From a very young age, I struggled with self-identity and belonging. A biracial product of the Vietnam War, I was born in the Philippines in 1971 to an American Air Force serviceman and a Filipina housemaid. I was raised in Connecticut after moving to America in 1972.
All too often I heard the words, "What are you?" Never "Who are you?" or "How are you?" Just what
. I even remember my own mother asking me on my first day of kindergarten, “Sharon, if they ask you what you are, what do you say?” “Mestiza?” I replied. “Correct,” she said, satisfied. That set the tone for how I felt growing up as a “half and half” (half-Filipina/half-Caucasian) in a small, preppy New England town and how little I thought about myself at that time. It also set the stage for a lifetime struggle with self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-worth, body image, and confidence.
As if identity crisis weren’t enough, I had a very strict mother who verbally abused my two brothers and me. Nothing was ever good enough for her. In fact, she would always say, "Whatever you do, you can always do better.
" But, better never seemed to come no matter how perfect I tried to be. Eventually, I didn't think I was good enough at anything, including just being me. She also never gave us compliments and she never said anything positive. Instead, she ruled with negative reinforcement and yelling about anyone or anything. We would want to do right by her just so we wouldn’t get yelled at and just to stop the screaming.
My mother also confused confidence with cockiness. So, she wouldn’t let me speak positively about myself at all. She insisted saying or recognizing anything good about myself was considered bragging or gloating, which she said was “ugly.” So, I never did. Over time, all that did for me was prevent me from seeing or feeling anything positive about myself. It also meant I couldn’t handle a compliment. In fact, I was raised not to trust anyone who said anything nice about me. “They’re just being nice,” she would say. “Oh, that just means they want something from you, or they’re actually speaking bad about you behind your back.” So, compliments made me disbelieving, untrusting, and paranoid. Check, check, check.
My mother was a woman who was always working hard to provide us with the clothes, food, and necessities to live better than she did when she was a child growing up in poverty in the Philippines. She worked at the same factory as my father, where she would even work double shifts to get us as many new toys and clothes as she could for Christmas. So, while she worked extremely hard at work and at home, cooking, cleaning, and raising us three kids, this also meant a lifetime of feeling guilty for immediately having more than she did – no running water, no electricity, no phone, no TV, no car, and no education.
She was also extremely kind, warm, loving, and generous to others - not just to be a good person, but also as a tactic to be liked and accepted by others. And, she taught me to be the same way. She even taught me to always put everyone else
first. So, my mother was the one to teach us how to be understanding, loving, kind, and compassionate, but she just didn't teach us how to be that way with ourselves
. And, when your mother screams or doesn't speak to you in a very loving, kind, or compassionate way over the course of 18 years or more, it can destroy all sense of self - your self-worth, self-esteem, self-love, self-confidence, and self-belief to start. And, that is all I really craved at that point – to feel good, to feel like I was good enough, to feel like I mattered, and to feel good about myself
Instead, I was always anxious and defensive. I never knew what I would be called next or when. I never knew when something would be my fault, even if it wasn’t, like her marriage. I never knew when or with whom she would be angry, but I always knew it was coming. Just give it a minute. Any minute now, she would find something wrong. Therefore, I stayed to myself a lot, did my homework and my chores, held down a part-time job by 16 years old, and always ate my feelings. That set me up for a lifetime of emotional eating, gut health issues, and struggling with my weight. My weight also triggered teasing and taunting by my own family members, which also produced decades of body image issues. This - coupled with the fact I was never told I was pretty or beautiful - just made me think and feel I was ugly, dirty, poor, and "beneath" white people. I was only told I was smart. In fact, I was “book smart but had no common sense,” as my mother would often say. Other than that, I never thought I was good enough for anyone or anything.
