I’ve been building with our Midwest fil am community since I was 18. I was mildly terrified when I walked into that first PSA meeting, but the fear was so worth it. I never thought I would join a Filipino cultural organization, and I certainly never thought I’d end up running one, but it was probably one of the most transformative experiences of my college career. I made a lot of mistakes, I fell flat on my face a few times, but every time there was someone who reminded me that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a lot of growing I still have to do, and so many things I have to learn and unlearn, but I’m so grateful to have the space to do so.
Sure, college gave me an expensive piece of paper that fools people into thinking I’m “educated,” but the real education I got was through this community. They taught me how to build something from the ground up, how to unite people, how to be creative. They showed me over and over that you can and should lead with love, and that you have to take care of your people first, or whatever it is you’re working on won’t go anywhere. This community, particularly this unique Midwestern community, reminds me again and again that you HAVE to meet people where they’re at and make space in the movement for people who are at all different levels of their activism. Like, not everyone is ready to do Hero mode on their first play through.
This community has led me to the greatest people I’ve ever met. They so quickly became the family that I needed, when I was over 8000 miles from home. Kaibigans for life. Soulmates. The ninangs and ninongs of my future kids. It’s given me more love than I know what to do with, and enough heartbreak to match.
It’s not always rainbows though. It’s exhausting to try to develop leaders, to put together community events, to educate, to outreach, to build real relationships. Your time, your energy, every part of your soul that you pour into a project or a person can feel like a thankless task on a checklist that never seems to end.
I feel that all the time. I lose sight of what all this is for. I think of the end goal and forget about the process. I wonder if any of this work means anything, when it feels like our world is about to implode at any second. Then something will happen to remind me what’s real. Like Sammy Dayon’s grad cap (shoutout to Sailor Moon!), that reminds me of the bayanihan spirit that lives in this community. We’re all working towards a shared goal, we don’t do this work alone. Sometimes it’s hard to keep focused, but you stay on course because there’s always someone walking beside you.
You really have to build community, brick by fucking brick. Your hands will bleed, your knees will shake, but you keep building because you have to. We build together or we all fall apart.
We have to take care of each other. We have to check in in ways that go beyond the task at hand. If you look around at your team and you don’t know what makes them laugh, or what makes them cry, you need to take a minute to re-evaluate what you’re doing.
We don’t thank each other enough. To all my Ates, Kuyas, teachers, mentors, friends, family, all my loves: salamat kaayo. Your time, your effort, your heart does not go unnoticed. Your work is worth it. We see you. Nakikita kita. If you’re reading this, know that I love you. Iniibig kita, from the brightest part of my soul. Always.