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Viewpoint of a Filipino-American woman. Graduate of Columbia.
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That's all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
-- William Butler Yeats, "A Drinking Song"
I like white boys. I'm Filipino, but every boy I've bedded has been white. And with few exceptions, my lovers have been white in the whitest sense of the word: conspicuously light-haired and light-eyed. Some of them were so white they were almost translucent.
Unfortunately, my lust for the blond male specimen of the Caucasian race isn't quite as purely motivated as a drawn-out Yeatsian sigh over a glass of wine. Nor can I readily dismiss this interracial provocation simply as a "natural predilection," as did white guy Peter Norton of Norton Utilities when he famously discussed his "powerful" attraction to black women in a New Yorker profile. I could never let myself off the hook that easily. It's taken me years to understand my particular inclination and all the nagging, unwarranted shame and guilt that accompany it.
Of course, I'm not the only one with a white-guy thing. Asian-American women are out-marrying at a growing rate -- almost 40 percent of us will marry men who don't come close to looking like our fathers and brothers. It's a thorny and distressing issue: a triumph of assimilation and acceptance on the one hand, a sign of self-loathing favored by Asian social-climbers on the other. It's even birthed a new pejorative: Asian girls who like white men are called "Whiggies" or "White-Guy Groupies," and are roundly despised for their low self-esteem and conspicuous materialism, all of which is considered part of the "right equals white" way of thinking.
Fair enough. My own first dalliance with the Anglo-Saxon archetype was a viewing of the movie The Sound of Music. One look at those preternaturally adorable blond boy-children singing Austrian folk songs and frolicking in the green hillsides of Western Europe and it was all over. Nicholas Hammond (later television's Spiderman), who played fourteen-year-old Friedrich Von Trapp, with his angular nose, high cheekbones, confident mouth, skinny knees and pale, porcelain skin, imprinted a sustained, politically incorrect desire in me for such boys that I've come to both nurture and decry.
I grew up in the Philippines, a country at once embittered and enthralled by its colonial past. We love Americans the way SM slaves love their masters -- with a perverted need both to consume and be consumed by them. I was ten years old when I realized the full extent of this national kowtowing, this post-colonial inferiority complex. Standing in line at a department store, my mother and I noticed the cashier laughing and conversing with the customer ahead of us in line. This friendliness was out of proportion to her job -- although most Filipinos are polite, they are not especially gregarious. When it came to be our turn, she hardly said a word, merely packed up our purchases and sent us on our way. I was curious to see who had deserved such courtesy not afforded us, and wasn't surprised to see the tall form of a blond American tourist, handsome and sunburnt, walking out the door while the besotted salesclerk looked wistfully in his direction.
Growing up in Manila, I developed requisite crushes on my peers, Mestizo lads with mixed features, or boys of a Moreno bent with dark skin and impossibly white teeth. My heart has even palpitated for slim Hong Kong waiters and Japanese flight attendants. Yet I understood these to be trivial passions, which were subsumed, in any event, when we moved to the United States the year I turned thirteen. Suddenly, Friedrich Von Trapp wasn't just an inaccessible icon on a movie screen, but a reality of bounteous blond promise everywhere I looked. Friedrichs on skateboards, Friedrichs trolling at the mall, Friedrichs ignoring my hangdog wallflower presence at the Catholic high school mixers I attended, under the foolish notion I would "meet somebody." The only boys who asked me to dance were Chinese, and pimply.
It wasn't the robust, golden-haired athletes of football fame and high school glory that I wanted to meet either. My particular fetish was for the ruddy-cheeked preppie: skinny arms, chicken legs and an awkward slope of hunched shoulders upon a thin, skeletal frame. Pretty-boy scholars with wire-rimmed glasses and sparse pubic hair. Pseudo-British, aristocratic cheeseheads emblematic of Ralph Lauren advertising.
