[I]’ve been mistaken for Latina in Cancun, Brazilian in Rio de Janeiro, Thai in Bangkok, and Middle Eastern in Kuwait. On different occasions people have asked me if I am an Eskimo, or Native American, or Italian, or Hawaiian. When traveling, I am more often spoken to in the land’s mother tongue than in English. I’m half Filipino, half Caucasian, and while my ethnicity and my looks make me chameleonic to many varied ethnic groups, I grew up never seeing a family that looked like mine in the many advertisements that blared in the breaks between television shows that never featured brown-complexioned characters.
I did my undergraduate studies at Emerson College. Experiencing Emerson, and the city of Boston itself, was a hearty dose of culture shock for a girl who’d grown up in the California Bay Area, surrounded by diversity. There were few mixed students on campus. There were few students of color at all on campus. For some students, I was the first Filipino they had ever met—this led to a feeling that anything I said or did was representative of my race, something I struggled mightily with.
It was in these first years on my own, in this entirely new place, that I began to notice the roles race played, or didn’t play, in the media around me. As the child of an interracial marriage, I always noticed the lack of mixed race couples in television and movie plots, novels, commercials. When they were featured, it was more for shock value than as an honest representation of the couple or environment. It enraged me when they cast white actors or actresses to play roles that should have been played by Asians, Pacific Islanders, or Native Americans. But I didn’t know yet what to do with that frustration.
When I was considering graduate school, I examined multiple areas of study. I pondered programs ranging from Post-colonial Studies to Dance Ethnography to Anthropology to East Asian Studies. I decided, ultimately, that I didn’t want to foray into academia. I wanted a program that was practical, creative—a program where I could contribute my perspective, experiences, and voice and actually make a difference. I decided I wanted to embark as an advertiser. To create materials for the public that is not only reflective of the public and their uniqueness, but celebratory of it as well. To challenge those who think that the only time a Latina woman should talk about T-Mobile should be on Telemundo, or that commercials featuring African-American families are just for BET.
I’m sure in light of the efforts of others, this goal may seem trivial. But to me it is important that my children see that they are not alone—that others that look like them exist. That it is normal to be part of that rich and varied spectrum that falls between black and white. That our voices are just as important, our people just as beautiful, our stories just as relevant—no matter how big, no matter how small.
We are proud to announce Gabrielle Soria is one of the current DiversityJobs Scholarship finalists. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘star’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.