Coalescing Filipino Spaces (for ‘that lonely Filipino kid’)

When I think of my plans for the future, I always ask myself, “For whom am I doing this for?

I could say it is for myself, for my family, or for the community–all of which are noble reasons in trying to accomplish set goals. But down to the core, I am thinking of someone specific.

I am doing this for “that lonely Filipino kid”.

The one who feels like they don’t belong anywhere.
The one that cannot seem to blend in with any crowd.
The one always in a corner, alone, watching the other kids play.
The one causing concern for adults at parties and gatherings.
The one whose parents tried to encourage to be more social.

There may have been other Filipino kids–many or fewer in count, but are nonetheless existent–but that lonely Filipino kid doesn’t feel totally connected to them.

— I was that lonely Filipino kid. From a very young age, I knew I was different from other kids, especially in Filipino circles. If you could ask anyone who witnessed my development over the years, I am pretty sure they would describe me as “quiet” and “reserved”. Why?

It could have been a number of factors, like being a daughter of strict parents, growing up in a sheltered lifestyle, or having limited participation in school clubs, events, and gatherings. I can only recall going to a few events throughout my school years–as long as my friends were in attendance and other details that were suitable and convenient for my parents’ work schedules. (I should add, my Filipino friends because older generations feel most comfortable knowing “people we know” are present.)

Attending parties of family-friends or parish gatherings were a must, despite the lack of people my age present in those spaces. Often I would stick close to my parents or my older brother because they were the only people I felt comfortable with, in those times. Like any other Filipino kid, I had titos and titas ask me the usual questions (“What grade are you?”, “Do you have a boypren?”, “Why not?”) and give me the usual comments (“But you are so pretty!” “You should have boypren!” “Study hard so you can have boypren!”). And like most Filipino kids, I would feel uncomfortable with the small talk and refrain from speaking to anyone in these events.

Throughout my adolescence, I rarely felt a sense of belonging in those spaces. I was always self-conscious of how others perceived my behavior; I was too concerned with being “the good girl”. I had to be careful to not “act wild like other kids” because my parents raised me better than that. So I had the tendency to stay in the background and watch the other kids have fun and make memories. Needless to say, I grew into the image of “that lonely Filipino kid”.

But I am not blaming anyone for how I turned out. My parents raised me well, so I think I turned out okay; I feel like a responsible adult, for someone my age. But I often wondered when I would feel connected to other people that allowed me to just be myself…?

A few weeks ago, I attended the UniPro Summit in New York City. The Summit was intended for students, young professionals, and community influencers, to learn how we can unite and grow together, as young Fil-Ams, and to coalesce spaces that we currently occupy and seek to include others.

I have been following UniPro for a couple of years, as someone interested in organizations that promoted and coalesced a sense of community. It was my first time attending the Summit, but I did not go in with high hopes. I think it is a condition of being in other Filipino spaces that force one to “put on a show”–I must act a certain way, speak in a certain manner, and behave accordingly to an unwritten script or a set of invisible cue cards so that I can win favors from others. Most of us that grew up in those spaces know what I am talking about, but it is something I am still trying my best to articulate to those that may not have a clue.

Nevertheless, when it came to the day of the Summit, I was extremely nervous and pensive about what to expect when I arrived at the venue. I came as someone who is currently unemployed, not attending school (for now), and disconnected from any group or organization. What kind of image was I supposed to present myself as?

To my surprise, this was one of three Filipino spaces that made me feel comfortable enough to be myself. (The other two being Raised Pinay and FANHS Conference.) With respect to the other two spaces, the Summit was a particular space that allowed me to let go–of my uprightness, of playing “the good girl”, of acting like “I am the best example for all Filipino kids because I played by the rules and have the most approval”.

I assume that other Filipino kids grew up that way as well. We did what we could to impress other people, to make our parents proud, and to secure a better future for ourselves. But what was left for us?

Each other, I believe. What I experienced at the Summit was a sense of solidarity–we all came from different backgrounds across the country, yet we share a narrative that speaks of the Fil-Am experience.

One workshop I attended talked about the need for more Filipino academics, especially in researching Filipino communities that have specific needs that could affect public policy or call for more accessible resources and services. Another workshop highlighted the existing generational gaps within organizations and how change needs to take place in order for these organizations to recognize and work on issues that are relevant to the Fil-Am communities today. And one workshop opened discussion on the anti-Blackness that is present in our community and methods on how to address it with our close relations.

Speakers also shared their stories of how they got to where they are now. Geena Rocero told her story of coming out as transgender in the Philippines and becoming a model, producer, and Trans rights advocate. Christina Lewis Halpern (with Bicolano ties!) gave an inspiring speech about learning to be an entrepreneur, especially in the tech industry where it lacks presence of POC.

To cap it all off, presentations of spoken word and poetry (shoutout to Christian Aldana and Michael Marbella!) and the history of hip-hop and its connection to youth and social justice (thanks for that, Ian Zamora) showed how we can direct our energies to the creative arts, which are spaces that we carve for ourselves and be who we are, as we are, unapologetically.

The theme of the Summit was “Persist”:

[per-sist] (verb): to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc. (Source: UniPro)

It was at the Summit that I met incredibly motivated and inspiring people, from student activists, professionals, academics, all trying to become better versions of themselves, for the sake of building a stronger Fil-Am community. It was also the Summit that allowed me to network with others, as myself, and not worrying about being judged. It was also the Summit that helped me to figure out my future course–graduate studies, career prospects, and community engagement. It was because of this event that I felt that I could actually persist with my goals and start doing things!

At the Summit, I did not feel like that lonely Filipino kid; I actually felt like I was one of many lonely Filipino kids that found their purpose, at some point in their life, and decided to help other lonely Filipino kids realize their capabilities.

Probably you were also that lonely Filipino kid. The question I want to know the answer to is, “Are we still that way now?

The work that I am doing is not just for myself or my family. Although I keep the community in mind, I am thinking of someone specific. I am doing this for that lonely Filipino kid, because I know who they are, where they are, and how they feel. I have been there, wishing that there were others like me. I wanted to know that I wasn’t the only one that felt there were greater things beyond myself that needed attention. I felt that I had a different purpose besides the one that was always pushed onto me. As I grow older, I have a clearer sense of what is my actual purpose. I cannot name it now, but I know for whom I am serving–this work is for all the lonely Filipino kids out there that need someone like them to persist and make strides.


{{Special Announcement… coming next week!!}}

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