I wasn’t always in touch with my cultural heritage. Growing up, I listened to Tagalog and Ilocano tongues being spoken among my family members, but they seemed to use it only when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying. Aside from that, the cultural exposure I had at home was limited to food and hearing those around me praise talent competitors for being Filipinx. I didn’t know very much about the culture. And I easily accepted that. In high school, I had a friend who called me whitewashed, and I took pride in it. It made me feel like I belonged there among my classmates, all of whom were Americanized. It made me feel like I was worthy of being there among them. I assimilated. But at the time I didn’t realize this.
I started college in August 2014 at Cal State Fullerton with no intention of joining the Filipinx club. I did, however, want to meet people. After all, I was the only one from my high school going to this college, so I didn’t know a soul. So I visited booths with people publicizing their clubs. As fate or chance would have it, I was tabled by PASA (Pilipinx American Student Association) Kaibigan. Despite everything the org had to offer, there was only one thing that drew me in — the Ate Kuya Ading Mentorship Program. Growing up, I didn’t have anyone within five years of my age to give me guidance. So I thought, how amazing would it be to have someone who could understand my experiences and help me navigate during this period of transition. And so I joined and got an amazing Ate, just like I wanted. I participated in Friendship Games and PCN, and I took on leadership positions within the club. So in actuality, I gained much more than what I signed up for — a community, a home away from home, a family, and a newfound appreciation for my cultural heritage.
Fast forward to July 2018. I was at the halfway point of my final session of undergrad. The post-grad fears had already been creeping up for two months at this point. I already celebrated with four graduation ceremonies; but with a couple more classes to finish, I wasn’t actually done with school. My term as Chairperson for the Southern California Pilipinx-American Student Alliance (SCPASA) ended in May and this was my first time not being a member of an organization since my freshman year of college. I went through the different Fil-Am collegiate org experiences and it was time for me to pass the torch, take a step back, and let the new generation take the reins. As an alumna, I could provide them with my neverending support, but my time as a member was up. I didn’t want to attend the events as someone who practically wasn’t a student anymore because I wanted to let them have that space for themselves. So what was I supposed to do now?
I saw the release of NaFFAA’s EPYC (Empowering Pilipinx Youth through Collaboration) Ambassador Program application, so naturally the thought of applying did occur to me. But I was on the fence for a while. I questioned my qualifications as self-doubt overcame me. Who was I (someone who had only been celebrating her Pilipinx heritage for only four years) to apply for a role for an organization on a national scale? I didn’t think I knew enough about my culture to be a part of this class. Surely there were others more deserving of this opportunity. The ambassadors were to be chosen in August. By then, I will have officially finished my degree and I wondered if adding another responsibility to my plate would be wise for someone who should be spending 100% of her newfound freedom searching for her first post-grad job and mapping out her life’s career plan.
But two days before the application deadline, I received a message from someone telling me she hoped I would consider applying. This is a person who I had met through the Fil-Am collegiate space — someone who I never would have met if I didn’t join my school’s Pilipinx club as a freshman; someone who revamped the space that became my community throughout my college career. She gave me the nudge I needed to set aside my worries and just apply. It’s funny how the smallest actions can make all the difference. Without that little push, I would have let this opportunity pass.
Being selected as an EPYC Ambassador for the Greater Los Angeles Region made me both anxious and excited for the year to come. Through webinars and events, I met a number of people from across the country and continued learning about issues we face and the steps we can take to better our community.
The nerves heightened as January came along with the upcoming ambassador retreat. The day came and we all set out from our respective homes to convene in Seattle. People trickled into the house at different times and as more arrived, we slowly began settling in. Soon enough the initial awkwardness of meeting new people dissipated and a sense of comfortability surfaced.
Our days were spent exploring the city and our culture. We toured Seattle University and the University of Washington and learned about goal-setting and preserving one’s agency. We delved into the life of Carlos Bulosan, hearing his story and his impact on the Pilipinx-American community. At the Microsoft Headquarters, we listened to a panel of its employees speak about their experiences leading up to their jobs at the company. One topic focused on the nonlinear career path, which one speaker described as a “jungle gym” as opposed to a ladder. As a recent grad, hearing this provided me with a sense of relief. I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be career-wise, and I didn’t have a set end goal quite yet, but that was okay. As long as I maintained a growth mindset I’d be on the right path toward my dream career.
We spent our nights staying up late, uncovering the commonalities and differences about our experiences in our respective communities and getting to know each other on a personal level. We didn’t know the next time we would all be together again and refused to waste a single moment, even if it meant getting little sleep for the long days ahead of us. I’ll always cherish that weekend spent with those incredible individuals.
Key lessons: 1) Don’t hesitate. Dive in. If you don’t want to do it just because you’re scared, that’s reason enough to do it. Don’t allow your fears to inhibit you from experiences and opportunities. You never what you’ll gain from it unless you give it a shot. 2) Encourage others. Some people need that little push to help them get to where they need to go. Be that person for someone else. And most importantly, 3) take that chance. You never know where it will lead you.