Making Cents of the Holidays: The Side Hustle & Me

Happy holiday, friends. Sending (from Vermont) light, joy, and warmth to you all during this holiday season.

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As the new year approaches, I always like to do a little bit — although some may argue that I like to do a lot — of reflection. This time around, I thought I’d dedicate some of my current energy to reflect upon and write about what has been occupying a lot of my physical, mental, and emotional capacities over the last few weeks: the side hustle.

I’ve gone back and forth in my head with this topic. Do I tell others about it? Do I write about it and put it into more formalized words? I think my hesitancy for telling people about this side hustle of mine stemmed from a sense of cultural shame and embarrassment. A lot of folks in my immediate circle of family and friends only had one job. Some were working towards being aspiring doctors or pharmacists, others were nurses and successful writers. And then there was me … the educator with radical ideas and radical love for the world, the one in Vermont (of all places), the one with two jobs.

I would often have heated internal dialogues with myself: Am I enough? What am I doing with my life? Would people look down upon or me look at me different (in a negative way)? Was my Master’s degree even worth the time and energy? Is anyone else experiencing this kind of shame, this kind of embarrassment, this kind of confusion?

And so with the new year coming about, I decided to listen to my gut and simply write it out: the feelings, the thoughts, the lessons learned, and money gained from this side hustle of mine.

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Sometime in late September or early October, I made the decision to not go home to California for the holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s), mainly due to financial reasons and the copious amounts of traveling I had already been doing and would be doing in 2018. Traveling to the West Coast around this time of year is no financial joke; it is actually a luxury. Flight tickets (at least from Vermont) can range anywhere between $500-700 roundtrip, on a good day. Despite being really nervous and saddened by the fact that I wouldn’t be around family and some of my favorite people for one of my favorite holidays, I knew it would be the right choice in the long run (and still remains the right choice today).

Fast-forward a month or so later, and I came to the decision that I was going to pick up a second job for the holiday season, in part to bring in some extra income and to help me stay busy in what can be a really lonely time for many. Amongst my circle of influencers and developers (particularly within the field of student affairs), this second-job-type-of-life soon became known as “the side hustle”. For many living in the Burlington area, holding down two or more jobs seemed like the norm. Those with advanced degrees still had loans to pay. Those with years of experience still had bills to take care of. Working a side hustle, unfortunately, seemed sort of common practice amongst my immediate Vermont community, especially for young people & (entry-level) professionals of color like myself. I still question the affordability and sustainability of being in Vermont on a day-to-day basis, both due to the high cost of living AND the high taxes that come with being a person of Color in a predominantly and historically white state/institution — perhaps we will save this for another blog post at a later time.

In thinking about a second job, I knew I needed something that was flexible, manageable, and open after “regular” work hours. My full-time responsibilities, my program area staff, and my students at the University of Vermont still needed to be my main priority and focus — and don’t worry, they still are. In my conversations with friends, I talked about different routes I was thinking of heading when it came to this new “side hustle”. From bartending to taking pictures to driving around Burlington to working in food services, I was ready and willing to do anything. After a lot (seriously, it was a lot) of individualized thinking, I finally settled on wanting to work in the retail industry and put in an application as a seasonal sales associate for Banana Republic. And well, luckily for me, that was the beginning of my side hustle and the inspiration for today’s blogpost: Making Cents of the Holidays.

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I have been there a little over a month, put in nearly 300 hours, met so many new and wonderful people, and have been challenged both personally and professionally. Mind you, I have never worked in retail before. Since high school, I’ve always found myself in positions that were education and teaching based. I knew about customer service from working with students and families, but retail-oriented customer service is a different kind of service altogether. And so I offer you, my reader(s), a few nuggets of wisdom and reflections from my time so far at Banana Republic (BR).

