Taken from Rovaira’s FB account:
I was invited to give a speech at the FYLPro Summit in Hawaii, which is funny because I don’t really relate to many Fil-Ams, especially those in America.
Days and even hours leading up to the event, I still didn’t know what to say. Parang it was like I was seeing it from the PH-based pinoy’s perspective .. medyong mayabang diba yong Fil-Am? Parang hindo ko.. eh, medyong intimidating I think. Not because I worried that I didn’t stack up to them, but grabe, sometimes I felt like they don’t quite understand what it’s like for Filipinos in the Philippines. And also, bakit naman, itong program (FYLPro), why don’t they recognize the Fil-Ams who are already IN the Philippines?! Already collaborating with Filipinos and together doing some pretty exciting things?
Anyway, I realized that what I wanted to do with this talk was basically recognize all my fellow crazies in Manila. Even though we may not always agree, and internally, we continue to challenge each other to do better work, to the rest of the world and those Fil-Ams in America, you better believe I’ve got all your backs. And it’s our collective work, struggles and celebrations in Manila that I spoke about today.
Here’s a part of my talk:
“Like I said potential is the new buzz word around town, what with our better than expected rate of economic growth and all these international publications declaring us the new tiger of Asia. [SLIDE 14] But it’s also laden in something inexplicable: the feeling that something is happening. This realization that you can do what you do, what you love, what you’re good at, there in the Philippines – that’s what hooks Fil-Am to the Motherland. Because as I’ve learned while living there, it’s not enough to say you should come to the Philippines to “help the Philippines.” Realistically, social responsibility and accountability only goes so far. If you want lasting, sustainable impact, you have to pitch it in a different way. In a way that’s grounded in peoples’ passions and fosters collaboration with those in the Philippines.
But don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been easy! Imagine, we are young, Fil-Ams, who on our own resources, often with no family connections or barkada, made our way to the Philippines and through hard work and determination, stumbles and tears of frustration, have found a way to make it happen. Perhaps FYLPro, this could be an opportunity to expand your capacity and link those Fil-Am delegates in America with those young Fil-Ams already doing work in the Philippines? Building those bridges. Because what better way to learn or execute than from collaborating with your friends in Manila who’ve gone through a lot of it already?
But now living in the Philippines, and learning what I’ve learned, programs and initiatives like FYLPro are important, especially – and I can’t stress this enough – if the organizing is centered on understanding the Philippines, where you come from, the history and current issues of the country. Perhaps some of you will agree with me that one Fil-Am issue many of us see is our lack of understanding of the Motherland. And that’s a problem, because to continue to cultivate this transnational, diasporic bridge building, it’s on us to better understand where we’ve come from. And however way you do that, I challenge you to try.
I’m not saying you have to move to the Philippines, but believe me when I say that being able to relate with your kababayan in the Philippines in ways that demonstrate your understanding of the history, culture and current issues they face – well, that’s beautiful and is necessary for any of THIS to work. The impact of what you do should extend beyond the borders of America.”
Right after walking off the stage, Ambassador Cuisia came up to me and said, “let’s make that happen.” I hope this is the beginning of folks starting to recognize our experiences and supporting our work.
I’ve shared this with some of you before, but it wasn’t until I moved to the Philippines that I really started to understand my “Filipino-ness.” America wasn’t going to do that for me. And for sure, it wasn’t gonna happen from hanging out with other Fil-Ams in America. It’s all of you and the amazing PH-raised “local Filipino” friends I’ve made over the past three years who every day challenge us to be better people, better Filipinos.
I owe so much to the Philippines. And in my work, I hope I always embody something we talk about with PULSE: We will never profit off the Filipino. Creative work should be accessible to all – at all stages of the cycle – and nothing is worth doing if it means skipping over the people who should benefit the most.
Thank you, friends, for giving me something to be incredibly proud of today.
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