It’s a Match! Dating with #WalangHiya

“You should only date Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, or white – but only if he’s rich” – my Filipina Grandma on who I should be dating

I’m a second generation Filipina-American and fourth generation Chinese-American. I identify as a heterosexual female. I’ve lived in Austin, the Bay Area, Las Vegas, Seattle, Mexico City, and now I’m in New York City. I’ve met a lot of different people, and I have had a few romantic interests along the way. I love the thrill of getting to know a new person. However, I hate the “courtship” dance and the anxiety I get when I think about introducing this person to my family, especially my grandma. She is very vocal about who I should be dating even from a young age.

Sometimes, I go to my grandma’s house for lunch to spend time with her, and then after, I go out with my friends. She often asks me with whom I spend my time with, and then follows with “What are they?” After I state their “ethnicities”, she either says nothing or says a prejudice thing based on something that happened to her. My grandma never explicitly said “Walang Hiya” to me but it is always implied in her tone.

Once, when joking with my grandma about dating outside her “approved” ethnicities, my cousins and I asked, “What if we date a black guy?”

My grandma lowered her eyes into a glare and responded coldly, “Don’t joke around. You should only date Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, or white – but only if he’s rich.”

All the listed ethnicities are found in her blood – Filipinx, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. After she said that, it finally registered to me that she has a lot of anti-black and definitely anti-dark-skinned sentiments.

I asked her why she didn’t want us to date black people, and she told me the following story: When she first moved to the United States, a black man approached my grandma and her fellow Filipina friend at the bus stop in Los Angeles. He told her that he liked the way she looked and asked her to be his girlfriend.

“No, I’m married. Leave me alone.”

He got closer to her and asked again. She again told him to leave her alone. Two other men approached them and began to cat call them. My grandma feared for her life and said she was on her knees crying, hoping and praying the bus would arrive soon. Hearing her experience as a newly arrived immigrant in the United States, I began to see how she formed this prejudice. At the same time I couldn’t comprehend how her singular experience decided her opinions on who were “good” people. I don’t know how much truth is in this story. She has a tendency to embellish. This story stuck with me because I do not want to be like her — making judgments about groups of people based on one experience.

This prejudice expressed by my grandma gave me a form of dating anxiety, so much so, that I didn’t make an effort to date until after high school. My first boyfriend was Filipino. I can’t remember talking about race or culture during our relationship. Reflecting on it now, it was nice because there were things I didn’t have to explain. In the back of my mind, I could see why my grandma wouldn’t have issues with him especially since he planned to study pharmacy. I never told my grandma about him. It was probably my way of rebelling and my desire to not give her the satisfaction of me dating a Filipino guy. In college, I dated a Vietnamese guy and my grandma told me he would, “Stab me in the back.” When I lived in Mexico, I dated a Mexican guy and my grandma asked me if it was serious. I said no because I planned to move back to the U.S., and she said, “Good. Mexicans are lazy and stupid. Be safe there.” She never asked about him again because she knew it wasn’t serious. He is one of the most intelligent people I’ve known.

When I started dating in New York City, I met my first true love on Tinder. He was born in Ethiopia and moved to the U.S. as a young child. We got serious so I called my parents.

“Are you going to tell Grandma about him?” My dad joked.

I replied, “Should I?”

My dad thought about it and said, “Probably best you just don’t say anything… it might kill her.”

I seriously wondered if I had told my grandma, “Hey Grandma, I have a boyfriend and I love him! By the way, he’s black! K Love you bye,” would it have truly put her in her grave.

This was the first time I ever felt shame while dating. It was rooted in my fear of my grandma’s judgement for dating outside her “approved” list. I shouldn’t have felt ashamed, but I did. I never gathered the courage to tell her about him.

I think it would have broke my heart if she told me, “He’s not welcome in my home.” My whole family knew and advised me to stay quiet. It hurt every time I lied to her and said, “No, I’m not dating anyone,” when truthfully I saw myself with him in the long run. I wondered if my grandma would shake his hand or even speak to him. If she did make polite conversation, would she ask me to chat after and try to talk me out of it? The different scenarios running through my mind at the time overwhelmed me.

Eventually, we broke up, and I spent some time rebounding. I dated…a lot. The guy I saw most often during the rebound was Filipino. I could hear my grandma’s approval in my mind, and it made me distance myself. I realized I didn’t actually like this guy. I just liked the idea of him because he would be easy to introduce to my family. I felt ashamed with myself and how I was approaching dating.  I wasn’t ready for a relationship.  Every time I dated someone, my grandma’s prejudice voice pricked me like tiny little needles. So I took a break from dating.

I went on zero dates in 2016 and it was liberating. I sometimes call my grandma, and she’ll ask, “Are you dating anyone?” because she wants great-grandchildren. I simply answer,“No, grandma, I’m taking a break from dating. I don’t feel like it.”

I’ll start dating seriously when I meet the right person. For now, I need to make sure that it doesn’t matter what the loudest voices say about my personal life. I am a Filipinx-womxn who can make her own decisions about who she loves and with whom she spends her time. If you really enjoy being around someone, no one is going to stop you from being with that person. The next person I date, I’ll tell my grandma about him with confidence and #WalangHiya because we both deserve our best shot at a relationship.

This post is part of the Reclaiming #WalangHiya Project; see the landing page for more narratives.

Michelle (she/her/hers) is a second generation-born Filipinx American and fourth generation Chinese American womxn raised on the west coast, and currently living and working in New York City. She is a young professional in the corporate world, and volunteers with women, youth, food sustainability, and minorities in her local community. She uses her Instagram for her personal project #ActServeLove to inspire friends and family that it is easy and fun to get involved in their own communities. In her free time, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen, attempting to grow tomatoes,  or on a plane to her next adventure. Fun Fact: Every episode she’s watched of Chef’s Table on Netflix has made her cry.  Instagram | Facebook

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