  1. Deposits & Withdrawals (Transactional Customer Service & Self-Care). As I mentioned before, customer service in the retail business is a different kind of beast. I find that 30% of my job is working behind-the-scenes to upkeep the store, and the other 70% is all about engaging with our customers and providing them with quality service and care to hopefully get them to purchase our goods and keep them coming back in the future. At the end of the day, we are a business. We want to make money. We want to sell our clothes. But we also want to make our customers happy while also ensuring our own happiness and wellbeing. Each exchange with a customer is both a deposit and a withdrawal, a give and take kind of interaction. Let me explain some more.28BEAE7E-1224-453F-8BD7-A72072D36799.JPG

    When I was at the NODA 2017 Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the featured speakers was Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. Her words were fiercely beautiful and compelling, and a reminder of what it means to truly engage in racial justice work on our campuses:

    “We’re using up a lot of our energy NOT engaging in conversations of race and racism when we need to talk more”

    “If you’re making a lot of withdrawals, you gotta make a lot of deposits.” – on self-care and job burnout

    I still think about these statements every single day: how I am managing my energy, my expectations, and my commitment to racial justice work? Dr. Tatum’s verbiage of deposits and withdrawals resonated with me so much, that I apply it not only in my work for equity and sustainability, but in my interactions with my customers as well. Every time I interact with a customer at BR, I hope to receive the same level of kindness, warmth, and understanding in return. Although it never fully works out that way 100% of the time, there is something to be said about creating joyful and meaningful moments with the people who turn to you for questions or advice. And at my busiest, or when I am at my worst, if I have nothing left to give, it’s about time I start making more deposits for and to myself. Whether that be saying no to helping cover shifts or taking a minute to ground myself before I head into the chaos of holiday shopping, I have to constantly make those return investments. I love it when I am able to go above and beyond to make a customer’s day, and I recognize that sometimes above and beyond in that moment might look differently on busier or more stressful days, and that too, is okay.

  2. The Social Justice Hat: How much does it cost? Even in this kind of side hustle, I am always wearing my “social justice hat”, and I sure as hell hope my other student affairs counterparts wear their hats in both their main roles and their side hustles. The Social Justice Hat is one of those “final sales” kind of items where you can’t get a refund or exchange it for a different kind of hat; it’s simply your’s to own and wear. 

    IMG_6653.JPGFrom thinking about accessibility issues and customers’ needs for a specific fitting room, to greeting and checking in with my fellow community members of color to ensure they feel welcomed and cared for in the store, to thinking about sizism and the inclusion of certain sizes means the exclusion of other sizes (like XXL for example). The social justice hat is both expensive and priceless. It requires a huge amount of investment to understand one’s own social identities, the identities of others, and the dynamics that take place across difference. And when we finally take the time to challenge our assumptions and biases, to work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive environment, to be that much more intentional in our interactions, in our words, and in our decisions, we can create more meaningful, powerful, and liberatory moments for one another.Even when it’s snowing, or when it’s raining, or when it’s windy as hell, I will find ways to make sure that my social justice hat stays on for the ride. I have to. And so do you.

  3. Debit or Credit? Paying homage to my ancestors and cultural upbringing. Before I go any further with the post, I’d like to take the time to recognize and appreciate my parents, my Filipino culture, and my ancestors for instilling in me a sense of responsibility and initiative, providing me with a solid work ethic and attitude, and for teaching me the values of hard work, good work, and teamwork. We, Filipinos, are a resilient and determined force of nature and history. My parents, and my grandparents, are the beautiful and powerful embodiment of those forces at play. They taught me how to work hard and long, how to produce good quality results, and how to be a part of a team and community.

    Growing up, Saturday mornings were both the best and the worst. Saturday mornings meant Saturday morning cartoons (shoutout to Pokemon, Ren & Stimpy, Aaahh! Real Monsters, Dungeons & Dragons, Street Sharks, Recess, X-Men, and oh my gosh, the list can go on!). These mornings also meant a furious knock on the door followed by a few annoyed shouts from my parents to get ready to clean the house and get started on the weekend chores – by the way, do kids even do chores anymore or watch cartoons on Saturday morning? It meant feeding the dogs in the morning or taking them for a walk, it meant bringing clothes down to the garage to do laundry, or cleaning that nasty bathroom used by 3 boys, or picking guavas from the trees in the backyard and then selling them at the store, or it meant separating the plastic bottles from the aluminum cans and then selling them for your monthly allowance. Growing up in the 90s, and in Filipino culture, was stressful AND amazing.

