That Token Asian Guy

eds033.jpg[Editor’s Note: We would like to welcome The Donger, read on and you’ll know what it means. He will fill us in on the life of a Fil-Am in search of his roots. This week, on being the only Pinoy in the South.]

During my high school years in South Carolina circa 1990-1993, I would often get asked to say:

What’s a happenin’ hot stuff?

You see, in Socastee High, there were not that many asians, so for many of my caucasian and african american friends, their only exposure to asians was what they saw on mainstream media. You see, like many Filipino-Americans, I’m an Air Force Brat.

Let’s start with a little inspiration. People of asian descent or looks really didn’t get a lot of roles in TV or movies unless they were the “smart guy” or some “kung fu master.” When I first saw Jonathan Ke Quan on Indiana Jones and then The Goonies, I thought to myself – “Damn! I could have been that Guy!”

But wait, a Filipino accent sounds a lot different from a Japanese or Chinese accent. Instead, I would have said, “What’s hapning’ hot stups!”

Identity issues
When my mom, dad, sister, and I were stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, I would often get the question, “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” I would quickly respond, “I’m Filipino!” But deep inside, I wasn’t a proud thirteen year old Filipino American. Fortunately, I got over that hump relatively quickly.

I didn’t speak Tagalog, so I couldn’t really relate to my parents’ friends, but I didn’t look like any of my Caucasian friends. One of the popular guys asked if I knew Karate and if I could kick anyones ass in school. Even through I didn’t, I confidently said “yes”, and surprisingly, no one ever challenged me (rumors spread fast in high school). My close friends gave me the nickname of “The Donger” since it sounded cool. My skater friends would attribute my nickname to the Pro H-Street skater. Regardless of where it came from, it stuck. The best was when I was trying to explain it to curious girls…

Although I became popular by association, deep inside, I often wished I was taller, or had a more narrow nose, etc. But after awhile, I just embraced my uniqueness. I found that instead of harboring on the depressing thoughts of looking different, I could turn it around into a positive thing. Granted I don’t think I truly felt comfortable with myself until I was around 27, but I’ll save that for another post.

With no true understanding of my culture, who my national heroes where, I really didn’t have anyone to model myself after. I was into the emerging hip-hop scene, but I didn’t dress like a rapper. In fact, I was a little more on the preppy side. My little click of friends didn’t fall into the general high-school categories of preps, jocks, nerds, rednecks, niggas, etc. We were friends with everyone. An odd group with multicultural backgrounds. In fact, we probably had one of each. After awhile, I really didn’t see myself as different. I was just me, or I thought I was…

What is it like to date a white girl?

When my cousin visited from the Philippines, he asked me: “What is it like to date a white girl?” Ironically, I didn’t see girls in color.

“Kuya, girls are girls regardless of what color they are.” Then like a typical 18 year old male, I said: “They are all pink on the inside!”

I don’t mean to turn you off by the frankness of that quote, but the reality is that most adolescent guys talk that way – even worse! What I was basically trying to tell my Kuya is to look past a person’s looks as they did with me. Looking back, I surrounded myself with hot girls to mask my insecurities.

In high school, I did everything I could to break out of my shell of shyness. Join school plays, musicals, extra-curricular activities. Looking back, I found my early success in high school was to be an effective communicator. I went on to become a late night radio DJ for a 100,000 station. Further increasing what I thought was the “cool factor.”

American Pie and MILF
Fast forward to 1999, and there was another Token Asian Guy. But this time, he was known for saying “MILF”. I could have sworn we made that up that acronym in high school! I just find it sad that asian looking guys are limited to one liners. How close to home that acronym would be when I got into college 1993 – 1996.

Would you ever marry a white girl?

At CCU, I dated a college sophmore who was a single mom, and my parents didn’t approve at all. The relationship started as physical, but I started to fall for her. She then asked the question, “Would you ever marry a white girl” and I said “no.” Granted our relationship didn’t last long after that, but I was seriously limiting myself to the pool of candidates in South Carolina.

So it is okay for me to date white girls but not marry them? “What is up with that?” you might be asking. Well, the fact of the matter is that I wasn’t thinking of marriage in College. Part of what was ingrained by all my Filipino relatives ever since I was a young boy was: “You are going to marry a good Filipina girl.” Until, then, I was just having fun.

For some reason, that “Ideal” stuck with me. But if I was going to eventually reach that goal, I’d have to move where a lot of Filipinos live. I decided on San Francisco since it had the Internet jobs and the cultural diversity.

Until I quit college because of the beginning of my dot com career, I went on to pursue “popularity” in college since that is what was masking my self doubts of being different. A few of the sorority girls convinced me to be in a Sexy male boxer contest where I got second place, then in another semester, in a male pageant of some sort, and I was the first ever Big Man on Campus. “How cool was that?” I thought. White girls thought I was hot. And that made me feel good inside. But I was yearning for something more – a true belonging.

All these experiences helped me learn the social aspects of life, but I needed to find the true me, because until then, I was still only a “Token Asian Guy.”

Find more like this: Opinion


  1. Soni Token says:

    Nice! I related to alot you your story. One question. What does “Token Asian” mean?

    Thank You,

    Soni Token

  2. […] In my first article, I discussed the trials and tribulations of growing up in the south. I was going to write about my journey through Florida and Washington DC, but that would have been boring. We’ll, I could have made it interesting, but I’ll try to keep my posts rated PG at least. […]

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