Growing up, I found myself toeing the line between my Filipino and my American identities, never finding the perfect balance between the two. I would visit my family in the Philippines, speak fluent Tagalog, and still be treated as the “American” in the family, but also feel out of place when growing up in America, with my love for Tapsilog and teleseryes. But as “othered” as I felt growing up here, I knew that suppressing my Filipino heritage would be as if i was surrendering a part of my identity. So I continued to talk in Tagalog with my family, I made the effort to learn how to cook my favorite Filipino dishes with my mom, I maintained my relationships with my family in the Philippines, and when I got to college, I sought out a Filipino community on campus to feel the same sense of familiarity and comfort that my own kapamilya makes me feel. I unabashedly embraced my Filipino heritage and finally realized that I am not just Filipino nor just American, I am a Filipino American, supporting the weight of my people’s past struggles while instilling hope for a future that my family has worked to ensure for me. Being a part of the Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) Ambassador Program has allowed me to reflect and refine what it means to be Filipino American, and what more I can do to empower and support the communities around me.
Walking into the EPYC retreat house, I felt a sense of excitement and nervous at the thought of finally meeting this group of individuals who I had up until that point only interacted with over web seminars. With the home court advantage of it being held in Seattle, I was comforted and felt optimistic about the next few days. As the other ambassadors started to trickle in, we did introductions, shared travel stories, and voiced out predictions as to how the rest of the weekend would pan out. The next morning, we made the trip out to Redmond to visit the Microsoft campus. I remember being excited about being there, but I wasn’t expecting to get a lot out of the trip because my career aspirations aren’t in the tech field. We sat in on two different panels that morning: one about non-linear career paths and the other about how to incorporate leadership in the everyday workplace. I was unexpectedly blown away by how relevant both panels would be during this time in my life. As a recent college graduate, I’ve had feelings of uneasiness and doubt about my professional career path, so it was really reassuring to hear stories of professionals at Microsoft (especially Filipino women) who took their time to find the careers that really inspired them to work passionately. Both panels included stories and experiences that were not only relatable, but incredibly inspiring. It goes to show the power of visibility and what it means to see and hear a story that reaffirms our own experiences. For those of us who aren’t surrounded by large Filipino/Fil-Am communities, this trip showcased that Filipinos are out there and thriving in large companies such as Microsoft, and if they can do it, why can’t we?
As familiar as I thought I was with Seattle, my appreciation for it grew even more during this retreat after learning how deeply rooted Filipinos were in the history of the city. From the more well-known organizers such as Carlos Bulosan, to the unrecognized individuals who have fought every day to continue the legacy of those who came before them, the strength and resilience of those in the Filipino community of Seattle is evident. A large part of the retreat was also dedicated to leadership formation. We participated in workshops and discussed different techniques and skills necessary to further develop our own leadership styles. I left this retreat feeling empowered; not only by those who established the foundation of community organizing, but also by my fellow ambassadors. Before this retreat, I felt I had a general understanding of what the EPYC Ambassadors Program entailed, but our event-filled weekend really helped to widen my perspective of what it means to be an EPYC ambassador, and offered a community of peers in which I felt validated and supported. Thank you to my fellow ambassadors, the EPYC coaches, and the EPYC staff for being wonderful and inspiring individuals!