My own typical Filipino family actively encouraged this Caucasian veneration. We paid rapt attention to the progress of one particularly good-looking American family in our neighborhood, whose yearly Christmas cards chronicled their children's growth from cherubic angels of baby fat and cereal-box charm to sleek teenagers of the 90210 mold. It was silently agreed upon that the pinnacle of genetic success was embodied by the sweet-smiling Thompsons -- Brian, Amber and Caitlin -- who personified a wholesome American beauty we longed to share, but never could.
"If I ever have a blond grandchild," my father would declare at the dinner table, "with blue eyes. My god! I will go home to the Philippines to show them all what a de la Cruz can look like! Can you imagine?" My father was exaggerating slightly, but in any event, the message was clear: marry well, and marry white. I didn't need much persuading.
However, in the dutifully "forward-thinking" and multi-cultural college environment in which I soon found myself, I cultivated a nagging conscience about these yearnings for white American men. The ferocious pride I developed as an angry minority student in the privileged confines of an ivory tower institution was at odds with my sexual preference. When I saw Asian women with blond boyfriends, I felt nothing for them but contempt mixed with jealousy, and I hated myself for it. I especially didn't want to fall into the ridiculous stereotype making the rounds among titillated co-eds at the time: "The reason Asian women are attracted to white men," proposed an article in the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday magazine, "is because white men are the sexual equivalent that black men are to white women: bigger and better."
Yet what truly horrified me about my sexual prejudice was how incredibly banal and predictable my secret crushes turned out to be. It seemed all the Asian women on campus were pre-programmed to like the same exact specimens that I did: inoffensive white men who exhibited a nauseating blandness of feature, dress and character. We didn't want Mel Gibson. We wanted Melvin Milquetoast. Determined to deny myself such plebeian and politically questionable pleasures, I spent the better part of my college years alone.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, I didn't hate Asian men, but in truth, I didn't particularly want to date them either. In my defense, the two Asian men I did find attractive -- one a Filipino hottie on the swim team, the other, a Japanese fencer -- both had blond shiksa girlfriends. Because I felt so uneasy about pursuing white boys and so blasé about dating Asian guys, I compromised and developed crushes on light-skinned Latinos in order to appease both my libido and my discomfort. Still, my white-boy lust wasn't completely broken, since the Mexican and Puerto Rican boys I dated impressed me with their striking Caucasian features. They all looked Spanish, reminiscent of a racial caste idolized by Filipinos due to three hundred years of colonial submission.
"I don't know why you're so guilt-ridden," Madelyn, my college roommate, said to me once when I was angsting predictably. "I'm looking forward to my Amerasian children even if I don't have a boyfriend right now. I mean, I know my husband will be white. Anyway, I think mixed kids look so cute." She happily described how all her sisters married blond men with MBA's. "I just think it's natural," she declared, echoing Peter Norton's philosophy.
Eventually, I came to realize my self-denial of white-boy love really was just a shallow and feeble excuse designed to keep me morally superior and sexually frustrated at the same time. I liked white boys. So what? By accepting my lust for what it was -- a combination of post-colonial longing, Hollywood myth chasing and social conditioning for mainstream acceptance, compounded by my own internal penchant for skinny, pale men -- I was finally able to achieve a modicum of sexual gratification. I started dating the pale, reticent English majors who fired up my overheated imagination (and duly discovered that most of them were gay -- which is another issue entirely).
Still, even after I finally got the sexual preference right, it wasn't easy. Although I had made peace with my own motivations for crossing the color barrier, I still harbored a deep skepticism for the motivations of the partners I found in my bed. I suspected most white men who dated me of being Asian fetishists, especially when I became an active participant in the Sino-Semetic cliché: the Upper West Side pairing of the liberal-minded white Jewish male with the liberal-minded Asian femme. I wasn't about to fulfill anyone's pseudo-bohemian Oriental fantasy.
Today, I'm dating a man who shares my interests and my bed. He's the first person I've been with for whom color isn't an issue at all. He'd never dated an Asian girl, and when we're together I don't feel he's a socialized response, a politically incorrect condition or a mythological ideal. He's simply the man I love. And my love for him has helped me understand the sentiment of Yeats' poem -- looking at him is enough to invoke waves of pleasure and happiness. Then again, he is white. And blond, no less. Sigh.
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