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Reclaiming my Whole Self

Written by: Kristella Barcinas

When I was three years old, I moved away from a remote island called Saipan to southern Illinois. Saipan is a U.S. Territory out in the Pacific Ocean and is part of the Mariana Islands, which consists of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. I was born into a Chamorro and Filipino family. When I moved to the U.S., I didn’t know much of anything since I was 3. I did not know that I would constantly be asked to choose between my different identities.

Was I Filipino, Chamorro, or American? It took twenty-two years in the United States to realize I was all three.

I currently reside in Rota, MP, where my father grew up. After living in Southern Illinois for twenty-two years, it was time for a new adventure. I spent much time in the States learning about my heritage through gatherings, stories, and cuisine. Now, I was presented with an opportunity to be fully immersed in Chamorro culture.

To make my own stories and reconnect with what I missed out on from my U.S. upbringing. But, even here, the question remains: are you Filipino, Chamorro, or American? The answer is a confident YES! My answer was just a bit delayed.

What made me realize that I no longer had to choose was primarily thanks to this opportunity. Before moving to the CNMI (The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), I learned that 17,163 Chamorros and 17,719 Filipinos are within the CNMI (U.S. 2020 Census). These facts made me feel good knowing that I did not once again have to say goodbye to a part of myself.

In Illinois, I grew up in a small city with a population of 41,751 people.

Only 0.1 percent of the population are Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, and the Asian population was 0.4%.

I spent my youth wondering if I wanted to be part of such a minuscule percentage. Sometimes I would not disclose my race to my peers, and I would ignore all the offensive comments and remain “lucky” that they were not aggressive actions.

I am privileged to now live somewhere safer and more diverse. The island I now call home has an even smaller population of 2,527 people. I have been able to reconnect with my family and culture. As well as be around more people of mixed race and Filipino descent. The hate I have received in the past never seemed to close my heart and mind. For that, I am thankful. Sometimes, I still hear ignorant comments and think about the life I left behind. But I remain strong and remember that I am all parts of my identity. It was just other people and the social pressures of life that made me believe I had to choose. Whether you have always known who you are and where you came from or are just discovering that now., know that you are not alone and there is still time. You are in charge of your own story and have the power to represent what you want to stand for. You are enough, and the past does not erase that.


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