Before I go on with this story, I must remind you that I’m Filipino, which means that I’m brown, and that almost automatically means that we roll deep. In my case, it’s definitely true. On my dad’s side alone, my grandparents had 13 kids. I have almost 40 first cousins. The generation that Riley’s a part of is currently about 60-something strong. And we’re pretty damn tight knit, meaning that on any given day people will drop by each others’ houses just to chat or argue about something petty or share a meal. We’re all up in each others’ business and family politics is not unlike what you’d imagine the Mafia to be. Minus (I think) the murder – although there were a couple of strange deaths…
Thing is, my brother and I were born and raised in New York, and we’re out of the loop and kind of exempt from all of the bonding/hand-holding/all-up-in-our-beezwaxness. People hardly stop by our place even though four of my father’s sisters live within a ten-minute walking distance, and when they do it’s usually either to do us a favor or to ask us for a favor.
We’re considered well-to-do because we were born States-side and our parents make dollars, and that makes for a strange dynamic. Take, for example, my cousin, Faye. She’s lied to me about money even though we’ve never had any conversation that’s had to do with money. Out of nowhere, she’ll say something about how she and her family make enough to afford a really nice house in a really nice gated community, and even though (or maybe because?) I know it’s all just stories to make herself feel better, I smile and nod and give her the old “Right?! It’s.so.hard.being.rich. laugh” even though I’m far from affluent. Because let’s be real. What else is there for me to do if I don’t want to be a bitch?
I’ve spent the greater portion of my life being a bitch. I say exactly what I want to say and I do exactly what I want to do – and both are usually pretty damn bad-ass. But that’s kind of a lie because it uses present tenses and really, I don’t do those things anymore. When I moved here, the culture threw me for a loop, and I realized that I am no longer capable of doing everything by myself if only because I am not fluent in the native language and have no idea how things run around here. It’s a necessity to get people – namely, my family – to like me enough to not drop my ass in my time of need. And that’s when I stopped saying and doing exactly what’s in me.
Rob’s been here a week, and with him I feel my old self returning completely: the bravado, the sassiness, the full-on bitch. I feel her coming, I feel my blood burn, I feel my insides slim and my skin vibrate and my hair buzz and relax all at once, and I wonder if I should stop this transformation from happening. After all, I’m still me underneath all of the tongue-biting and sweet stupidity, right? The me that shines at home, with Rob and Riley – that’s the real me, not the person I portray outside. Right? Right?
I still haven’t decided.
Since Rob’s been here, my breasts have been growing (it could also have something to do with the birth control pills I’ve been taking), and I’ve been vamping up in my pre-baby way. I still feel scared sometimes to walk down the street without Rob, and that fact pisses me off.* But more and more, I’m finding it hard not to turn off this side of me, this show-stopping and obnoxious, proud and loud side of me that screams, “Fuck you if you don’t like me.” This is, after all, a different country with a different culture, and I can’t expect to change those facts just by being me. But does that mean that I should simply not be me?
As I’m grappling with this existential crisis, I’m also thinking about the fact that cousin Faye asked to borrow some money… and I gave it to her. This event bothers me for several reasons:
- Our housekeeper, Joy, asked us for the same amount so that she could buy medicinefor her sick sister, and we refused.
- Faye said she needs money for her nephew, but the kid’s own father was present when I came over to give the money, and he didn’t say a word to me about the incident.
- I’m feeling like I should have just bought the things she says the money’s for instead of giving her the cash.
I can explain those reasons away if need be, but I guess my big problem is this:
- Cousin Faye and her immediate family have a history of never paying anyone back (according to my brother, Mr. Cynic), and I want very much to like them. If they don’t pay me back in a week, as she’s promised, I’m going to feel all kinds of hurt and betrayed, and a bit of a superiority complex might develop. I’m not going to think of cousin Faye as simply blood, but as someone who used that blood to their advantage so that I would give them money. And I really don’t want that.
It’s terrible, I know, to jump to this conclusion and assume that I’ll be let down. But I wonder if it would have been just as terrible if I’d lied, said that we didn’t have any money to lend, and kept my policy of never lending out money to my Philippines-bound family members.
It’s awful, this huge earnings gap. It’s almost as bad as the stereotype that Americans carry into the Philippines as rich, superior personifications of awesomeness. The power dynamic, money changing hands, cultural differences – it all makes me want to step into my shell and view this world as a spectator and not relish it as a participator.
* This requires a post of its own, but basically, I don’t feel safe as a woman in the Philippines.