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Words to Replace: "Exotic"

Written by: Kristella Barcines

Dating and finding friends as a person of mixed race has taught me the word: exotic.


When I think of exotic, a lot of thoughts come to my head like fruit (durian, dragon fruit, jackfruit), cheetah print, animals like tigers and parrots, And, Sadly, Non-European people or cultures.. It is a fluid adjective with so much fault and I thought we were done using it as a collective.


I thought moving to the CNMI would take this word out of my life untilI was having a conversation with a woman about my startup and she told me to make sure to include more photos of the islands within my product photos so people would believe that my products were more EXOTIC. I definitely do not remember putting that in my bio or marketing package.


To be fair, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition is,

“ ....introduced from another country: not native to the place where found”.

That definition holds some truth, but it was not the first adjective that I would choose to represent someone, a place, or an object.


Before this interaction, my experiences with the word were from friendships and dating apps. While all I wanted was a lifelong friendship, certain people were keener on having that token interesting friend with different food, hair, skin tone, and overall features.


My most interesting aspect was that I was not born in the States, but in a remote U.S. territory and that my parents know other languages. I was the exotic one. I was made to think I was different than everyone else. Later in my adult life, I would partake in the dating app craze and find a man who was interested in going on fun dates that involved pretzels and beer cheese.


I was down, until he asked me about my ethnicity and proceeded to take my identity and shorten it to one word: I was exotic. Not a Filipino Pacific Islander. I felt gross and used, but somehow lucky that we never met as I was unmatched immediately, I guess I was too “exotic” for him. Ironically, by definition of the word “exotic” as not native to the place where I was found, all the people who claimed I was exotic, were in fact exotic themselves. Their families might have moved to the United States generations before mine but they still weren’t native to the land.


To commemorate those blunders and try to repair the narrative. Here are three adjectives that I believe make a bigger impact than exotic:


1) Fantastic

I wanted to include an easy starter word that everyone has used more than once throughout their life. The word radiates positivity and still stays true to describing something that exceeds the norm.


I think their culture is fantastic. I want to travel to Rota, their beaches and wildlife look fantastic.

2) Loving

This word is simple and love is universal. This word is a great substitute because it radiates the excitement and passion one may feel while experiencing something greater than themselves.

The people who make up my culture are loving.


My friend’s family was so loving and appreciative of having me over.

3) Riveting

This is another word that can express excitement or interest. I wanted the last word to be less common and express the positivity that comes with learning about something new or meeting someone new. Everyone’s story is interesting and different. I want a word that represents that while also not exploiting its unfamiliarity.


Your stories are riveting, please tell me more! -- The vacation photos you have are riveting! I hope to experience something like that soon.

Please remember that the world consists of so many words and priceless experiences.


Words have power!


How you use them matters.


Be creative and find the courage to rewrite negative narratives for yourself and others.



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