Trying to hold tight to diversity

Project produced by Emma Olson , NewsNetNebraska

Anthony Alabata appreciates his culture and where he came from, but finds that he is slowly falling away from the traditions of his background.

The senior nutrition and health sciences major at  the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wishes he was able to carry on the language aspect of his Filipino, Chinese and Hawaiian heritage. Alabata’s parents never learned their native languages because their parents didn’t think they needed the knowledge once they moved to the United States. He said if he ever got the chance to learn the language he would, but the chances of being able to use the skill would be slim.

Alabata,an Omaha native, said since he isn’t around his extended family who are very in touch with their heritage, he doesn’t get the opportunity to celebrate his diversity very often.

“I think my parents understand that I am slowly slipping out of my culture being isolated in Nebraska,” Alabata said. “They know that what I grew up with I’ll be able to maintain later and pass that on to my kids.”

Realizing the Diversity

Alabata noticed he looked different from other kids when he moved to Nebraska in third grade, but never thought anything of it. He said he didn’t really acknowledge that difference from his classmates until he was in middle school and cliques started forming.

“There were the jocks, the popular girls, all the ethnic kids. That’s when it became apparent that there were differences in people”

However, his realization didn’t change his life drastically.

“I never felt left out because I was Asian. I just tried to fit in to try to make friends. Being Asian didn’t deter me from making friends with any other ethnicity.”

After meeting as teens at Papillion La Vista High School and becoming roommates at college for three years, John Bowley, a UNL student studying fisheries and wildlife, said his friendship with Alabata is open and their difference in ethnicity has never been a problem.

When the pair first became friends, Bowley said he wasn’t worried that Alabata’s parents wouldn’t accept him or would treat him differently because of his different cultural background.

“They accept other family’s backgrounds knowing that every family has different cultural roots,” Bowley said.

Embracing Stereotypes

The friends are comfortable enough with each other that they embrace the typical stereotype and can laugh about it together. One particular memory that stands out for Bowley involved the stereotype that Asians get good grades. “I remember early in high school playing video games with him and his dad came into the room and yelled at him for not studying,” Bowley said. “It was absolutely hilarious and I will never forget it.”

Race and Relationships

Alabata said his parents displayed the typical stereotype of needing A’s all the time in school and wanted him to wait to start dating because girls would just distract him. But when he started dating, Alabata said he never felt pressure from his parents to date an Asian girl.

However, his girlfriend, Becca Conn, a senior food sciences major, said she was worried to tell her parents about her relationship because of how conservative her upbringing was.

“I wasn’t worried to tell my friends because they aren’t very judgmental,”Conn said. Interracial relationships are more widely accepted today compared to 50 years ago. According to the Pew Research Center, only ten percent of Americans oppose interracial marriages in their family compared to 31 percent in 2000.

But when it came time to introduce Alabata, her family was accepting. Conn said that looking back she was worried for no reason at all.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that interracial marriage was legal. In 2015, 17 percent of all newlyweds in the U.S. were interracial compared to three percent in 1967 according to the Pew Research Center.

“If you have a good first impression, good personality and good character, your skin color shouldn’t matter,” Alabata said.

Sharing Culture

Alabata and Bowley have taken advantage of their difference in ethnicity and background to learn more about different cultures. Through the years Alabata shared foods his mother would make at home, customs from Hawaii and the Philippines as well as family traditions rooted in their heritage. Bosley said he took the opportunity to learn more about his friend’s culture as well as sharing his own Polish background.
“I feel it brings us closer together as friends so we can understand different points of view,” Bowley said.

While grateful to never feel as though his ethnic background has held him back from accomplishing anything, Alabata said racism is still prevalent in society today.

Alabata said that racism isn’t something that is inherently in individuals based on his experiences growing up.

Alabata said,“That’s something [people] just don’t know, but then they grow up and develop their own opinions about it or something else influences them to make them think that way.”

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