The Struggles & Blessings of #WalangHiya Consciousness in Academia

I haven’t always loved myself.

Growing up, I learned to hate my brown skin and flat nose. I used to wear a jacket every day in Hawai‘i so that I wouldn’t become naksut (Ilocano word for “burnt” or “dark”). Oftentimes, I would pinch the bridge of my nose in hopes that it would grow into a straight, haole (white) nose. I used to place White beauty standards on a pedestal while rejecting my own Pilipinx features that I’ve inherited from my ancestors. As a woman who grew up in a patriarchal and misogynistic society, I learned how to shrink myself at the presence of men who slut-shamed me, abused me and took advantage of my body. I once believed in the lie that I was not “good enough” because I was from Kalihi, an urbanized neighborhood in Honolulu on the island of O‘ahu, home to a majority working-class, low-income Pilipinx and Pacific Islander community.

I once held so much shame and hatred for my identity as a working-class pinay from Kalihi. When I was 19, I left the islands for college immediately in order to escape from what outsiders believed to be a paradisiacal place.

Over time, I’ve had opportunities to heal from this self-violence. During my time at the University of Oregon, I became involved with the UO Multicultural Center, UO Kultura Pilipinas, UO Asian Pacific American Student Union and the Pacific and Asian Community Alliance. Each of these organizations played significant roles in encouraging me to embrace my identities and histories as well as learn about oppressive power structures that affect me and also other marginalized groups.

My participation in Kultura Pilipinas as a general member and later co-director, allowed me the space to be around other Pilipinx who took pride in our culture, food and history. Witnessing other Pilipinx on the continent express self-love for our cultural background gave me the courage to begin loving my own pinay identity. My involvement with the Multicultural Center allowed me to work alongside other people of color (PoC) communities to organize events.

By participating in these events like the “Justice for Trayvon Martin Rally, March and Candlelight Vigil” and learning about other PoC struggles, I realized that the same white supremacist system that affirms violence on Black bodies and attempts to take away lands and sovereignty from Indigenous peoples, is the same system that continues to exploit, neglect and suppress Pilipinx and Pacific Islanders in my own Kalihi community. Additionally, I attended events that allowed me to explore my Womxn of Color (WoC) and interact with other WoC who face similar struggles with patriarchy, sexism and misogyny.

My student involvement eventually led me to taking Ethnic Studies courses where I learned more about womxn of color activists like Assata Shakur, Haunani-Kay Trask and Yuri Kochiyama, whose stories of oppression and resistance inspired me to contribute to the ongoing struggle for justice.

Through these experiences, I came across many people who have helped me unlearn the shame I had for my identities as a working-class Pilipinx womxn.

(Left) UO Intertwined: Womxn of Color Conference Staff 2015 // (Right) Photo taken from the “Protect Mauna a Wakea rally 2015″

As thankful as I am for my undergraduate education, I felt that unlearning the self-hate and shame I internalized over time wasn’t always an easy or pleasant process. I went through a lot of pain coming into my #WalangHiya consciousness.

I was angry and hurt that the “paradisiacal place” I grew up in turned out to be a lie to conceal the sins of the United States. I remember faulting and dismissing others in the Asian American community as apathetic for not learning or knowing about various oppressions of other people, including my own. At that time, I did not have the maturity nor the intrapersonal skills to look inwardly and discover that my anger needed to be directed at systems of oppression (white supremacy, U.S. empire, classism, sexism etc.) not at people–especially other people of color.

Although I did not mean to hurt my peers with my words or actions during my unlearning and growing phase, I unintentionally did so which led to burned bridges and uneasy relationships with some folks. For awhile, I focused on my own pain, attacked and accused others of what I saw as their “complacency” in social justice issues. I lost sight of who I was supposed to be fighting with and what I was supposed to be fighting against. Though my anger was righteous I let my anger hinder me from seeing that I acted like I was the only one impacted by these systems, instead of realizing the ways my peers were also impacted by these same systems. At this moment, I realized that my pitting myself against other underrepresented folks maintains and bolsters systems of oppression I sought to dismantle.

Counseling with my Pinay / Japanese American therapist, and receiving support from friends, family, professors and community mentors helped me to learn how to heal. I began understanding the importance of naming the root causes to my suffering and also learned how to process and redirect my anger to systems, not people. I also started learning how to approach others with radical compassion when delving into social justice discussions and community building.

With #WalangHiya, I’m learning to place shame back onto the interlocking systems of oppression responsible for this violence. I constantly remind myself that systemic oppression is learned. White supremacy, sexism, classism, ableism, islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia are learned behaviors, reinforced by institutions( law and politics, religion, academic institutions etc.). As an aspiring Ethnic Studies professor, I hope to participate in the movement to work with people in exposing these injustices and unlearning these hateful and harmful behaviors. I hope to promote self-love and love for others by creating spaces for underrepresented folks to learn about their identities, histories and means for community empowerment. With radical love, we have the power to dismantle systems of oppression.

I firmly believe that change begins with self-love and #WalangHiya in one’s self.

In the face of Spain and U.S. colonizers
who have taught my people to hate ourselves,
In the face of men
Who have internalized patriarchal and misogynistic ideals of womxn,
In the face of the state
That neglects and exploits its economically disadvantaged,

I have chosen to love myself as an act of resistance.

Today I have walang hiya, no shame, for who I am as a working-class Pinay from Kalihi.
I’ve broken chains that bound me to self-blame and hatred.
With love for myself and for people, I choose to join the fight for freedom and justice.

Now, let’s get free together.

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


Demiliza Saramosing (she/her/hers) is a Bisaya-Pilipinx (American) scholar-activist from Kalihi, Hawai‘i. Being the first person in her family to attend college, Demiliza has received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies and Journalism from the University of Oregon. Currently, she is pursuing her M.A. degree at UCLA’s Asian American studies program focusing on topics revolving around Pilipinx studies, Native Pacific Cultural studies and Asian Settler Colonialism. In the future, Demiliza hopes to obtain her PhD and after become a professor in Ethnic Studies. Just like how her mentors’ nurtured her own self-growth, she plans to pay it forward by creating safe(r) spaces for underrepresented students to learn about their own identities, histories, self-empowerment and liberation in order to change the world. Instagram | Twitter

 

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