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The Family Secret

by Darien Siguenza

[My dad, top right, my mom, pink sweater. His brother (white tee), cousins, and their girlfriends.]

I never thought about “what I was” until my second grade teacher asked us to write a paper about where we were from. I remember making something up, because I didn’t identify as anything. During middle school, I became more curious about my background and started asking my parents questions. Just for context, my parents were not together, but they had joint custody of me. My dad adamantly told me that I was Hawaiian and Guamanian, but being the curious child I was, I still poked and prodded for more. I remember asking my dad once, “Where was your dad from?”. He told me Hawai’i, and ended the conversation there. I sensed that my dad was irritated when I asked him, so I went to my mom for more information. My mom told me the truth. She said that my biological grandfather was Black. I remember feeling that it was so cool to learn more about where I came from, and feeling really proud to know that I was Black.

I never asked my dad about his father again, but I needed to know more. When I got into my early twenties, I started asking my family questions. I asked his sister what she knew.

“Your grandpa’s name is Walter Williams, but he went by Woogie. He was from New Orleans. Your grandma was friends with him when they were younger. They went to a party, and ended up sleeping together. She then got pregnant with your dad. Woogie is mentally ill. You wouldn’t be able to find him if you tried. We don’t have any pictures of him. His sister lives here in Seattle, but she’s a pretty dangerous drug dealer so don’t go looking for her”.

I was frustrated and skeptical. I knew there was more to the story. I wanted to see what he looked like. I wanted to know about him and this part of my bloodline that I never had access to, so I asked my great auntie what she knew.

“Your grandmother was friends with Woogie when she was sixteen. She slept with him and got pregnant. When your dad was born, Woogie and his father came to the hospital to see him. My dad, your great grandpa, turned them away. He didn’t really like Black people. He didn’t want them around our family. When your dad got a little older he wanted to meet Walter. He contacted him, they met, and your dad was disappointed. He didn’t show the enthusiasm your dad was expecting. I think that hurt him”.

I shared these stories with my mom, and she had heard similar stories with different details. I couldn’t help but feel that my dad's family was painting a bad picture of him because he was Black.

My grandma always told me that I'm Hawaiian. When I talked to her siblings, they told me that I am Filipino and Japanese, as that is where my great grandma was from. When I asked my grandma if I was Filipino, she said no. No matter which family member I talk to, I always get a different story. There is a lot of work that my family puts in to conceal the truth about our background. Why? I don’t know. But there is some emotional reason causing them to make up stories and avoid the truth.

I’ve done the best I could to piece together an understanding of my history. Learning about my background left me with more questions than answers. I feel sadness and anger when I reflect on these stories. I don’t know who or what I identify with. I don’t feel like I have a place of belonging. I feel like a fraud when I tell people that I’m Black; like I have to prove my blackness because of the color of my skin. I feel like a fraud when I tell people I am Filipino, because I don’t know much about the culture or speak the language. I’m not Black enough to be Black. I’m not White enough to be White. I’m somewhere in between Black-White-Filipino-Guamanian-Japanese, and that spot is lonely.

So many members of my family feel shame about their ethnic background. They work so hard to conceal it, and throw around racial slurs whenever the topic comes up. I was never affected by it, other than obviously being very annoyed. It wasn’t until I started not caring about what they thought and making choices that made me happy that I quickly discovered that my happiness equals their disappointment.

[Great grandpa and grandma, top left. Dad, bottom right, his brothers, and our aunties and uncle.]

A couple of years ago, my boyfriend and I started dating. Once my dad found out, the news spread like wildfire throughout my whole family. He would constantly say hateful things about my boyfriend and our relationship.

“I don’t like him. He will never be good enough for our family. He’s too hood for you. He’s probably a drug dealer too.”

I was getting calls and messages left and right. My dad told me point blank, that he would never be able to accept my boyfriend, and our relationship would never be the same unless I broke up with him. But it wasn’t just him. My grandma told me that I wasn’t her granddaughter anymore because of my decision to date my boyfriend.

“You need to find yourself a nice white man, just like my husband.”

I barely speak to my dad and grandma anymore. I haven’t seen my dad in years. For almost two years now, he has sent me long text messages and emails, attacking my character, calling me weak, saying I’ve disowned my family, and he is disgusted by me. My grandma started rumors in our family that my boyfriend was hitting me and controlling me. There was no evidence of this, and it just isn’t happening. I’m not being abused. I love a Black & Filipino man. And that, to them, is just as bad. I used to be overtaken by overwhelming sadness, anxiety, and fear that I did something wrong. I’ve been in therapy for anxiety for years now, and I’ve come to accept that it isn’t my fault. It’s the self hate and racist views that my family has and their desire to instill their beliefs and control over me.

As mixed people, we deal with the intersectionality of so many different racial stereotypes, deeply rooted irrational hate, and a disconnect from our own identity. If you ever feel like your family is ashamed of you and you have nowhere to turn, you aren’t alone. I don’t accept the abuse from my family anymore. I delete the messages, block their numbers, and tell them I love them. That’s all I can do at this point. Let them go in love, and pray that their eyes are opened to the destructiveness of their ways. I wish this article had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. I’m damaged from so many experiences during my youth and young adulthood, but sharing this story with you is an attempt at healing. I hope it can help heal you too. Taking a hard look at our families and admitting that they don’t always treat us right isn’t easy. Accepting it for what it is and moving forward to love ourselves and make choices that make us happy is all we can do.

And I sure as hell have learned a huge lesson: How NOT to treat my future mixed child.

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