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ACA Works on Internalized Racism

by | May 1, 2024 | ComLine, Voices of Recovery

I’m a Filipina-American, with nine years in ACA. I did not grow up with alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental illness. I did grow up with immigrant trauma, intergenerational colonialist trauma, internalized racism, and a resulting set of stressed out hard-working parents. My mother was a nurse who worked nights; my father served in the U.S. Navy and was gone for long stretches of time. 

At around 2 or 3 years old, my mother had somehow succeeded not only in putting a traditional Tagalog outfit on me, but also in taking a picture. I am crying hysterically, with one hand on the doorknob, trying to escape being photographed in such a “horrid” outfit, which announced shamefully I am not white. Six decades later I remember the self-loathing of my tender young self like it was yesterday. I don’t know how my racial shame could have begun so early other than being born as a brown baby in the U.S. I kept this shame buried much longer than the emotional wounds from mother’s neglect and rage. 

My culture’s place in American society was never explained. As the oldest daughter, the “ate” (AH-tay), I was expected to bridge the culture gap, to help my younger siblings cross it more easily than my own fearful and fumbling experiences. I was dumped at school, church, piano lessons, swim lessons - virtually all-white venues - where I anxiously navigated the undercurrent of disquieting feelings that came with seeing very few children who looked like me.

After four years of ACA’s inner child work, the pain, anger and need for acknowledgement by oblivious family members had subsided enough for me to enjoy long periods of relief and stability. Unbeknownst to me, however, I was still chasing whiteness. Then in 2020, Black and anti-Asian murders brought this deeper layer of racial denial to the surface. I immediately needed to redefine who I was. I could no longer keep hiding behind my eyes, in self-denial of my facial features and skin color, which then and now mark me as a target for indiscriminate violence. The ACA tools which helped me recover from family dysfunction were just as reliably available to work on societal dysfunction - the lifetime of daily messages that because of my race I am less-than.

One important misbelief I unknowingly carried as a child was that white families were the standard for normal and healthy families. Even though I had been to white schoolmates’ homes where frightening parental yelling took place, the overall impression on me was that these families were more normal. Unlike me, they had stay-at-home moms. They also had uncles, aunts, and grandparents who lived on farms and invited them to ride horses all summer long. My family didn’t know anyone who owned horses or boats. We were a lonely outpost, with the closest relatives an entire ocean away.

I also wished my father was physically larger and showed more affection, like my white friends’ more robust and fun dads. I was ashamed of how small, short, and reserved he was. Essentially, I was ashamed of my parents, my original language, my culture, my race, and myself. Years later, I learned that some of these fathers had been abusers and alcoholics. Of course, as an adult I’ve now long understood that trauma and harm touch all families.

I’m grateful to ACA for showing me how to untangle the mess of my confusing and miserable childhood, first with regard to family dysfunction and then with regard to the more deeply buried internalized racism. I’m grateful for this chance to share my story as the daughter of immigrant parents. ACA’s literature and workbooks offer the tools for slicing through the haziness and self-doubt of old memories. Attending meetings validates the feelings of my younger selves. Fellow travelers support and encourage me in persisting through the hardest and most painful 12-step work I’ve done. Incredulously, I now have self-love and self-worth, the missing pieces of who I am, which I never thought I’d have in this lifetime.

Raya Heart V

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