If I could only get a pa’anga for every time someone would ask me if I am really an American, I would be a very rich person here in Tonga. Since my arrival here in the Kingdom, I have had an internal struggle to keep my cool every time my identity/ethnicity is questioned. As anyone can imagine, a very small country like Tonga has a very limited amount of exposure with diversity from around the world. You are either a Tongan or a white palangi (foreigner), but a brown palangi? What is that?
The truth is that I was born in the Philippines and I grew up pretty much my entire life in America (hence, how I am a Peace Corps Volunteer). One of the Peace Corps goals is to “share the American culture to the people of other cultures,” (or at least something like that). Well, as the only “colored” person in Peace Corps Tonga Group 75, I have the lone duty to share America’s diversity here in Tonga.
Some of my encounters with people in Tonga (both palangi(s) and Tongans) have had their ups and downs. Most of them have accepted my “dual” identity; while others cannot get over the fact that I am not a white pisikoa from America; therefore, I must be a JICA (Japanese) volunteer. On the other hand, some recognizes me as a Filipino who lives in America, but not American? I am often introduced as, “this is the pisikoa from the Philippines.” Anyway, thanks to the numerous famous Filipino soap operas, I have not been perceived as a negative thing in Tonga (at least I hope to think so). After introducing myself to new people, I am automatically tested for the authenticity of my “Filipino-ness” by questions such as “Piliphine eh? How do you say ‘hello’ in the Philippines?” or my favorite “Do you have any Piliphine faiva(s) (movies)?” It is such a bummer that I did not think to bring some with me; because I have SO MANY at home (sense my sarcasm?). Peace Corps should have written “Filipino soap operas” with my packing list for Tonga. I would have been much more prepared and be well integrated to the Tongan culture sooner.
Since it is not a perfect world and I did not bring any Filipino soap operas with me, I have been busy explaining who I am and where I come from with everyone I meet. It has been quite exhausting, but I feel that my small village has accepted me and get it. I have definitely been sharing Goal #3 of the Peace Corps. Believe it or not, there are brown people from America! Wow, really?! In addition, we have Obama as president and he is black. Technically he is half black and half white, regardless he IS AMERICAN. Who would have thought there are colored people from America? That is so weird…