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    I am a product of brown excellence and love
    ; of culture, history, and community; of wisdom and hard work; of generational sacrifice, giving, and teaching. And I make sure I show up at work, in my full Filipino sense of being, with the full strength and knowledge of my ancestors at my back. Out of respect, out of love, and out of gratitude, I show up.

    I feel like when I am able to show up in my full authentic self (in this case, it means being Filipino American), I am not only paying homage to my parents and culture,  but I am more closely aligned with my truth and my values, and how I experience the world around me. And to be honest, it pays off. In the month that I’ve been at Banana Republic, I’ve received a lot of verbal affirmation from both customers and managers, more than I ever expected to get. I’ve increased our sales, helped us meet our goals, and made peoples’ days, all while staying classy, happy, and engaged. I genuinely enjoy what I do here at BR, but I think I enjoy what I do even more because I am able to bring all of my lived experiences and learned experiences into an environment that is creative, everchanging, people-oriented, and goal-driven.

     

  4. To Make an Exchange or Get a Refund? The Privileges and Challenges of Managing the Side Hustle. The truth is, my side hustle, although great in financial contributions and gains, is a real privilege. I don’t need to work two jobs just yet to support and sustain myself. I choose to work two jobs. It’s just me at the moment – I don’t have my own kids yet or a mortgage to pay.  When the university was closed for the winter holidays, it meant I could put in several more hours at BR because I didn’t have a full-time job to manage at the time. For that I am grateful and for that, I also have to recognize the luxury of being able to do that.Although this experience is/has been a privilege, it also comes with its fair share of challenges.

    Choosing to work two jobs now means having to work three times as hard to now find moments of self-care (when self-care was already a challenge to begin with). It means having to work longer days and longer hours, sometimes in weather that hovers just above zero degrees. It means planning my travel times pre- and post-work, accounting for the bus schedules and routes, and deciding whether or not tonight is a walk-home-kind-of-night or call-a-ride-kind-of-day to make sure I get home safely. When are my “days off” if I’m now working nights and weekends? When do I have a moment of silence and rest? When am I able to celebrate with friends or cheers to my accomplishments? When am I able to put up my feet and drink a nice cold beer to round out the evening? When am I able to go back to California or plan a nice trip somewhere and escape the Vermont winter weather?

    Hustling the side hustle is a full-time job in itself, ya’ll. It requires absolute patience, sheer determination, constant reflection, and intentional self-care. If you ever start your own side hustle, ask yourself: What are you hoping to gain from this experience? What are you willing to sacrifice? And what do you need from yourself and from others to help you be at your best in every facet of your life?

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  5. Finding and Discovering Moments of Excitement and Peace. My final bit of reflective wisdom I’d like to share is about the beauty of learning and the power of zen. I am constantly learning new things: new folds, new systems, new processes, new fits, new styles, new words, etc. And I am also finding moments of peace and gratitude through folding, sorting, and “standardizing”.I find that being “a learner of life” is so cliche, but it’s so cliche for a reason. I love learning, whether that be in the classroom, in the professional realm, or about myself; it is exciting, challenging, and motivating.33C593FF-4339-4E81-9370-D20CA8CB325D.JPG

    When I first started at Banana Republic, my first full-time shift was working the Black Friday weekend. As I mentioned previously, I have never worked retail before. Prior to starting, I learned a little bit about folds, goals for the company, how things were placed and organized in the store, and quick BR lingo for the beginner. But what came out of that weekend was a whirlwind of buzz words, learning curves, and confidence.

    In the quieter moments of retail work, I find myself able to incorporate aspects of contemplative practices into my sense of being and doing again. Given the structured busyness of my lifestyle these days, using every chance I get to be a little more reflective, a little more zen, a little more mindful truly helps me start and end my day. Sometimes simply “board folding” a stack of t- shirts is a blessing from above (although it depends on the day … we are complex individuals afterall and sometimes board folding will simply infuriate me at the wrong time)!

