In June of 2018, I was graced with the opportunity to graduate from my dream school, the University of California, Los Angeles. I was surrounded by friends and family, my head buried from the countless stoles and cords that symbolized my involvement in student organizations. My friends and I would often joke that I majored in Student Organizing and minored in Leadership Development, given that most of my time, blood, sweat, tears, and love were committed to them. My Google Calendar will tell you that the majority of my undergraduate career was spent in these spaces, leaving me with absolutely no regrets and a breadth of transferable skills and unique experiences. After the graduations were over, I hung up my paraphernalia, metaphorically signaling the end of my undergraduate student organizing days.
Suddenly, I was caught in a whirlwind of change. But I wasn’t being suffocated from the strong gusts of spontaneous life experiences; it was like breathing in a breath of fresh air. Potential filled my lungs and curiosity filled my heart. When they say that the world is your oyster, they really, truly mean it. With nothing but an open-mind, a new sense of accomplishment, and the desire for something new, I ventured into the mysterious and unscripted realm of post-grad.
In July of 2018, I started the next chapter of my life back home in San Diego, California. I am part of the Boomerang Generation, a generation of young college graduates who have returned home to live with their families due to the extreme cost of living. But for me, things worked out beautifully. Many of my peers stayed up in Los Angeles, and a 2.5 hour drive north wasn’t unbearable. Added bonuses were getting to stay with my family and reconnect with old friends from home. America’s Finest City had my heart, after all. I knew that this chapter would be special.
This marked the beginning of a seemingly endless summer. Days turned to weeks, and I turned to the beach, books and introspection. For the first time in my young adulthood, my life slowed down. This was a stark contrast to the past four years at UCLA, where many of my peers and I had juggled academics, work, and different extracurricular spaces. Perpetual busy-ness was an encouraged norm; breaks were far and few in-between. With my newly earned privilege of “free time”, I sought to reflect upon and appreciate the experiences that fundamentally developed my leadership and character. What I found left me searching for more.
During my tenure at UCLA, I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of and serve Samahang Pilipino, the official voice for Filipinos and Filipino-Americans at UCLA. This, coupled with the curriculum from the Asian American Studies courses and the narratives of my parents and family members who had served in similar capacities, deeply politicized me and kick-started the fire in me that burned bright for social justice and equity, especially for the community and others like it. It was in this community where I found my own identity as a Filipina-American and exercised my agency to create change.
After four years of committed service to the community at UCLA and beyond, I understood that my role in organizing for the greater good would not and could not stop at the end of my time at the university. I knew that deep within my heart, in moving back to San Diego, I would have to figure out how to bring my training and my passion home. And when I parted ways with my undergraduate career, I left a part of my heart with the community there. I was lost.
Joel Jacinto, a past Samahanger and true mentor, once told me that it was okay to be lost because that was a part of the human experience. He reminded me that I would always find my way if I held my values and centered them in all that I did. Community is an undeniable and non-negotiable value of mine, and I largely attribute my growth to this. No matter how lost I felt, I knew that I had to continue to fight the good fight back at home.
The Universe was listening. Right on queue, applications were posted for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations’ (NaFFAA) Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) Ambassador program. An ading of mine from Samahang had been accepted to the first cohort of EPYC Ambassadors, and he had recommended that I move forward with the application. My intuition told me the same. I was looking for structure, for growth, and for a new challenge, and here it was, waiting for me.
I submitted my application and waited eagerly to hear the results. I was set adrift into the Void of Transitions, and it was in this time that I realized the post-grad phase of life was just one extended transitional era. I had far more questions than answers and not enough lived experience or perspective to provide me with feelings of security or satisfaction. But my parents reminded me that there was no shame in feeling inexperienced; if anything, it meant that the possibilities were endless. So, I did what I knew best: I had to seek out people and spaces that could help me in my journey of exploration and growth.
The email notification came up on my phone as I was explaining the program to my friends at home. Being accepted into the program was a wonderful surprise, and at that point, I could feel a shift in my heart. At the time, I didn’t know what that shift meant. I was still fresh from graduation, still searching for and creating myself, but I was certain that this marked yet another pivotal point in my life. These feelings were affirmed after our EPYC retreat in Seattle in January 2019.
January marked the 6 month of the Ambassador program. January was also the first time many of us were meeting each other for the first time. 25 ambassadors, EPYC coaches who volunteered their time, and NaFFAA staff Jason Tengco and Leezel Ramos, the Executive Director of NaFFAA and Director of EPYC, attended the retreat in Seattle, Washington. The entire weekend was packed with educational experiences and professional developments, ranging from youth conferences, to workshops, to touring Microsoft, to learning about the history of Filipino community organizing in Seattle. There was never a point in the retreat where we stopped our learning.
Though I was finished with my formal education, I learned many valuable lessons that weekend. I learned that great change was happening everywhere. My fellow ambassadors blew me away with the work they were doing in their respective regions, and I learned that we needed to celebrate this achievement. I learned that although we were strangers, our common drive to empower the community brought us together so quickly. And I learned what the day of the email acceptance meant to me: I was coming home.
Returning to organizing with the Filipino community made my heart sing. I realized that in becoming the young pinay I am today, I also had to return to my roots. EPYC gave me a space where I could unleash the passion deep within and activate myself and others to innovate new solutions to our present conditions. EPYC brought my cohort together, kindred souls whose faces and hearts were reflections of each other. We manifested our common vision in ways that our own local communities needed the most, and we grew from interacting and learning from each other. I am happy to be a part of this Home (Be)coming with EPYC 2018-2019!