Being verbally abused daily and thinking poorly about myself was a big reason for my shyness and lack of self-esteem growing up. It held me back from speaking out loud, from making friends, being social, and having fun as a kid. As an adult, my shyness and lack of self-esteem prevented me from aspiring for bigger jobs, asking for raises or promotions, dating the right men, and seeing my full potential. I didn't know how to set healthy boundaries, how to speak confidently, or how to be assertive. I found myself in situations where I always felt inferior. Simply put, I assumed I was
I’ve been called “gook” or “chink” at worst and “Hawaiian” at best, as my looks were a constant source of mystery and curiosity with people I’ve met throughout my life and my travels. I also never felt “white enough" or "Filipino enough." In fact, even Filipinos didn’t want to believe I was Filipino. They would say I was too tall and that my hair, eyes, and skin were too light. So, in my mind, I felt alone and lonely, living on my mestizo island by myself. My experience in constantly defending my identity only further encouraged me to seek answers in the Hawaiian culture later in life.
As I got older, I saw my friends or people I worked with getting bigger jobs, getting more pay, getting engaged, getting married, having children, buying houses, going on cruises and family vacations, being happy, and having fun. Everyone was always having fun. Everyone was moving forward and living life to the fullest. Recognizing that I had to break out of my shyness and acquire more confidence, I always challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone. I eventually learned that I was funny and that people liked funny people. I also learned that I was good at helping people with their problems. I always seemed to be that girl who everyone felt comfortable going to with their problems and secrets. I realized I had love, kindness, compassion, and empathy to offer.
But, while I did have some
fun, some times when I felt loved by someone, and some moments of happiness in my life, I still felt so far removed from everyone else I knew. Inside, I didn’t ever really feel happy about my life or myself. I realized I had been faking it the whole time - behind a big toothy, “photogenic” smile everyone said I had. And, I knew I had to do something about it. While I still lacked some confidence and still struggled with self-esteem and body image from time to time, I had read as much as I could to help myself and my mindset. But, ultimately I knew I had to move away and get a fresh start somewhere else.
I firmly believe if there's something about your life or yourself that you don’t like, that it’s up to you to do something about it. By the time I reached 40, I knew I had to make a change. I had to take that long, hard look at myself in the mirror and in the harsh lighting of reality to find my truth. I knew I had to love myself in order to love my life. That's when I made the biggest commitment to myself to take a chance and to make a change to turn my life around. I chose to think more positive thoughts and to love and believe in myself more than I ever did. With that, I mustered the courage to move westward to follow my passion for living by the ocean, to find the love of my life, to find my life purpose, and to fulfill my dreams, but what was more astonishing was that I found peace and healing in ways I could never have imagined.
When I moved to San Diego to start over, my new life in a new place, with a new job, a new love, his ex-wife, his sons, and his family triggered my past in ways I couldn’t have seen coming. I realized how much my new life and my struggles as a first-time wife and stepmom paralleled my own mother's life. Moving to the opposite coast was similar to my mother's painful journey moving to a new country, where she had to quickly adjust to a whole new culture. You see, when I was about 21, I found out I was not my mother’s first child. I found out that before she met my father, she had a baby boy with another Army serviceman who wanted to marry her, but his Midwestern parents threatened to disown him if he did, calling her a “third-world peasant.” Not wanting to break up his family, my mother left him to raise her child alone while working as a live-in housemaid for an older couple. But, one fateful day, the woman abruptly ended my mom’s employment and talked her into giving up her baby by saying damaging words like, “Look at you. You can’t raise this boy. You have no money, no job, no place to live, no husband, and no family. You have nothing
. How can you possibly take care of this boy?” At 22 years old, those words were not only enough to convince her into handing over her child, but they were also damaging enough to traumatize her and leave her feeling guilty, ashamed, and worthless for a lifetime.
(It was just only days later that she met my father at an off-base party. Other young women had taken my mother in, giving her food and shelter. A scrappy, short guy from the Bronx who never backed down from anything worth a fight, my father helped her retrace her steps back to the village to reclaim her son. But, the couple had vanished without a trace, and no one in the village would talk. These were the circumstances that brought my parents together and the very same circumstances that created me.
This was also the secret my parents kept from my brothers and me for years. If my mother's friend hadn't leaked it, I doubt we'd ever know. But, this also explains why my father never stepped in to stop my mother's behavior. It was her
story to tell us. He had kept his promise and honored her story.)
