Insights of a Filipino-Panamanian working in religious small town America.
The double insult of colonization from my experience in just one week of work.
I can’t speak for everyone, I only speak for myself and my point of view.
As I went to work, I centered myself for the upcoming chaos of being the new local high school secretary. Many things to learn and handle at once, with minimal training and a large dose of survival tactics.
I open the doors, make the coffee and enjoy the quiet ritual of gently waking our building up so that it may have a welcoming atmosphere.
One by one the teachers arrive and we have genuinely pleasant banter of our evening and the plans for the day.
Then the buses arrive. The students with their chatter and questions.
I love these moments.
As my day progressed I was speaking in Spanish to a student. She was concerned that her lack of being able to speak to anyone in Spanish was making her forget her words. Then a staff member walks in and interjects. “Isn’t it wonderful that our local school has provided you with someone to speak in Spanish to?” The student and I lock eyes and flinch. The staff member goes on, “ I’m sure you are very grateful for this opportunity. How does it make you feel to be able to speak in Spanish here in our little town?”
By then she and I are in a full side conversation just using out eyebrows and pointing with our noses. The student stops and puts her hand to her jaw and searches for the word she wants to share with the staff member. She voices without a doubt, “Awkward “
I knew she was talking about the situation and was not answering the questions being asked. The staff member told her she should not feel awkward about her English skills. I shook my head because this situation was way to big to handle and the phones were ringing.
I dismissed the student and told her not to pay any mind to what had just happened. She was welcome to come back and we’d talk about this situation later.
The student returned and was asking me a question—it was a silly one about her day and we giggled. As we did, another staff member walked in and slammed her hand on the counter repeatedly and yelled, “Speak English!! We live in America!”
The student and I were not pleased. I really wanted to ask her, “Why does it matter if I speak in another colonizers language?” I held my tongue. I apologized to the student on behalf of the staff member’s ignorance and she went back to class. Turning to the staff member who sat there with a huge grin as she celebrated her dominance and superiority, I said to her, “ I spoke to her in Spanish in a private conversation. Her shirt was not buttoned correctly and she would have been embarrassed if I had pointed it out in front of everyone in English.”
I felt weak, small and frustrated. How does one combat ignorance? My whole life has been confusing. Brown skin, white mind. I am a square peg trying to fit into a circular hole. I work twice as hard to get half as far as my Anglo coworkers. I try to convince myself that it’s just my work ethic. This is a whole other subject. The serviceable brown lady stereotype. Ugh.
I continue to navigate through life and find my footing, my voice and my strength. As I shed the colonization mindset that I was cloaked in as a child, I’m working on being kind and patient. It’s hard. I’m tired of making excuses for white privileged people and excuses for being me. This is going to be an interesting journey.