There’s been a lot of talk about identity lately. My friend Emily Allen recently commented on the “trans” issues and I raised the question “How exactly do we identify ourselves?” Some identify themselves by the race or gender or sexuality of their choice. Others identify strongly with their career choice, the place that they live in, or the things that they love. This post will look into how I saw myself in the past, how my identity has changed over time, and how I identify and define myself now.
Just as a warning, this is a long post. So please bear with me!
Diversity wasn’t exactly a huge part of my early life. My family and I are Filipino. I have a very large extended family and I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating when I say that I probably have about a million cousins. (This video from Buzzfeed is seriously accurate!) My classmates mostly had Italian, Irish, German and Polish ancestry, the kind of kids you’d find in a typical Catholic school. But I didn’t see myself as any different from them.
In fact, I hate saying this, but for most of my life I have never really been the victim of negative racism. Teachers may have thought I was smart because I was Asian, but that’s about it. The only time I felt like I was being attacked because of my race was when an African-American girl from my English class kept making snide remarks and glaring daggers at me because I was dating a black guy.
I consider being Filipino to be part of my identity, but being Filipino was never the whole of my identity at all. The funny thing about being Filipino is that the ethnic identity is it’s a mix of so many cultures: Spanish, Portuguese, American, Polynesian, Malaysian, etc. There’s no such thing as a “true Filipino.” Instead, the Filipino identity is (for the most part) integrated with the Catholic faith, not to mention lots of food and the importance of family.
I was born a female, but my childhood dream was not to become the first female president. Instead, my imagination jumped between daydreams of being Wonder Woman’s cowgirl sidekick, being a scientist (marine biologist, if I remember correctly), and being an astronaut. I never pursued those dreams, however, because I hated math and was mediocre with science at best. Nobody ever said I couldn’t do math and science just because I was a girl, but it wasn’t exactly drilled into my head, either. I always believe that girls should be encouraged to pursue what they want, even when their interests change. So neither my ethnicity nor my gender defined my identity growing up. What did? The kind of job I wanted and the obsessions I had.
The first time I was called a journalist was back in middle school, when the runningback for the New York Giants at the time came to visit my school. I actually got to ask him questions like I was at a press conference. I didn’t exactly know what journalists did, but the idea of being one was definitely cool, if it meant interviewing famous people. I also wanted to be a forensic science after obsessing over the true crime series Forensic Files. This inevitably led to me watching shows like CSI and Law and Order and reading detective novels. So I went from wanting to be a sidekick/scientist/astronaut to being a journalist/forensic scientist/detective/lawyer.
But if you asked the younger me how I identified myself, I would’ve said that I saw myself as a fan of anime. Japanese animation was huge when I was growing up. I mostly saw it in dubbed form, but I loved watching shows like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z and even lesser known ones like Cardcaptors. Eventually, I got old enough to stay up for Cartoon Network’s adult swim block, when they aired animes like Inuyasha and Case Closed. Sadly, I never developed the skills to draw the stuff I saw. Instead, I started writing fanfiction.Eventually, all that fanfiction led to me writing an original short story in middle school. It was your typical lame Skater Boy inspired story about a boy getting the girl and becoming famous with his cool band, but it was still an original story. I decided, after creating that story, that I wanted to turn that into a novel.
The quest for me creating the next great American novel took up most of my high school life and still continues to this day. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea of being creative, being a writer, and being an artist as part of my identity. Mostly it was through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Anne Lammot’s Bird By Bird. I learned that creativity was God’s gift to me and that I had to develop it and make it my own.
But given that I was also a very pretentious, sheltered, and naive teenager at the time, my identity also got wrapped up in my social life. I didn’t want to be the cheerleader or the class president. I just wanted to be accepted by my friends. I hung out with people who were also fans of anime and spent some time with theatre people as well. There was also my boyfriend, of course, who was the Angel to my Buffy. By that I mean he brooded a lot and I wanted us to go out on actual dates. It’s no wonder that it ended around the same time that I started college.
College, to me, was the buildup to the major identity change I would have later on. I was 16th percentile in high school, was voted School Spirit, and graduated Cum Laude, but in college, it didn’t mean much at all. I learned a lot of humility in college and about how responsible I had to be for myself. I relearned what I forgot in Catholic school and grew in new devotions. I didn’t have a steady group of friends. Instead my circle of friends consisted of two groups: friends who were devoutly Catholic but didn’t share my interests in anime and musicals and friends whom I shared common interests with except for being Catholic. I was so caught up in my identity of being a student that I completely forgot about my future.
Graduating college was the crisis of my identity change. I expected to have some kind of job, but none came. I didn’t have my friends or my professors. I spent about a year figuring out who I was outside of being a college student. It started with watching movies like Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Princess Bride, and Wreck-it Ralph and eventually led to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I don’t know what it is about Buffy that made it different from all the other Whedonverse works to the point that I can’t imagine my life without it. I loved Firefly, Doctor Horrible, and Dollhouse, but Buffy was different. The last obsession I had that took over my life outside of anime was anything related to Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. But outside of Jesus Christ, Buffy was the only thing I can say that saved my life after my post-college crisis.
It’s been a few years since I graduated college. I’m in the process of going to grad school again. I’m still working on creating and publishing a novel, but I now know that I still have a long way to go and that there are other ways to express myself through writing. I am not as obsessed with anime as I used to be, but I still like it a lot. I no longer define myself by my career because I’m still trying to build that. As much as I love my fandoms, I don’t define myself as a fangirl, either. I don’t define myself by my ethnicity or my gender, or even by the kind of people I find attractive because as I said before, they are all parts of me.
Before anything else, I am God’s creation. Which means that when I identify myself, I say that I am Catholic. My faith is so much bigger than anything else. It grows along with me. As I continue to learn about life, I learn more about what it means to be Catholic. It sounds like blind devotion, I know, but I’m going into this world with my eyes open. One thing that I know for sure was that my faith saved me from a lot of things and I owe my life to my Creator. As John the Baptist said “He must increase and I must decrease.” But in becoming more Christlike, I don’t actually lose myself. Instead, I am refined like silver, becoming a better version of myself in the process.
So when you ask me about how I see myself, I would say: “I am Monique Ocampo. I am a Catholic writer slash fangirl. And you are?”
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