    My time at BR has been a humbling one. It has reminded me to create moments of joy for myself and has encouraged me to cherish the quieter moments in my life. It has reminded me of things that bring me meaning and fulfillment: learning for the sake of learning, giving back to my community, and rekindling my love for art, creativity, and life.


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To all my family and friends hustling the hustle, know that you are loved, that you are not alone, and that you are working towards living your best life. Joy is an investment in ourselves – if not you, then who? if not now, then when? So please remember to continue to stay grounded in your brilliance, your excellence, and your truth.

Cheers to a fiercely fun and rather refreshing New Year’s Eve.

Xoxo,
Eric

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Reflections on 2016 from a twenty-something-year-old brown city queen

It’s 2017, y’all. New year, new me. This brown city queen is back and ready for change, action, and hopeful travels. And 2016 is finally behind us, gently distancing itself from me and my squad, fading away in that awful wide-screen rear view mirror of my two-door 280zx.

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At least… that’s what I feel like I’ve been hearing from friends and family members about 2016.

“It was a bad year.”
“More downs than ups.”
“So ready for 2016 to be over.”

For some, this WAS a terrible year: financially, emotionally, politically, academically, and the list goes on. I can’t speak for someone’s lived experiences. If they said it was bad, then it was bad. Their truth is their truth. I will also argue, however, that at times, we filter and censor our truth, in part cause we have to, another part because we were taught to, and in some distant part we subconsciously just do it. We separate the good the bad from the happy and sad and the ugly. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells us about the danger of a single story. One perspective. One angle. One point of view. It’s not the whole story, just a chapter eagerly read or begrudgingly skipped over.

And so, I argue that, in light of some of these really, truly, and genuinely awful crises and situations that have plagued my country and others (e.g. my sadness with Trump as the president-elect of the United States, more black men dead and unjustly murdered, a new President of the Philippines, Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean affecting places like Haiti and Jamaica, and additional examples that vary in their own respective degrees of disgust, disappointment, and drab), there has to be some golden nuggets that have come from such a year, right?

What were those minute, specific, subconscious-like moments that happened on the individual and personal level? 2016 surely had to have some of those for you, for me, for each one of us. When did we experience even the tiniest glimmer of hope and progress, the smallest glimpse of happiness and love, the faintest feeling of success and pride? Or is my optimism kindly mistaken for ignorance and bliss, rooted in privileged ways of being and thinking and operating in classic White supremacy? Is it false positivity or realistic optimism? Which glass is it?

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I prefer, and hope – hehe, my optimism peeking through once again – that it’s the latter. And so, I started thinking. I started asking friends a few questions, not directly seeking answers to how they “really felt about 2016”, but to gauge what truly was salient for folks, and for myself. How often did someone cite Trump in an answer, quote unemployment as a factor for one’s unhappiness, favor the time spent with a specific loved one in all of its romantic, spiritual, and emotional goodness? And it was their answers to these questions that inspired this blogpost, and my need to truly give 2016 some closure.

Because there are some wounds that have to close, some that need to heal, and some that do just that, and yet, they still become those intimate reminders of our past and future, etched and criss-crossed into our skin. How can we make goals, set resolutions, and do better if we don’t know what we enjoyed, what we hated, what made us happy, scared, and angry? We need to know the “whats” just as much as those “whys”. There is a quote from Jose Rizal, a Filipino writer, activist, and hero, which I believe says, “Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makarating sa paroroonan” and can be loosely translated to”Know history, know self. No history, no self.

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So here it goes: a little look into the past and a glass half full for the future. I asked the following questions to my friends, all who responded in their own unique ways, and righteously so:

  • What was your favorite moment of 2016?

  • What is one thing that you’ve learned about yourself in 2016?

  • What is one thing you’d like to work on, improve upon, or prioritize in 2017?

  • Name 5 people who you’d like to reconnect with in 2017. And do it.

To be fair, I won’t repeat their answers out of respect for their privacy. Instead, I’ll use this next section to invite you all to answer them for yourself. Do some self-reflection. Turn on the Acoustic Soul playlist on Spotify, pop open that bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s, and get to it. This is for you and doesn’t have to be for anyone else’s entertainment, but your own.


