I’m a Berkeleyan: Student-athlete Nikko Remigio finds pride in being ‘a mixed kid’

Nikko Remigio yelling after a big win on the field.

UC Berkeley football player Nikko Remigio faced challenges growing up, being both Filipino American and Black, but has found a sense of belonging at Berkeley. (Photo by Al Sermeno/KLC fotos)

This I’m A Berkeleyan feature was written as a first-person narrative from an interview with Nikko Remigio. Have someone you think we should write about? Contact news@berkeley.edu.

I started playing football when I was 5. I think the competitiveness and the aggressive physicality of it all was what initially drew me to it.

But looking back now, I realize I was developing skills that would help me excel in my life off the field too: Learning how to deal with adversity, and how to keep pushing through tough situations. Knowing how to react in times of struggle and hardship.

These were character traits built into my identity that I learned to love — that drove me.

Nikko Remigio playing high school football

As a wide receiver and four-star recruit at Mater Dei High School, Remigio found acceptance in football despite being one of very few mixed-race players on his team. (YouTube screengrab)

Sports does that for a lot of kids. I can remember growing up in Orange County, me and my two younger brothers were always the better players on the Pop Warner and high school teams we played on. And in sports, when you’re good, there is a level of acceptance that you get from the coaches and other players: You’re cherished and loved by everybody.

As a mixed-race kid, on teams that were predominately white, that constant acceptance appealed to me. Because it didn’t matter what race you were. It made you feel like you were just like everybody else: not different.

My mom, who is half Black and half white, is from Pontiac, Michigan, and works in corporate telecommunications. My father was born in Seattle, Washington but was raised in Southern California. His family immigrated from the Iloilo and Muntinlupa regions of the Philippines. He’s a private investigator.

They met in Santa Ana, California, in 1988. My mom was visiting at the time, and my dad kind of just took her cruising around town in his car. When it was time for her to fly back to Michigan, she cancelled her flight to stay with my dad in California, where they got married.

My parents would divorce when I was a kid, but they still maintain a good relationship. I really admire the morals they instilled in me: treating others the way you want to be treated.

Nikko Remigio taking a shower in the sink.

Remigio has maintained a close bond with his lola (grandmother) Zeny Deocampo. Here, as a toddler, she gives him a shower in the sink of their Orange County home. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Remigio))

They were always there if we were really struggling, but gave us the space to navigate challenges by ourselves in order to fully learn what we’re capable of, and who we are.

But growing up mixed, it’s hard to get fully grounded in your own personal identity. There are moments that you experience that make you realize that, “Oh, I’m different.”

Like the times when kids would want to touch my hair because it was long and “super curly,” or when I would be told to stay out of the sun because my skin was getting too dark. And more overt forms of racism, like being called a nigger or a chink, and getting the slanted eyes gesture to my face.

I remember when I was in fourth or fifth grade and riding the bus on a field trip. I was sitting in between these two white girls. One of them, I had a crush on. And they were looking at my skin. They put their arms up against mine and one of them said, “Look how much darker his skin is!”

I was totally crushed by this.

I didn’t think their intentions were to cause me harm, but as a young kid I was like: “Why do I have to be different? Why can’t I just be like everybody else?”

It made me feel like I was less than, and not as good as other people. And something mixed kids struggle with, in general, is we fit into all these different racial groups, but we don’t know where we truly fit.

Nikko remigio wearing a red graduation gown with his mother and grandfather.

Remigio at his graduation from Mater Dei High School in 2018. His mother Jennifer Remigio, left, and grandfather Ben Peck, right, joined the celebration. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Remigio)

It’s like you’re too Black for the white kids, and too white for the Black kids. And then, you’re not really Filipino because you’re only half. In high school, kids would be like, “Oh, you’re Hawaiian right?” and I would say, “No, I’m Filipino,” but I would eventually go with the whole being “Hawaiian” thing because it resonated with them more.

I was lying to them, and to myself.

All I wanted was to be able to have that sense of belonging from any community that would accept me. Besides my siblings, there were never really any mixed kids I knew that were Filipino and Black. So, I gravitated to role models that I felt I could relate to.