Mom moved to a new country promising better opportunities for her and her children, but with the cultural clashes and struggles fitting into a predominantly white community during the post-Vietnam War era, it is no wonder she treated us the same way as that old woman under all that stress. But, it would still take me another 20 years to fully understand the catastrophic effect of those words and the memory of that day on my mother and her three children.
Between my past and present personal life struggles and after another poor job experience, I made a decision to embrace the aloha spirit as a way to cope with my new life, create triumph out of tragedy, and push positivity into the world. And, that's when my healing really began. I soon found forgiveness, compassion, and even more love for my mother.
By the way, my mother is no longer the same woman that she was when we were children. She now sees the damaging effects her behavior had caused, and she carries that regret on top of the pain of losing a child. Now that she’s a grandmother, there are no limits to her love for us, as she would do anything to help us. Now, she speaks much more loving, kind, and compassionately. She encourages us to have fun and she asks more questions about our lives and our happiness. She offers help, guidance, and wisdom, and she would give her last dollar to anyone who needed it. Now, I see the mother that was always there and I believe that she really did mean it when she always said there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for us. Now, I really do hear it in her voice. She
is the one who originally taught me how to share aloha and spread it in the world, but she just hadn't cultivated it within herself all those years. Therefore, I hadn't learned how to cultivate it within myself either. It is possible that when children show unconditional love, it can help parents to find forgiveness or acceptance of past tragedies. While I do not believe my mother has completely forgiven herself, there is a chance she has learned to live with it even though she never did find her first-born child. Because he was never baptized, there is no way of tracing him.
By embracing aloha, I have repurposed my pain and found my life purpose in empowering people to love themselves, believe in themselves, and have compassion for themselves. I conceived and ran a women’s empowerment fitness training program for three seasons, where women were going through transitions in their lives. From divorce, career changes, or the death of a child, I provided motivational speaking while leading a fitness bootcamp. I empowered the elderly and many student volunteers as an activities director for four years, where I helped residents at a senior living community find new purpose, discover new passions, and develop, courage, confidence, and self-esteem. And, I co-created a women empowerment podcast, where I use my voice to inspire self-love and courage by sharing my life experiences, wisdom, and research on current social and health issues. Using my own personal life experiences and my “Aloha Mana Empowerment” coaching approach, I have helped others cultivate their "self-powers” in love, kindness, and compassion. I help people develop the courage to try new things and the confidence to pursue their goals and dreams, and to live their lives with purpose so that they can achieve optimal health, happiness and success even in their last chapters of their lives.
I have also embraced the name "CT," which my San Diegan-native husband and stepsons gave me when we met after moving to California from Connecticut. But now, it represents my self-reinvention and my personal and professional transformations. It symbolizes the stronger, more self-loving woman I’ve become who has not only found her own voice and defined her own identity, but who has also learned to stand up, speak up and move forward in courage and confidence. Now, I define my worth and walk in my truth every day and I hope to inspire others to do the same.
This name means so much to me that I am even legalizing it once I finally take on my married name this year. My new legal name will be “CT Sharon Ahat-McGee Quigg,” but I will go by “CT Quigg.” I am keeping the name “Sharon” to honor the little girl inside of me, for she is the seed that has blossomed into the flower that is now the woman I am today. “Ahat” is my mother’s maiden name. Initially, it was my last name when I was born. After my mother’s first child was taken, she was so untrusting that she didn’t want to take a chance on anyone else trying to claim me in case my father changed his mind, left her and stole me, too. It became my middle name once I moved to America and took my father’s name of “McGee.” “Quigg” is my married name. In Filipino culture, you add on all your names to show your family’s lineage. I am using it to tell my story and reflect my journey in aloha.
The kicker? Three years after starting my journey in aloha, a DNA test confirmed I was indeed of Polynesian descent - Hawaiian, Tongan and Samoan! I'm currently writing a novel based on my life story called, "Aloha Mana," and have recently launched “The Aloha Guru” podcast.
If you live, love,and lead with aloha, your life will change for the better.
It did for me, so I believe it can for you, too, my Pineapple!Live, Love and Lead with Aloha,
The Aloha Guru