I’ve been married for 15 years. It’s been the most significant, challenging, and fulfilling relationship of my life. I am pretty sure that’s what it is supposed to be. My wife, Gerry Ebalaroza Tunnell is an incredible person who has led us through many poignant lessons in our relationship, and I am thankful for her in my life.
Early in our relationship, we were a dynamic couple to our friends. We playfully acknowledged our inter-racial reality. We thought about making t-shirts for the wedding that read “Down with Brown/Alright with White” with a brown and white yin/yang symbol nested between the words. I’m glad we didn’t.
Once we were married, we were just a couple. It was work. It was occasionally unbearable, and it was sometimes incredible. We fought and argued, threw-out the D-word, went to counseling, and did what we knew to do to make it work. We went through times that seemed like we were heading toward prosperity and found ourselves wading through poverty. We had been homeless for a time and rented our entire relationship. We have dreams, aspirations and pitfalls for which we never want to walk near the craters-edge of again.
When my wife began her Ph.D. work in transformative studies, it got a lot harder. As Gerry began to seek out the heritage of her family, she began to go through her decolonization process. It started with the rediscovery and recovery of who she is. Gerry began to look into her family’s immigration to Hawaii in the early 20th century. She saw the interconnected truth of her grandmothers and great-grandmother’s journey through poverty, immigration, and the mixing of new cultures and DNA.
I gallantly supported her journey and rested in the assurance that my whiteness afforded me all the ancestoral knowledge I would ever need. My people were nation builders and brand developers. They were industry organizers and job creators. There was nothing to be learned from digging in the dirt of my agrarian grandmothers. She was on a person-of-color’s journey.
Gerry entered the next stage called mourning. For the first time in her life, Gerry saw her historical place in global colonization. She saw her Filipino ancestors as they made indigenous lives on the island of Cebu and the 400-year subjugation of the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers. Her mourning raged through our household. I had suddenly become the colonizer of her emerging reality. Sleeping next to her sometimes felt dangerous.
I spent most of my time avoiding my wife’s office, where she began to spend almost all of her time. When we were together in the car, it was mostly silent as I took to the task of driving more seriously than ever and she became engrossed in her social feeds that affirmed her newfound indignation. We had come to silence because her fury would never be able to get through my defensive walls, and she was never going to reassemble her partitions of colonized identity again.
Gerry then came to the dreaming stage and understood that she must learn to peacefully co-exist with the Spanish/Portuguese ancestors within her. She realized that she was not only the colonized but the colonizer as well. She was not only the raped and murdered but the rapist and the murderer too. Her mourning and dreaming wave ebb and flowed through her. She began to speak with these ancestors and make amends on their behalf. Gerry began to replace her rage with the far fiercer flame of gracious anger.
For the first time, I started to pay attention. For the first time, I began to see the colonizer in me as my wife modeled a path forward of forgiveness for her ancestors in her. I began to question who my ancestors were. Television shows that represented Northern European tribes began to take on a personal reality for me. The slightest murmur of ancient Galic or Norse in media piqued my interest. What was my indigeneity? Who were my people? Where did we come from, and what lessons were left behind on the ancient regions they dwelled.
In my whiteness, I was taught that European indigeneity was a thing not worth valuing. It represented fur-clad peoples, desperately migrating against the constant onslaught of a winter that never ceased. Those ancestors were dirty and ragged, and their only value came from being fortunate enough to have survived to become the genetic progenitor of thinking and reasoning Europeans.
Together Gerry and I began to move through dreaming and mourning. We saw that race was a construct imposed upon the world to launch the age of discovery. It was a tool to fool European peoples into believing the New World’s conquest was ordained by God. Through the religious and educational systems of the time, it convinced them that all other races were inferior to the Caucasian/European line’s superiority. It was the colonization of the European mind.
Race became the christening chalice for global colonization, first with the conquering and enslavement of the new world and then the African continent’s bondage to replace the genocide of indigenous Americans. Race was the weapon designed to cut down civilizations found in these lands to make a path for the deluge of white people to come.
As we moved into the stage of commitment together, we both began to do our work. We acknowledged our existence in a societal system that forces us to view ourselves through race’s flawed perspective. We chose to call ourselves a multi-ethnic couple. It is the proper label for what we are. Multi-ethnic acknowledges the heritage of our ancestors and the lineage of our genetic make-up.
The identity of race left us with only the rage of being colonized and the ignorance in believing that it no longer affected us here in the 21st century. Race labeled us into categories that afforded one of us privilege and the other limitation. We declare that race is a real social construct and false genetic doctrine that we all must choose to dismantle within ourselves if we are to make a new world for children’s children.
To remain in a place where we define ourselves and our relationship in the extremely flawed social labels of white-person and person-of-color gets us nowhere. Indeed, living in this society means we must acknowledge where those labels place us, but that is only the starting point. We must continuously decolonize.
Together, we enter the final stage of decolonization as defined by Hawaiian Elder Poka Laenui: Action and collaboration. I endeavor to dismantle my whiteness, inherited internalized supremacy, and reach back to my ancestors. Gerry strives to dismantle her internalized oppression, the racialized identities associated with being a woman of color and allow her ancestors to guide her.
We invite you to join us in this journey of self-rediscovery and decolonizaiton.