Before Klondike: An Asian American in Asia

Hello Everyone. I am Auriza Ugalino. I am a second-generation Filipino American, born in California, but raised in Washington state. My name comes from my two grandmothers “Aurora” and “Rizalina”, and my last name is an indigenous name from the Philippines roughly meaning “of the mindset”.

As a second-generation Filipino American, everything that I amfrom my name to my appearancecan be seen as too foreign. Meanwhile in the Philippines, I don’t understand Tagalog or common mannerisms enough for me to feel a sense of kinship. Many Asian Americans like myself experience this feeling of being a “Perpetual Foreigner”, or what I like to call a “Double Foreigner”. My identity has always been very central to how I go about life. I hope to go more into this in future posts.

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Anyway, what do I, a double-foreigner, have to offer to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park–a National Park on an entirely different timeline–from my ancestry? None of my ancestors were part of the Gold Rush. The only gold I’m rushing for is some rent money.

The answer to why I decided to work at the Klondike may also be explained by why I chose to work in Hiroshima, Japan. This is a prequel to the movie of how I got here.

Immediately after graduating from UW, and a few months before joining the Klondike, I taught in Hiroshima, Japan for three years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). Before then, I had a great deal of anxiety over my identity as a “perpetual foreigner” in the states, and whether being in Japan would make me feel better — or worse — about it.

For context, in Japan, anyone who isn’t Japanese is called a “gaikokujin” (guy-koh-koo-jeen), which means “foreigner” in English. On top of that, the three Chinese characters for the word literally translate to “outside”, “country”, and “person”. Typically in Japanese textbooks and media, these “gaikokujin” are blonde and white. So, if I wasn’t even the commonly-accepted poster-child of a foreigner, how was I going to be accepted into a Japanese classroom? Instead of being a double-foreigner, I would be a triple-foreigner.

So how did I do it? Growing up, I loved Japan. I ate sushi since the 3rd grade. When I was 9, I tried to fold a thousand origami cranes and lost count at 135. I watched the anime Rurouni Kenshin, never thinking that 18 years later, some fellow Japanese teachers would think it was cool that I did.

I never let my double-foreign-ness stop me from doing what I loved. So maybe it was time to put my triple-foreign-ness to the test.

The experience was better than expected. In Japan, I met other people of Asian descent, including Filipino Americans like me, working to teach English. Not only were they from the states. They were also from New Zealand, the U.K., Canada, and Australia. Most importantly, I made it there and never stopped or let my triple-foreign-ness daunt me. I spent three long years in Japan – the fullest extent of my contract. Simply by coming together in this shared existence, I realized nothing can stop me from doing what I want to do.

So what does that mean for the Klondike? There will be some difficulties of course. A Place at the Park is grounded in diversity. While living overseas has enriched my experience, I’ve missed out on a lot of changes in diversity rhetoric at the social and academic level. I hope my experience here can amend that. Meanwhile, I won’t let this notion of foreign-ness stop me from engaging with the community, in the home I have now. I grew up surrounded by the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, and I want people to know about it.

BY AURIZA UGALINO

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