“Alyssa, you’re so Filipino.”
With the Filipino flag in my Instagram bio and my weekly stories about TUPAC (Temple University Philippine American Council), I knew my friend was right; I am really Filipino. But is that really so bad? ‘Being Filipino’ may not be for everyone, but it is a part of you.
I grew up in the Little Manila of Bergen County. With over 5,000 Filipinos in my small town, I was used to seeing faces like mine, a privilege I would not realize I had until I came to college. I was surrounded by Filipino food, and heard Tagalog almost everywhere I went. However, in my town, no one ever really talked about our history or our identity. Being Filipino was something that we identified with with our food and religion, but we never talked about our shared struggles. Crab mentality, colonies mentality, kapwa, these would all be terms that I wouldn’t hear about until college.
So many young Fil-Ams have the same story. They either grew up not appreciating their Filipino rich community like I did, or grew up ‘whitewashed’ in a town where people couldn’t even spell ‘Philippines’ if they tried. Then, they got to college, found their Filipino club and boom – they’re Filipino. I’ve heard these stories of how people find their home away from home once they joined their Filipino organization, and while it’s great, I wish there was more. Especially on the East Coast, I hope to be a leader for change in the way we lead our organizations. Yes, we dance tinkling once a year, collaborate with that one organization over yonder, and ‘pickup’ another Ading to continue our lineage. But is this it? What else can we do to make a change and make our organization better, in order to do better for our communities?
I came to college and realized that I had barely scratched the surface of my identity. Being away from home gave me the opportunity to learn about myself, by myself. I had to make up for lost time. In September 2016 of my freshman year, I joined TUPAC, and finally let my voice be heard; I knew I had to share my stories. I wanted to claim what was mine.
No history, no self. Know history, know self.
I eventually became an officer for TUPAC, and now, I am the president. I have made it my goal to not only help others be more reflective and reconnect to their roots, but also to talk about topics that we don’t think about. From immigration, to mental health, to civic engagement , I wanted members to acknowledge that as Filipino Americans, we have to be part of the conversation.
But, after three years of dedicating my time to my Filipino organization, what happens next? After everything I’ve learned, after every GBM I’ve led, after all of the research I have done, what happens after I graduate? Do I stop being FIlipino?
Before our EPYC retreat in January, I was burnt out. I was beginning to lose the spark I had for being Filipino that I found when I was a freshman. I love my organization, I love my culture, and I love my history, but I was disappointed in myself. I wanted to make a bigger impact, but didn’t know where to start. I felt like I plateaued.
Once the retreat came, I told myself this was different. I got on a plane with my co-ambassador and braced myself for what was to come. This would be my first time in Seattle, and my first time really meeting people outside of my little FIND bubble. I told myself that this retreat would ignite that flame in me once again, and I was right. I met seventeen other Fil-Ams like me who wanted to make a change. Many of my fellow ambassadors hailed from the West Coast and Midwest, and I was in awe of how involved everyone was. It inspired to want to make a difference on the East Coast.
During our retreat, we toured Microsoft and met Filipino professionals, met community activists such as Velma Villoria, visited Carlos Bulosan’s gravesite, toured Seattle University ad Washington University, and learned about Filipino history within the Chinatown International District. Throughout the four days, I did not stop learning. I learned that it’s okay to have a non linear career path and that it’s okay to feel burn out. I learned that it’s okay to be Filipino, and it’s okay to do more.
Something that really stuck with me from the retreat was, “you don’t stop being Filipino after college.” We dedicate our time to our college Filipino organizations and we shape ourselves into leaders, so why should we let it all go when we graduate? You don’t stop being Filipino. After college, we need to continue to educate ourselves and to give back to the communities that we helped shape. As leaders, we have to remember the platform we have to advocate for change, and to help others reach their full potential.
Our retreat made me realize what more I can do for not only TUPAC, but for more Fil-Ams across the country. A friend once said, “don’t forget the vision, and the vision won’t forget about you.” My entire retreat experience reminded me of the vision I had for myself, and those in my community. I’m not going to be left behind if I take a break and I don’t have to take on everything all at once. Being ‘Filipino’ isn’t limited to my four years as an undergraduate; I have my whole life to make a change. I am still learning what it means to be a leader. I am still in the works of bettering myself, and finding ways to advocate for change on the East Coast. I know that this is only the beginning, but I know that I am ready to make a difference. I thank TUPAC for making my college experience so enriching, and EPYC for not only empowering me and giving me the skills and resources to make myself into a better leader, but for reminding me of why I love being Filipino.