I was born in North Carolina and raised in Bakersfield, California. As a preschooler, teachers accused my older brother of being “retarded” for merely speaking Tagalog in class. Consequently, my parents abstained from using their country’s language in an effort to distance me from any potential impediments to my education and assimilation to the United States. As I grew older, my parents slowly shifted back to speaking Tagalog, but at that point, that ship of learning the language had set sail. The period of learning through osmosis had passed, and no seven-year-old is going to go out and buy a Rosetta Stone to learn a language they didn’t even need. I never could, nor needed to, understand the content of my parents’ conversations: “adult talk” was a universal mystery among all children. With all my relatives on the other side of an ocean, learning Tagalog was as necessary as learning Latin. From a superficial level, I resembled a Filipino child, when I was really a child who happened to be Filipino. I don’t fit the narrative of a typical second-generation child, the Joy-Luck-Club-esque rejecting of my parents’ culture, only to realize its significance towards the end of the second act. I can’t reject something I was never given.
It’s an ironically alienating feeling to watch a tinikling dance with performers who look exactly like you being cheered on by other surrounding clones. I’m drawn towards this mirage, this sense of belonging. In reality, I was never in a desert to begin with. I had loving friends and family, and I never felt the need to pursue anything more than that. Despite the comforting sense of fellowship the Fil-Am community strives to provide, attending their events engenders uneasiness in me. Because of the second-generation narrative, I’m compelled to think that Filipino culture is a missing puzzle piece that will complete me. However, its absence never made me uncomfortable until I was told it should.
Shelton checked his watch, sighed, and began tapping his foot. Kat normally wasn’t this late to their dates.
“Does she not care about staying together as much as I do? Having a weekly coffee date wasn’t asking for much, and we'd decided it was a sure-fire way of keeping our followers ‘Awwing’, at least for a few months, ” Shelton thought.
He looked around. Shelton went through his mental checklist. The coffee shop was local, not like a “basic” Starbucks or a Dunkin’ Donuts. “Check,” Shelton thought. The menu was written on a chalkboard. “Check.” The back of the cafe had shelves filled with poetry books, which no one was going to read - not that they were there for reading in the first place - and the walls were made of slightly worn down bricks. “Check and… check. Perfect aesthetics.”
He observed the couples around him. It looked like other couples were trying to boost their ratings here, too. Towards the front of the coffee shop by the window was a gay couple. One of them was filming the other, who nibbled at a cheesecake. The one filming watched with a straight face, only smiling whenever he faced the camera back at himself. They looked desperate. No one would be live-streaming in the middle of a crowded coffee shop unless they needed a serious amount of Awws. “They must be close to termination,” Shelton thought to himself.
They weren’t the most attractive pair of men, but being in a gay relationship alone had its perks. Being openly gay nowadays meant you were “brave,” and therefore more “endearing,” no matter the quality of your relationship. The same applied to interracial ones. Seeing the couple reminded Shelton of his college friend Jack a few years ago. Even though he wasn’t gay, Jack started to date men because it was his only chance to stay in a relationship that lasted longer than a couple of weeks. His short stature meant he was never ever able to meet the “height aesthetics” that everyone expected from straight couples. Four or five inches was preferred height difference, that is, unless the female liked to wear heels.
Shelton was too busy staring at the gay couple to notice that Kat had walked in. He jerked a little when she suddenly plopped down in the seat across from him.
“Where the hell have you been?” Shelton asked her without saying hello.
“My alarm didn’t go off. Besides, I don’t know why you wanted to schedule a photoshoot this early anyways. It’s 10:00 on a fucking Saturday morning,” Kat said.
“Because I planned it all out,” Shelton said, “Maybe if you had gotten here at 8:30, like I asked you to, we’d have a lot better lighting.”
“The lighting’s fine right now,” Kat said.
“Fine?” Shelton asked, “Don’t you know how good our followers’ eyes are? They aren’t just gonna give out Awws to posts with ‘fine’ lighting.”
Kat was silent. She started collecting her things.
“Wait,” Shelton said, “I didn’t mean to lash out at you. I just don’t want to lose you. I mean, just look at our ratings.” He pulled out his phone and placed it in front of her. “We’re doing so well right now. I’ve never been in a relationship this highly rated.” The sound of a harp came from the phone, and he pointed to the “9.7” hologram that flashed in front of Kat.
Kat stared at it for a bit and then made a downward swiping motion in front of her, and the hologram retreated back into his phone. “Maybe we just look good together,” Kat said.
“What are you talking about? We have a nine. Point. Sev-”
“You know what I mean.”
The two sat in silence for the next few minutes. A harp sound came from both their phones, and matching holograms came out: “9.3”.
Without saying anything, Shelton took his phone and pointed it at her. Kat looked down and to the side.
“Babe, we’ll talk about it later, okay? Can we just get this over with, so we can at least be together long enough to argue about it some other time?” Shelton said.
Kat sighed. She slowly looked back up towards the camera. She turned her frown into a smile, tilted her head 40 degrees to the left. He took the picture.
he/him/his - "compatible" originally written for enl5f