Race/Related: Even In My Liberal State, People Consider Me The “Other”
Marianne Nacanaynay, 15, Filipina – Mountlake Terrace, Washington
The first time someone directed a racial slur towards me, I was at a pizza place in Everett, a town in western Washington State. One of my friends who works with me on our high school newspaper wanted to get lunch early, and the place was already crowded with a line stretching around the block. I was waiting outside of the restaurant and chatting on the phone, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw two dudes walking by. They were young-looking — teens or 20-somethings — with light skin and blonde/brown hair. As they passed me, I heard them laugh and say, “(expletive) chink.”
It took me a few moments to process what I had just heard. I was taken aback, but not exactly surprised. After all, there I was, a Filipina reporter covering a Pro-Trump rally.
Washington State tends to be super liberal. Until recently, Republicans I knew here were mostly “in the closet” in the sense they didn’t talk much about their opinions in public. But I’ve learned that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist in Washington — it’s just typically a less overt brand of racism.
Growing up, I lived in Auburn, a suburb south of Seattle, and there weren’t a lot of other kids who looked like me. Back then, it didn’t bother me, because I didn’t think too much about race. My family raised me with phrases like, “People are people,” and, “It’s who you are inside that counts.”
I remember the time I had a white classmate come over to my house for dinner. We served adobo, which is chicken or pork that’s been marinated in soy sauce or vinegar then fried, and ube, a dessert made of purple yam. The girl politely tried everything but mostly pushed the food around the plate. When I asked her about it later, she said the flavors weren’t familiar to her.
Then in sixth grade we moved to Mountlake Terrace, a suburb about 20 minutes north of Seattle with a noticeable Asian population. Being around more Asian friends, I found myself reflecting differently on my interactions with white peers.
I brought a plate of the same adobo to a party, and people loved it. Having people like my culture made me feel more comfortable with it too.
So, after years of slowly opening myself up to having pride about my race and culture, hearing two boys call me a chink in the middle of a pizza place was a snap back to reality. On the one hand, it was so over-the-top, it was almost comical. I mean, it’s not even the right racial slur, since I’m not Chinese.
On the other hand, sometimes I think back on that incident, like when I hear about other people being called a racial slur, or when I hear about people harassing others at Trump rallies. And I remember how I felt vulnerable. It’s a reminder there are some places where I am still considered the “other.”
Marianne Nacanaynay is a correspondent at Youth Radio. She is also a co-host of the podcast TMI at Mountlake Terrace High School. Her essay was produced by Youth Radio and appeared as part of Youth Radio’s collaboration with the New York Times Race/Related newsletter. For more stories, go to the Race/Related hub page.