by Ruby Bayan
I grew up in the Philippines, mingling with crowds of black-haired brown-skinned 5-foot-8-inch-tall Asians. Light hair and fair skin, rare in my field of vision, were surely tourists, and seen mostly in Ermita or Subic. Black skin was even more rare, and I saw only a few, in UP, foreign students of vet med.
I always wondered how these fair- or black-skinned foreigners feel, walking among Filipinos, being strikingly different from the general population. People stare at them, give them a second look, or even follow them around just to see what alien-looking folks do. Me, I never stare -- not before I put on my shades.
Well, I didn't have to wonder very long because when I had the opportunity to travel to Germany, I found out exactly how foreign-looking people feel.
Most of the time no one noticed me in a dense crowd because all the rock-star-look-alike Europeans were eight feet tall (wearing platform shoes, of course) and breathing the upper layer of the atmosphere. But when there was not much of a crowd, like while waiting for the subway train and everyone had time to glance around, black hair, brown skin, and a pug nose easily stood out and called plenty of attention.
They stared at me like they've never seen an Asian before. Maybe they've seen us in Jackie Chan movies, but never in the flesh. Especially the little paper-white green-eyed children with curly red hair! What was going through their heads as they gawked at me? Were they fascinated with my bronze complexion, raven black hair, and ebony pupils? Were they curious, as they would be about monkeys, mimes, and monsters? I'll never know.
Then I came to America. I felt better knowing that the density of Asians is a lot higher than in Germany; meaning I wouldn't be ogled at as much. And the good thing is, golden brown doesn't stand out as much anymore, either. Why? Because among the whites, there are pinks, reds, dark browns, light blacks, and dark blacks, all residents in this America, the Land of the Free!
And in Florida, with the beaches, tanning salons, and the thousand shades of hair color, my naturally auburn skin and slightly tinted hair (oh, just to cover the grays) blend well in a crowd of sun-tanned natural brunettes.
Of course, my cute nose, round face, and black pupils still hook the five-second eye contact with natural blondes and almond-eyed folks (I'm fascinated with them, too, you know!). But if a smile or a "Hahyaduin?!" eventually follows the gaze, it's not as uncomfortable anymore -- for everyone concerned.
Here's my secret: when I notice a lot of multi-colored people looking my way when I enter a restaurant or a supermarket, I just say to myself, "Smile, Ruby! You're a head-turner!"
[First published in BastaPinoy News]