One of the biggest exports that the Philippines has is its people. So, it was not an uncommon thing for me and my family to leave all of our familiarities behind in search of better opportunities abroad. At just five years old, I could not yet fully understand just how impactful this move would be in terms of my Filipino identity. Growing up in the states, assimilation was a very real thing for me, especially since I did not grow up in an area with a high Filipino population. In fact, it was scarce. I can recall growing up and having only one Filipino friend who eventually moved to the west coast, the prime location for Filipinx immigrants in the US. However, that friend helped me realize that I should not be ashamed of where I came from. Because of this, years of heavy self-reflection and unlearning assimilation pre-occupied my youth until I finally learned to let myself be prideful of my roots. It took time but I know not to let anyone be able to take that away from me.
Embracing my own Filipinx identity in a place that did not understand, or even know about it was the first step in my journey as a proud Filipinx-American. After overcoming a self-identity crisis, the next step for me in my young life was to seek out a community of Filipinxs. I wanted to find Filipinxs my age who could relate with having the same unique duality of simultaneously practicing a western and an eastern culture, which is something I had never had the pleasure of experiencing. I found this community in college. I joined my Filipino organization and became heavily involved and eventually joined the executive board. Consequently, this led me to many open doors such as networking, friends, and important skills that help in the future. Some of these include leadership and social skills. One opportunity that I found through my organization was the EPYC program, otherwise known as Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration.
I applied, and when I heard I was accepted and chosen to be part of the program, I was filled with shock and thankfulness. I did not know what to expect, but I knew this was something that would be extremely valuable for me. I could not have been happier. Months of preparation came and went, and the countdown for the big Seattle retreat was over. Next thing I knew, I was on the plane to meet with other amazing, great, young Filipinxs who share the same core beliefs, culture, and awareness with me. And it was on this retreat to Seattle and the west coast where I was introduced to a whole different side of Filipinx culture that I have not experienced since leaving the motherland.
This third step of my Filipinx journey started as soon as I got off the plane and went into the airport. I already recognized a significant difference, at least to me. I saw more Filipinxs than I was used to seeing daily. The only times I saw big groups of Filipinxs back home was when I was at a Filipinx party, or with my college organization. But, to see so many Filipinxs and to instantly recognize the difference from where I lived was a refreshing thing to see. I felt, in an unexplainable way, at home. We then went to the Microsoft Office, which, to my pleasant surprise, had many valuable Filipinx workers. It was inspiring to see all these Filipinxs working in fields representing us in America and showing that we are capable of achieving great things. I was also in awe learning about not just FIlipinx history, but rich Filipinx-American history that Seattle had to offer. We went to visit important landmarks that coincided with Carlos Bulosan, a Filipinx-American activist, writer, and poet. I only ever learned about American history. I rarely saw any Filipinx representation in my history books in school. Even though I was born in the Philippines, I was raised American. So, to see Filipinx-Americans such as Bulosan being able to make a difference and leave a mark in the country that I live in was something that filled my heart. I felt that I too have a place somewhere.
This third step in my Filipinx journey is something that I will never forget. Coming to terms and enriching my experience as a Filipinx American for me was a small victory. Because of my newfound confidence and perspective with Filipinx culture, I am better prepared to spread awareness and hopefully unify Filipinos in my area one way or another. I was always aware that the west coast had more Filipinxs, but I never expected just how important and comforting it is to be able to live among people who share your culture. Coming back from the trip, I was inspired to bring back the sense of togetherness the Filipinxs on the west coast have to the east coast. And even though we are smaller in numbers, working on growing and improving the Filipinx community in the northeast is something that I see as attainable and beneficial. It could help Filipinxs reach an even bigger platform. It empowers and reminds us we are able to be heard and are able to be seen. So, thank you, Seattle, for showing me who I can really be.