And in case I piqued your interests, here are my responses to those same questions:

Q: What was your favorite moment of 2016?
A: I will forever remember the day I graduated from the University of Vermont with my Master’s of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration. Walking into the Grand Maple Ballroom was my village of 20 who had raised, supported, and believed in me from the moment I got on that first plane to Burlington, Vermont to the moment I honored my forever Queen Ru Paul on that hooding stage. The clashing, colliding, and beautifully mixing of my California family and my Vermont chosen family. The dramatic 10% increase in the Asian American population in the state of Vermont with my bayanihan casually cruising up and down Church Street like we were walking through the pews for Sunday communion. To go from one hood to the next hood. It was a day of joy, love, pride, and gratitude.

Q: What is one thing that you’ve learned about yourself in 2016?
A: I am both adaptable and resilient, capable of surviving AND thriving in new environments, able to make sense of and take ownership of my high expectations and lived experiences. I am deeply awesome and talented in so many ways intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually; having spent close to three years now in Vermont, the 2nd whitest state in the country, should speak for itself. And while I like to have an end goal one, two, five years out, I know I will make those much-needed adjustments along the way and pick up every penny and quarter of opportunity that lands before me.

Q: What is one thing you’d like to work on, improve upon, or prioritize in 2017?
A: I hope to prioritize my long term long distance relationship with my partner Mark.  Looking back, there were several times in 2016 where my relationship with my LTLD partner took the backseat on my list of priorities. Frankly, work took over, and it still does at times. It’s so easy for me, a type-A, an achiever and strategist, an ENFJ, and an optimistic perfectionist, to get lost in the befores & afters of work. I love my job. It fits me. It gives me both joy and headaches. But I also love him. He gives me both joy and heartburn. And he needs to know that, every single day of the year, in the small moments, and in those acts of grandeur.  I guess I’m ready to make some sacrifices and enter the unknown of 2017. And I know that I don’t want to be alone on that journey.

Q: Name 5 people who you’d like to reconnect with in 2017. And do it.
A: CV. NV. KC. MB. BV. Time to take my own advice and take that leaf of faith.

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Now, these questions (and the answers that came out of them) furthered sparked another train of thought, this time along the lines of gratitude. I try and practice gratitude every single day (both in its recognition of it and in its expression) because I am a firm believer that there are so many things to be grateful for. And yet, by the end of the year, I am always somehow inundated with this overwhelming wave of appreciation and gratitude. Most recently, it’s having had the opportunity to spend my favorite holiday, Christmas, with my loved ones (both family and friends). It’s having the chance to catch up with my high school friends and enjoy moments of throwback jams, evening car rides, talks of future wedding plans and general life updates, and partake in unforgettable “live as we go” and “free for all” moments. It is recognizing the gift in being able to hold the hand of the man I love and feel so secure, so seen, so heard, and so felt through that one touch, that one interaction. I am grateful for the gift of life, for never second guessing my privilege to be alive and well, to be happy and whole. I am grateful for it all and miss every moment I am away from the people who love me, and who I love so unconditionally in return.

Gratitude is not just about reflection, appreciation, and thanks; it is also about fear, about hope, about dreaming, about learning. It is knowing what you’re scared of losing and recognizing that you haven’t lost them yet. It is about appreciating what you have and hoping for the better. We are dreamers, yearning for the unknown, the gift of time. We are learners, soaking in every relevant detail of who we are, where we are, and what we are capable of doing, only to further push ourselves to achieve, believe, and grow. Gratitude is a process of complex emotions that help us make sense of our lived experiences and the context we experience our life in.

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Before you completely throw away 2016 like a moldy vegetable in the trash, may I challenge you to take some time out of 2017 to engage in some critical reflection about the year? What happened? What went well and what could have gone better? What were those small pockets of friendship that are worth revisiting and recultivating? What is there to be grateful for? How and why should 2017 be any different? And maybe, once you’ve finally received some closure, you can wholeheartedly begin to ring in (or resume ringing in) this year of the Rooster with that one cliched yet to-the-point mantra of “new year new me”.

