearly. I should just respond with, "I'm Filipino" because that's what most people are looking for. I don't know why I've taken it upon myself to challenge people about the notion of race as a marker of identity and that even though ethnically I'm Filipino, that I'm an American too.

The funny thing is in the Philippines, the locals there have the same responses to me. They don't even claim me as their own. And in the states, it's important to hyphenate your racial identity: Filipino-American. In Europe, I got lumped in with the rest of the Americans and was an American. Interested Euros, politely ask about my family background.

I guess I'm a little bit of a novelty. I obviously am Asian, and I speak English fluently. But, there does always seem to be a "Guess my ancestry" game that people do with Asians. I admit play the same game too.


  1. Thanks for letting us in on you experience, Pam. Before I went to Thailand and Bali, a friend told me that people are in general very inquisative and would want to know everything about us: marital status, how many kids, job, nationality, where we were staying in town, etc. This tip helped as people were really persistant if I gave a vague answer so I learned to be very precise and quick, especially if I wanted to get on my way. The guy Annie and I traveled with, Ed, is African-American and around 6'6" and has lived outside the states a lot. Though he has been a friend for many years, we learned something new about him everyday: he is from Kenya, Barbados, Brazil, is a king in Ghana, not Michael Jordan (though often he is Michael's brother) etc. If he says from New York, which is where he is from, they don't believe him. His consistent story is that he has several wives and many, many children and he has to feed them so he cannot buy sarongs, though they are the most beautiful he has ever seen. He spends a lot of time choppin' it up, enjoying people. This is not say there weren't uncomfortable moments and lots of stares some places. I quess we try to mix the out-in-the world times with comfort zones. -Linda

    Hey, Pam and Erik: Annie here...yes, and the other wonderful thing is that one place where we stayed near the beach , near Legian, the women who worked there put huge flower arrangements, offerings, outside Ed's door, because they thought he was a god! At least, that's the story Ed and I used to crack up laughing about. But the people are all very friendly, kind, but, you do have to be able to politely say "no" or "tidak" no, thank you...alot. I didnt' have the same ability to be as charming as Ed. I had a hard time saying no, so, I don't know how many sarongs I bought there. All very beautiful.

  2. I love your responses! It is weird that one must define their origin/nationality because they don't "fit" the image projected when saying American. I'd mix it up and tell people different things like your friends commented above...I mean, why not? You may as well have a laugh when people ask you where you're from.

    p.s. love the pictures and I'm so glad you guys are "splurging"...hehe