When Luann Algoso’s parents immigrated from the Philippines, they spoke Tagalog, a primary Filipino language. But growing up, they wouldn’t let Algoso speak it.
"My grandparents lived with us, my mom's parents. They lived with us for a number of years, so when I was younger, they spoke Tagalog to me," she said. "But as soon as they moved back to the Philippines, and as soon as I went into elementary school, my mom was like, ‘You’re not speaking Tagalog anymore.’"
It was a mix of fear and pride at play.
"My mom was really worried that we would be in ESL classes and that we would be outcasted or just seen as different at school," Algoso said. "She was also happy to be in the U.S. and so any ties to the Philippines was like, ‘That's back there. We're American now.’"
As a kid, Algoso didn’t know what she was missing. She grew up in Anaheim, California, in a multiracial community where Filipinos mixed with refugees from Vietnam, newly arrived Mexican immigrants and African Americans. Diversity was just a fact of life.
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Then she moved to Oregon for college.
"I've been asked if I'm Thai or Latina or another Southeast Asian ethnicity. Hawaiian, I’ve also been asked," she said. "That's not something I've ever really experienced, not back in California.
"From my experience, people kind of know it’s inappropriate to ask that, but that’s what living in a mostly white-dominated society looks like, I guess."
Moving to a place that was so white required an adjustment in her expectations, particularly as she became involved in social justice work.
"I was very much tokenized in a lot of places I was in," she said. Algoso added, "Folks want to make sure you feel included. But when you are singled out in that space, people ask, 'What do you think, as the only person of color in this room?' It's like, 'Well, I think we should have more people of color in this room.'"
Algoso graduated from Portland State University a few years ago and decided to stay. She’s an activist who regularly attends marches and rallies for causes such as police reform and protection for undocumented immigrants. Along with tens of thousands of her friends and neighbors, she attended Portland’s edition of the national women’s march this winter.
She expected to walk away feeling buoyant. Instead …
"I guess I naively thought that there would be a huge crowd that was diverse," she said. "But I think going to the women's march here in Portland was a reminder that I still live in Portland. It was like the first moment when I realized, 'Wow, there’s a lot of white people here. There’s a lot of white people.' It’s not like I didn’t know that before. But I realized it in the most vivid way that that there are just not a lot of people like me.
"After that march I was like, 'Yeah, we should just move back. We should just move back, it's not working for me here.'"
She’s not going to do that, at least not now. When she first arrived, she struggled with that lonely feeling. But she’s made a good group of friends, many of them other young people of color, and re-embraced those Filipino roots her parents once tried to reject — even if her terminology doesn’t always reflect that.
"Definitely moving up to Portland and being here for this long has made me conflicted about my identity in so many ways," she said. "I didn't consider myself Asian until I moved here. I was always referred to myself as being Filipino.
"Then when I moved here, because no one could figure out what I was, I now just say, 'I’m Asian.'"