Best of luck, my friends. ❤ 

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The Heaviness of Loss: Losing More Than A Seat in the White House.

keep_your_heart_strong-5227Since the news of Donald Trump becoming the next President of the United States came out, I have been feeling so sick, so unbelievably at a loss for words and action, and so emotionally shaken and disturbed. I have stress-eaten my way to what feels like a black hole in an empty stomach, disconnected myself from social media outlets and text message exchanges, asked God for forgiveness and guidance, and searched the internet for articles to help me make sense of this overwhelming wave of emotions (guilt, hope, melancholy, and anger) — here’s a few of them: it’s time to get to work, why we grieve, the democratic party deserves so much of the blame.

I hate losing, always have, always will. But yesterday’s/today’s loss goes above and beyond my own narrative. It once again has emphasized this country’s inability to shatter the highest and hardest glass ceiling experienced by women, its inability to protect and value the lives of  queer and trans communities of color, and its inability to establish a sense of security and belonging for (undocumented) immigrant communities.

And for that, I am angry. It is the sort of anger that stems from self-disappointment and self-loathing, the mentality that I could’ve and should’ve done more to mobilize communities to vote (for HRC) and to dehumanize the Trump experience. It is the kind of anger that has forced me to prioritize my own self-care at the cost of supporting some of my own beloved students and colleagues: to leave the office early, work from home, disengage in certain conversations, and simply rejuvenate the shattered soul first and foremost. This is the same anger that has caused me to feel so isolated, so alone, and so devalued, especially working at a predominantly White institution and within a predominantly White office space and office culture. This is the anger that has forced me to stare at the ground because sharing glances with another human being is like sharing all of their pain and exhaustion as well. This is the anger that is fuming at the mouth because such statements and feelings of optimism and hope is so linked to White supremacy, White privileges, and White fragility, and has become oppressive buzz words for this hurting brown soul.

 This is my anger. It is my reflection in the mirror asking me, “WTF is next?” This is the anger that comes with losing. And today, we have lost so much. We did not just lose a highly revered and powerful AF seat in the White House, we have lost pieces of our identities, both collectively and individually. We already knew that America was, and still is, a messed up institution that for years, has promoted some racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, and other discriminatory tendencies against the “other”. This isn’t news to the underrepresented. But we have lost a piece of our identity as to what it means to productively contribute to this country, as to what it means to be affiliated to a specific political party and the values associated with each, and have redefined what it means to be an American citizen.

Trump is not and will never be my president. He has, however, left a scarring precedence on this “great” nation and will only continue to divide us further and entrench us in disrespectful politics and dangerous outcomes. But he is THE president for the 59,815,018 people who voted for him, and that will forever haunt me as I walk the streets, enter a restaurant or a bar, apply to future jobs and colleges, and as I leave my house everyday and decide how much of myself I will reveal to the world in those 24 hours. Out of fear, out of safety, out of resilience, out of hope for progress and radical change, I am not sure who I will be over the next few days. These are the little pieces of my identity that have been taken. I am not sure how I will show up for my friends, family, and colleagues. I know how I want to show up and what I need to do to move forward, but it is an uphill battle for me, for all of us. Take time to heal, to gather your thoughts and your pockets of self-love and affirmation, to store up every ounce of resilience and truth, to take your daily dose of radical justice and liberation, because we will need it over the next several years. But please, this is a reminder to myself and to others out there hurting, don’t take too long, don’t linger too deeply in the guilt, the anger, the sadness, the grief. We have work to do. There are 59 million people whose minds, hearts, and souls need changing … for they have chosen the side of the oppressor.

