On Authenticity and the Real-Real
By Genevieve Villamora, Co-Owner, Bad Saint
Reading the news these days makes me feel like our country is in a wrestling match with itself.
What is democracy? What makes someone an American?
What is real? What are facts?
I’ve thought a lot lately about how hard I’ve worked to feel like I belong in the country where I was born.
I wasted much of my youth wanting to be someone else. I wanted to be an Irish stepdancer, with the velvet embroidered dress, red hair, and freckles. I thought these totems would get me “in” with the cool kids at my Catholic school in Chicago.
I thought authenticity was something judged by other people. Show me you can fit in. Show me you deserve to sit next to me on the bus. Prove to me that you should be here.
It’s a sentiment that has echoed through most of my adult life. When people question my knowledge and my right to be in the room, the last thing I am is surprised.
When we opened a Filipino restaurant in 2015, I thought it would be different. Instead, many non-Filipinos tried to educate me about my own culture. Kababayan, fellow Pin@ys, told me that the food wasn’t Filipino enough. It prompted a lot of soul-searching about what it takes to be “authentic” in others’ eyes.
I’m done using others’ yardsticks to measure my life. This restaurant has given me the gift of realizing that no one else can tell me how to be Pin@y and no one else gets to judge whether I am Filipino “enough.” Self-definition is a superpower.
Others’ obsession with authenticity (the “most Filipino Filipino food,” “real Americans,” etc.) doesn’t suck me in anymore. It’s a distraction and a zero-sum game that denies our reality: human beings are messy, complex, and ever-evolving.
As we muddle through the apocalypse, I’m rooted by my experiences of true connection with other people. Walks with my son in Rock Creek Park. A phone call with a friend. Sharing our backyard produce with our neighbors.
What is really real?
People and experiences that make us feel connected, loved, and human. Those are the stars I’m using to guide me through this expedition.