I was really into Bruce Lee flicks, and he was an Asian hero of mine. My dad is also a huge Prince fan, and he put me onto his music. Prince was Black, but also seemed to be somewhat mixed-race. And just seeing him be so confident and great at what he did gave me the confidence to be myself, too.

As I grew older, I became more comfortable in my own skin, and less worried about fitting in. I began to accept that I am different because I am mixed — but that’s also what makes me unique.

I no longer pretend to be something I’m not.

I love being Filipino: The family dynamic, the music, the dancing and the get-togethers — where you know there’s going to be like a thousand trays of lumpia and massive pots of rice to go with pounds of meat and fried fish — and the next morning you know we’re going to heat those leftovers up, fry an egg and make that a Filipino breakfast.

I’m all about it.

Nikko Remigio and his cousins hugging his granmother.

Remigio and his cousins on his dad’s side were always affectionate to their lola Zeny, center, having regular get-togethers and family parties. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Remigio)

I took a trip to the Philippines with my dad, my brothers and my lolo (grandfather) a few years ago, and it felt good to go back to the motherland to be where your family comes from. At the end of the day, it is considered a Third World country, but I loved just being there to get a new perspective and to connect with my relatives that are still over there.

I know I stuck out as a mixed kid from America, but I still felt that sense of belonging I have longed for — I’d love to go back again.

Nikko Remigio with his brothers, grandfather and dad

Remigio spending time with his brothers, Nino and Kai, and lolo Art Remigio, center, and father Mark Remigio, right. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Remigio)

Because my mom’s side of the family lives on the East coast, I have been exposed more to my Filipino side. But I embrace being Black too.

Being Black has become less cultural and more experience-based for me. My mom would always remind me about how I will be perceived by others as a Black man. She would warn me to “be careful of what you do” because I’d be singled out for being Black.

The daily kind of reality of having to worry about certain forms of discrimination, that maybe other people don’t have to worry about, is something I hold onto as a Black man.

In coming to UC Berkeley, those realities of being Black have become even more important for me. My freshman year, I read a book by Bryan Stevenson titled Just Mercy, about a Black man in America who was wrongly convicted, and a lawyer who fought to free him.

It was the first time I’ve felt genuinely interested in school.

I’ve always gotten relatively good grades, but I’ve never had, like, a genuine interest until I was doing assignments and writing papers about that book. I was like, “I can do this all day!”

It’s a big reason why I am majoring in legal studies.

Nikko Remigio's family at the Cal bear statue

At his first game as a freshman wide receiver at UC Berkeley, Remigio’s relatives from around California came to show love, wearing “Nikko Remigio” shirts. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Remigio)

Through Berkeley Law courses, I am able to see how people are taken advantage of in the criminal justice system. I’m not fully knocking the criminal justice system, but there are a lot of people who get put away and completely forgotten — stuck in this vicious cycle.

As someone who has been treated differently because of my mixed-race background, and being Black, I feel like I can partially resonate with those people, and I want to help.

As a student-athlete, I feel like Berkeley was the right choice for me because what the school has to offer is just indisputable.

I feel like being in the Bay Area, it’s very racially mixed with a lot of unique perspectives that open me up to new experiences. That positive atmosphere also exists on our football team, which really embraces diversity.

Berkeley, in general, has sparked my personal growth as a student, athlete, and as a man. It has given me the opportunity to meet new people that make me, as a mixed person, feel like I belong.

Nikko Remigio with his Cal Football team mates.

Remigio, a starting wide receiver on Berkeley’s football team, said the whole program has embraced diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. (Photo by Al Sermeno/KLC fotos)

After I graduate in December I hope to continue to play football on the professional level, but, honestly, I’m also interested in potential careers in law, business and public service.

There’s still a lot of growing I need to do as a person, but I definitely want to be in a position where I can make a positive impact.

Berkeley News is examining racial justice in America in a series of stories.

I want to help create a better world.

As a mixed-race person, it took a long time of not being confident, to get to this point where I am the most confident I have ever been.

Being mixed, and going through hard times where you don’t feel accepted or understood, is normal. But it is the times when you are the most uncomfortable that you climb out a better person.

You begin to understand that you don’t need anyone’s approval to belong. You can find that acceptance within yourself.