There is a new movement coming, I can feel it. A new wave of political unrest on the bend (from UC BerkeleyOakland, UVM and elsewhere); a coalition of activists, scholars, and practitioners organizing for survival and accountability; a community of individuals who will be resilient together. White folks keep your folks in check. People of Color, check in with your people and create time/space for healing. We all need to do the tough and challenging work, and make an effort with our respective communities. We cannot simply look for the easy answers. We cannot be okay with mere symbolic gestures of hope and faith. Each day from here on out has to be intentional, critical, and better. Ironically, now is the time to make America great again. Actually, let me rephrase: American wasn’t and isn’t great; it has always been flawed and divided, rooted in White supremacy and systems of oppression. But it can definitely be better. So let’s rise up. Put on your pant suits and let us make it better.

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To close, here is a poem that I had written in September and edited in October, regarding the violence against our Black men in our country, and against other underrepresented communities. Perhaps it is even more relevant now given the state of our country. So I ask you: How do you heal? How do you turn your emotions into productive outlets? How do you reflect and stay resilient? I channel my anger through my words, through poetry, through art, through collective wisdom and healing.

This piece is entitled: Dear Violence.

Dear Violence,
For once, will you listen?
I know what you can do.
I know what you are capable of.
I know you by name, by voice, and by face.
And yet,
You know nothing about me
Besides the color of my skin.

You are stubborn, ignorant, and aggressive,
Fueling your selfish desires and bruised egos
Set in your ways to cause more harm than good.

Dear violence,
I need you to know,
That your racism is disguised as patriotism
Bleeding red white and blue in a country that is so colorblinded by pride
That it fails to recognize
That the deepest wounds are the ones self-inflicted,
The ones killing your own people
The ones where the only things that are bleeding
Are the black and brown bodies who are so damaged, so broken, so emotionally shaken
From the everyday dissonance of hating and loving the color of their skin

THESE are the darkest and deepest of all wounds
The kind where we can’t even embrace ourselves with self love
Because internalized oppression tells us to keep our hands up
Exposing the vulnerable layers of our determined resilience, authorship, and courage.

Dear violence,
If actions can speak louder than words,
When will my tears be enough for you?
They have pooled together yearning for change,
exhausted from the relentless waves of strife, frustration, and deaths,
They have carried the pain of a thousand cranes,
And the weight of a thousand papercuts
With only one wish:
To experience the sunrises and the sunsets of tomorrows.

Dear violence,
When will you be satisfied?
Your thirst quenched and your belly full?
When will it be enough for you?
Because there is nothing left to give.

 

The Legend of Giants: Celebrating Filipino American History Month

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Did you know? The month of October is Filipino American History Month.

As we near the end of October (and thus, Halloween), I think one way to celebrate this month is to recognize and appreciate the history, resilience, and accomplishments of the Filipino American community. Another way to celebrate Filipino American History Month is to pay homage to the giants standing in your own backyard, the ones rooting for you from your corner, the heroes that get remembered, but the legends who never die. For me, that’s my mum. I don’t always say mum, but it just sounded fun in that last sentence. But I tend to go with mom, mother, ma, and sometimes nay (short for nanay in tagalog). Here she is below in such a rockstar outfit (exact day and year, TBD). So if you think I slay the game, just know that I get it from my mama.

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Now, in thinking about how I wanted to highlight her narrative as a way to ground this month in love and appreciation, I asked her to provide me with some details about her life in the Philippines and what it was like to be a kid there. Side note: the ultimate project I would love to do is to create a visual and written documentary about my parents’ love life and relationship. They did long distance at some point (woof!), exchanged love letters and notes, and raised three stellar boys and put us through college. I believe in the power of storytelling and its ability to create community, vulnerability, and compassion. In my role as an educator, I sometimes forget that storytelling isn’t just about me sharing my story with my colleagues or with my students. It is also about learning from the stories and wisdom that came before me. It is about preserving the generations of stories that have so deeply influenced my personal values, ethics, perspectives, and behaviors. It is about transforming fairy tales and legends into a book of personal truths and revelations.

And so this next part of my blog is therefore a brief story about my mom, a story about her growing up in the Philippines before she came to the United States in the 70’s:

My mom grew up in the Philippines in a small town of Maasin. There was what they/she called “market day” that happened every Monday and her relatives from the barrio (or neighborhood/town) brought their produce from the farm to sell in the market. They had sold things like bananas, sweet potatoes, cassavas, coconuts, and all other kinds of vegetables: “I loved market day. I loved to go with my mom because I got a treat too like banana cue.”

