How A Weekend Exploring My Filipino Identity Changed My Life

How A Weekend Exploring My Filipino Identity Changed My Life

It felt like a breath of fresh air.
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I was lucky enough to travel to the beautiful city of San Francisco a little bit ago for a leadership summit with NaFFAA, which is the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. This non-profit organization promotes the welfare and well-being of the four million Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the United States.

In 2016, NaFFAA created an ambassadors program, EPYC, which is an acronym for "Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration", where they find young professionals from regions around the states to come together to strengthen their personal and leadership development.

In the summer of 2017, I was grateful enough to be chosen as an ambassador for my region.

Fast forward a few months later, I am hopping on a plane with my best friend Sariah to the Golden City to go put faces to names who I've been working with for several months.

Not really knowing what to expect, I came in with a positive mindset, but I was also extremely nervous. Will these people like me? Am I prepared for these workshops and discussions? Do I even belong here? I soon arrive at the Airbnb that all the ambassadors were staying at, and I was welcomed with happy smiles and open arms.

Immediately, I felt a sense of relief as everyone was super sweet and kind. Sariah and I were one of the first ones, so we got to watch almost everyone come through the door. The anticipation and the excitement of who would show up next really made me feel like I was in a Filipino Big Brother.

As the last person came in, I could already feel a sense of comfort by the way everyone was getting along so easily. I was thinking to myself, "I wish it was always this easy". We spent the night hanging out, but went to bed early for the long days ahead.

The next morning, we hopped in our vans, and traveled to the city of Sunnyvale to visit.. wait for it.. GOOGLE. Yep. Didn't think I would ever visit their headquarters, but we were all so lucky to be able to meet amazing Filipino-American professionals working for this multibillion dollar company. We sat at a roundtable with them, got to hear their stories, and learned about being a Filipino-American in the workplace.

To be able to visit and tour the buildings, which by the way are STUNNING, eat the most delicious food (homemade ice cream?? um ALL FOR IT!), and most importantly, learn from people who have been through obstacles to get to where they are now was incredible to say the least.

We later visited the headquarters of ABS-CBN, which is a Filipino media and entertainment group. We got to tour there as well, and also had insightful conversations in a discussion group with some of the top level employees, who were nothing but passionate about their jobs and what they do.

The next day and a half was spent doing workshops, going to receptions, and just spending quality time with each other. We delved into so many concepts, such as self-identity, racism, and coalition building. I was in AWE of what my fellow ambassadors brought to the table when discussing these topics and issues. I was also in awe of listening to the board of directors speaking so passionately about the growth of the organization.

But I gotta say, the most amazing time for me was being able to get to know these people behind the scenes, away from all the workshops and planned activities. Like the lit van rides, and the playlist we had blasting throughout the weekend. The jam sessions late at night, listening to throwback r&b hits. The bath talks. Yep. Those were definitely a thing. And being able to talk about absolutely anything and everything throughout the few days.

I suddenly felt like I was with my cousins, just enjoying the presence of such great people.

So why did this change my life?

This experience changed my life because of the memories I made, the lessons I have learned, and the people I have met. These people I've gotten to know in just less than three days suddenly became my family. I was able to learn more about myself, and how much I just wanted to make an impact in my community. I am still on such a high from that weekend, and am waiting for the time I can see them all again. This trip was a breath of fresh air.

Some advice? Be a part of something that you're really passionate about, and do things that are out of your comfort zone. I promise you, you will learn so many different things about life, your community, and your dreams.

And to my fellow EPYC ambassadors and NaFFAA family: ENDLESS thank yous. You guys have taught me so much in so little time, and I will carry that with me always. Stay EPYC!! Brb. Crying.

Cover Image Credit: Leilani Encarnacion

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A Letter To My Best Friend On Valentine's Day

Because you are my ultimate Valentine.
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To my beautiful best friend,

Warning: This letter is about to get extremely cheesy. I am talking four cheese lasagna cheesy. But no one deserves a love letter like this more than you do.

This Valentine’s Day, I want to express my love for you. On this wondrous occasion with which most people express their love to their significant other, I want to tell you, my best friend, how much I cherish our friendship.

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You are the ultimate love of my life. Boys have come and gone but you remain a constant; for that I am grateful. You have been there for me when my family could not be; for that I am grateful. You have been my backbone, my rock, and all those other clichés people use to describe the people they care about, and yet you have been so much more than that as well; for that I am grateful.

All my love this Valentine’s Day goes out to you, my friend, because you do not receive it enough. You have picked me up out of the dirt, brushed me off, and kissed my wounds more times than I can count, and I will never be able to thank you enough for that, but I am sure am going to try.

Thank you for the midnight cries. Thank you for the midnight laughs. Thank you for ordering way too much food with me and still just eating it all. Thank you for the advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Thank you for telling me what I need to hear, even when it isn’t what I want to hear. Thank you for the silly pictures. Thank you for the stupid inside jokes. Thank you for making bad decisions with me. Thank you for laughing with me and laughing at me. Thank you for the endless memories.

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More than anything, I want you to know that I love you. I love you. You are the family I get to choose, the one I go to when I have nowhere else to turn. You are the one I know I can always run to, whether we saw each other yesterday or haven’t seen each other in a year. You have played a part in molding who I am as a person, and I am so grateful for having such an amazing person affecting my life in such a positive way.

With all the love in my heart,

Your friend
Cover Image Credit: https://www.facebook.com/natalie.pederson.5/photos

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To My Best Friend At A Rival University

No amount of school rivalry could ever change our friendship.

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In high school, we were practically inseparable- you and I and all of our friends. Even though we saw each other every day during the week (when both of us decided to actually go to school, at least; senioritis was real and it was rough), we usually saw each other at least once over the weekend, whether it be a coffee date at Starbucks, a sleepover, or a trip to the movies.

We would go on spontaneous trips to the local ice cream shop (for us, it was Twistee Treat) far too often for our own good. We spent so many summer days at theme parks, followed by sleepovers that consisted of painting each other's nails, baking break-and-bake cookies, and falling asleep in the middle of 'Men in Black.'

Now, we attend rival universities. The stories we share involve names and places foreign to the other. We each have friends that know us apart from one another. Some days, we hardly get a moment to talk, other than sending funny memes back and forth through Instagram.

Though it may seem like being away at rival schools would hurt our friendship, I think it's only made us closer.

When I come to visit you (or you visit me), we always make the most of our time, knowing that it's limited. We often do the same things we would've done at home, but in new locations, which makes it even more fun. Sometimes, I wish we would've chosen the same school- because having your best friend with you, sharing new experiences is always better than not- but I know we're each happy where we are. We're making new friends and new memories, which makes for new stories to share with one another.

I know that I can share anything with you without fear of judgment, and I think you know the same.

Even though we can't just stop by unannounced anymore, planning weekend trips to visit one another is still really fun.

Sure, we go to rival universities and we will never agree on whose school is superior, but in the grand scheme, it doesn't even matter. Your school is extremely lucky to have you and in my eyes, you are what makes it great.

No matter the distance, no matter how strong the rivalry between our schools, you will always be my best friend and the memories we've cultivated throughout our friendship will never be forgotten. I can't promise I'll wear your school colors again (that was a one-time thing and does not diminish my love and respect for my school!), but I can promise that you'll always have a friend in me.

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