In a haze of being particularly unhappy and slightly suffocated this past weekend (I was cooped up indoors because I was tired), I decided to head to the beach before going to work. I work at 2pm, and I headed to the beach at 9;30am after my morning shift.
I had a lot of useless shit on my mind, and I just wanted to see the ocean. As dramatic as it sounds, I went for a walk and stared off at the water for a good hour. I felt so so lucky that I was able to do that. The beach?? Before working a short afternoon shift? Was I an heiress or what?
As I walked I looked at all of the people I passed by who were able to walk on the beach on a Monday morning.
Old white men with earpieces chatting about “having a fucking bloody mary when I want to have one”. An old asian couple doing power walks as the wife rotated her arms to further increase her heart-rate. A college aged girl gripping her surfboard after an intense session with the waves. Mom’s with their best pal, or on the phone with their best pal, chatting about whatever comes to mind. Everyone was at ease, everyone was just walking alongside the beach.
Then I took in the scenery, with the three story mansions looming over the cliffside. Construction workers building even more amenities to the abundant housing. Luxury cars cruising by every once in a while.
It was so perfect.
And seeing this large picture, with every passing minute and every step I took alongside the beach…
I became angry.
I was so angry I started crying.
It was so different to what I saw when I went to the Philippines recently. During car rides to Manila, I saw the familiar outlines of small cement block houses, with their signature rusted aluminum roofs. While I was used to the small houses with tin rooofs (as I live in one when I visit my grandparents), it was the first time I saw people living in half abandoned construction sites without walls, their laundry on lines as if they were curtains. The creeks and rivers were unsurprisingly filled with trash. And while I shopped at a flea market, small children were selling little palm leaves for 25 cents each. I think the youngest kid was at most 3 years old, he probably just learned how to walk last year.
And looking at the scene, I felt pity, and that pity turned into disgust and guilt. There was something so incredibly distancing when you feel pity towards the country that you came from.
I have never felt so much dissonance within me until I had these thoughts.
I didn’t feel Filipina. Especially since I have to write about this experience in English, and not Tagalog.
I felt like a white photographer from California that takes quick snapshots of poor filipino children and gets rewarded for “unearthing the vulnerability of the filipino people”, and ultimately romanticizing poverty rather than helping anyone’s situation.
In that moment, I was the other, looking down on my blood and origin.
It’s a no brainer that I can excuse this feeling of pity for “human sympathy”, or even argue that it’s “empathy”. I too was in the lower class when I first came to America! I understand! I feel and know the struggle!
But the fact that I even made it to the U.S. shows how much privilege I had once I was born. My family was in a good place, good standing, and great situation. We had money, and enough to not be hungry, enough to buy plane tickets and applications to reside in the US.
It feels odd starting from one side of the class spectrum to growing into the other. I can lo longer relate to being below the poverty line because my family isn’t there anymore. We’re a comfortable middle class, and denying this just denies my privilege.
Realizing the level of privilege I have compared to others is uncomfortable, disconcerting, and I want to strongly deny it.
I always compared myself to the average white female living in their two story semi-mansions whom I went to high school with. I never compared myself with those in the Philippines because I never had to face that reality on the daily. I was mildly aware of it, like “yeah yeah I’m lucky I know”, but I never took the time to really process it. It was the no-brainer “of course I’m luckier than poor kids obviously”, but I never paid mind to it.
I think it was the first time I realized that being grateful for what I had, also meant that I had the mindset of “thank god that’s not me”. A very natural survivalist, human reaction and thought that I do not like one bit. It feels insincere.
And walking on that beach, I realized I lived and observed both ends of the spectrum, and I was just so angry with how life turns out.
Why do other people suffer so much, but other people can over-indulge and live above what’s already comfortable?
Then I felt really sad because I realized the population I serve is not the population I want to serve. I don’t want to work for already successful and affluent families, not because they’re well-off, but because I want to help people who don’t have enough resources. It’s always easier to serve those with resources and good backgrounds because they have the tools to making their environment smoother and easier. Those at the lower end of the spectrum don’t have that luxury.
I wish I could formulate my thoughts in a clear cohesive manner, but to be honest I don’t know what I’m feeling quite yet.
These brain dumps just help me figure things out.
The trip to Philippines was one that was much needed as I try to navigate the next stages of my life, and prioritizing what’s important.
Well, a huuuuge brain dump that may not make sense but oh well.
Till next time!!!