She said it was a 2-hour trek to the town and most of the time they balanced the produce on their shoulders or sometimes on carts pulled by water buffaloes (called kalabaw or caribou). Fun fact: I actually had a chance to ride on top of a caribou when I visited the Philippines 6 years ago. See my old friend below.

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Back to her story: Her mom, my lola (grandmother) had what she called, an “open door policy”, so her relatives and friends would stop by to have coffee or ginger tea to fill their stomachs. My lola would then go to the market extremely early in the morning to buy fish and vegetables. She would then make soup so everyone that stopped by can eat before they headed home. Now that I think about it, this is probably where I get my sense of giving, hosting, and community building, and definitely where my mom gets her love for being around her sisters, her nieces and nephews, and close family friends. It is apparent that in my family, and even in parts of my own life nowadays, we sometimes give more to others than we give to ourselves.

My mom goes on to say that they “were taught to respect [their] elders, to ask for blessings, to say please, thank you, [and] excuse me.” Respect in the Filipino culture is everything. It is not simply an act of doing, it is a way of being. From your kuyas and ates to your distant family friends — aka your cousins who aren’t really your cousins by blood, but you never really knew that until you got into high school — you show, give, share, and respond with respectful behaviors and attitudes. As one of the youngest kids in my family, I could never ride in the front seat of a car if my brothers or older cousins tagged along. I was always expected to pass out the dinner plates and utensils to my family members and guests during family gatherings. I was always told to do something, whether I wanted to or not, and most of the time if I was “good”, I would do it. That’s just how it is in Filipino culture. When you’re the bunso, or the youngest, you’re kind of at the bottom of the food chain. Let’s just say that with years of being at the bottom, I believe it taught me how to be more independent, how to deal and navigate through situations that weren’t particularly enjoyable, and how to advocate for myself and my needs. It has also taught me to be okay with failure and disappointment; to be okay with not being the best, but to be my best self; to be okay with not being the “hero” idolized in so many heteronormative television shows and books, but to realize that we all need saving in some way, at some point; to be okay with asking for help; to be okay with relying on the expertise and wisdom of one’s family and culture.

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My elders are my Filipino giants. The ones whose footprints have left joy and success etched into the dirt of the rice terraces and whose shoulders carry the hopes and dreams of a stubborn and determined community. These are the giants who have turned their roots into veins, never forgetting that their history flows through their blood. They are my mom, my dad, my aunts and uncles, my lolas and lolos. They are the things of legends. The kind of legends that I will write in hard-covered books and read to my kids just before bed:

“Anak, what story would you like to hear tonight?

The tale of the brown star-crossed lovers destined for greatness, but separated by the Pacific Ocean?

Or the one about the Filipina mother of eight whose love and kindness also feeds an entire village?

How about the one with the social justice warrior prince? He who uses his words to slay the dragons of everyday racism and uses his emotions to move an entire country?”

“Dad… How about we read them all? Maybe I can write my own too.” 

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In closing, my mom said this,”I had such a wonderful childhood full of unforgettable experiences. Babe, just correct my grammar. It’s past midnight and I’m sleepy…”

My mom is a one-of-a-kind individual, human, mother, and woman of color. She has demonstrated what it means to be resilient in order to persevere through challenges and high expectations, to be compassionate and respectful to yourself and to others, and to find the sweetness, the happiness, the fulfillment in every story, in every person, in every interaction.

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I may not have the same exact stories or experiences that she did when growing up in Maasin, but I do have a similar feeling of being loved, of being surrounded by family, of being taught these values of respect and optimism, and of remembering my childhood as an enjoyable one. And for that, I am both privileged and humbled.

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To close, here is a little haiku I wrote earlier this month. It is entitled, “Oh, I am brown.”

I am a product
Of brown love and excellence.
I know no limits.

Happy Filipino American History Month, everyone. I hope your October was as excellent and as beautiful as the culture and the people that I so deeply love and respect.

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