Growing Up Asian in Missouri

I’ve lived 25 years on this planet, with the majority of them spent in Southeast Missouri. While this should be your typical story of an American boy growing up in classic small-town, U.S.A., I typically have to remind myself that my experience may have been slightly different from most. 

As you can tell from the headline, and adorable pictures, I am not white. I state it that way, because all of my life people have never been sure if I’m Asian, Mexican, Samoan, Eskimo, etc. Yes, I am an Asian man (or Pacific Islander, I still don’t know what to check when filling out legal documents). 

I was born in the Philippines to Filipino parents, named after a Steven Seagal character, and baptized in the Catholic church. I’m Filipino through, and through. Shortly after that, my family made its move to the good ol’ U.S. of A. We made short stops, living in North Dakota, Los Angeles, and Springfield, Missouri for a time. 

Eventually, we landed in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. When we finally settled here - we lived here before moving to Springfield, and then moved back - I was nearly 7 years old. I remember my first time visiting Sacred Heart School. I remember everyone circling around me, excited to have a new kid. Especially one who seemed so “different.” I always assumed they thought I was different because I came from bigger towns like Springfield and Los Angeles. I completely overlooked the fact that my face alone was very different from the predominantly white community. 

Throughout my 18 years here, I’ve had my fare share of being a “victim to racism.” One of the most ridiculous cases being my freshman year in high school. This was my first time in the public school system. I remember being scared, realizing how safe I was in my small class back at Sacred Heart. My first time being in PE was a bit of an awakening for me. We exercised harder than I ever had before. I kept up. I wasn’t lighting quick or as slow as molasses, but no one would have confused me for an athlete. We ran our laps, did our stretches, and waited for Coach Sievers to give us instructions. The only instructions we had received at that point were to sit down and be quiet and wait. Two students failed to do this extremely challenging task, and were rewarded with doing more laps. 

I sat criss-cross-applesauce and watched the two boys do their laps. At one point, one of the boys saw me, and said “this is how we run in America!” I remember feeling embarrassed, as if I had done something wrong. It’s pretty obvious that it has made a lasting mark on my life. This was back in 2005, and I remember incredibly vividly. 

I’ve had similar moments like this throughout my life. People telling me that “this is how we do [fill in the blank] in America,” as if I didn’t know. As if this wasn’t my home. As if I didn’t grow up here. As if I wasn’t an American.

There have been times where my race became in issue with romantic interests. Whether it be from them or their family. 

This hasn’t stopped entirely.

My entire life I’ve felt different. I have felt like a bit of an outsider. I have always felt like I have a little more to prove than my peers. I have never quite “fit in.”

Here’s the thing though; being different has helped me stand out and step up. 

The same way that the kids at Sacred Heart rallied around me when I first came here, my house became the hangout spot my freshman year of high school. I remember my old Sacred Heart classmates telling me that they heard through the grapevine that I had broken out of my shell, and had become quite popular. That was never my intent. I just wanted to love and be loved. So I did.

I look at our country today. I see the challenges that we are currently facing with race relations. At times it can seem like we have made no progress, but we have. Now, I’m not black, hispanic, or from the middle east, so what I went through is probably different from people growing up in those communities. With that being said; I am extremely proud to be from Southeast Missouri. I’ve been welcomed into this community, but I’ve also been allowed to stand out and celebrate our differences. 

The greatest lesson I have learned through all of this, is that I can’t judge an entire group of people by their race, age, politics, where they grew up, or whatever “defining” qualities. Unfortunately, there are some people who will hate me because of the color of my skin. The weird thing is that I don’t entirely blame them. I understand that they were raised to think that way. I understand that I’m different. All of that is completely fine to me. I’m going to continue to be different. I’m going to continue to stand out and step up. I’m going to continue to love others, and hope that others can love me back, not because or in spite of my skin color, but for who I am as a man.

Thank you Poplar Bluff. Thank you Missouri. I love you. God Bless.