I could only imagine what was going through my mom’s head when she was on her way from Manila to San Francisco in the early 1980’s. She has told me over the years that she chose to leave Pangasinan plus everything she knew to live in the United States so she can start a new and better life for her and me. I am grateful everyday for the opportunities that have been given to me as a result of her sacrifice. However, there was always a part of me that yearned for that connection with my heritage. Being a Filipino has never been a foreign concept for me. My family spoke in our native Ilocano. Lea, Pops, Roselle were on rotation. Our parties were always joyous and the food! Lechon, pinakbet, lumpia. The food was the constant star of our celebrations year after year growing up. We also made trips back to Pangasinan every two to three years. Our togetherness as a family was prevalent. The communities I associated with during college and the present have given me a sense of pride, but still, I felt I needed to experience the Philippines on my own terms, at my own pace. When I saw the call for applicants for the Filipino Young Leaders Program (FYLPRO) in the Spring of 2016, I knew it was my chance to finally make that connection.
Every year since 2012, ten delegates are chosen to visit the Philippines and they participate in various activities with the government and local communities while engaging in the culture and heritage of the Philippines. These delegates are to utilize the knowledge they brought with them and the knowledge they gain during their immersion trip to strengthen the ties between the Philippines and the United States.
After working on my application and sending it off to FYLPRO in July, I wondered how my work in Filipino food promotion would even help. A cruel realization came to me that I knew so little about what I was promoting. With the country’s regionality and diverse ecosystems and people, there was so much to learn and I made it my goal to go back to the Philippines whether or not I was chosen. Fortunately, in September, I was blessed to be selected as one of the ten delegates in Batch 5 to travel to Manila in November.
On the airplane to Manila, I looked back on all the trips I took prior. My last trip was in 2014. Before that 2011. And before that 2009. I was not unfamiliar with my family’s province, but Manila was going to be a challenge for me as I was traveling alone. For the first time. I then wondered how mom was when she travelled to San Francisco on her own. My grandpa, whom we fondly call Tatay, immigrated to the United States in the late 1970’s - at the height of government turmoil in the Philippines. Mom joined him in 1983 and I was born shortly after. Being the first grandchild born in the United States, there was always the expectation to make the family proud and to be the best I can be. They sacrificed so much to come to the United States and I felt it was my duty to do just that.
I knew the Philippines I would be seeing would be a whole different one from the Philippines I was exposed to as a child and even as a young adult. Citizens my age are now making decisions for the country. People like ME were making a difference in their communities. I felt proud, empowered, but terrified. Was I even worthy to be part of this group? Were mosquitos going to eat me alive? What if I couldn’t get good cellular service? Was I safe? The worrywart came out full throttle; nonetheless, I was incredibly excited to meet my batchmates and start on this new adventure because I was certain it was going to be an eye opening one.
The curators of the trip, (special thank you to Minnie, Joe and Joanna at the Ayala Foundation), made sure that the delegates had a healthy dose each of government exposure, cultural activity, hands-on community work, and time to reacquaint ourselves with the Philippines. Because my legacy project is focused on the progress of Filipino food, as well as its history and chefs, I made sure to create connections with those in the Filipino food industry.
Department of Foreign Affairs - We were given the opportunity to have a roundtable discussions with leaders at the Department of Foreign Affairs. We discussed everything from the government’s plan to create an infrastructure that will ensure the country's market growth in the future, to the Philippine foreign policy, budgets and targets, to the DFA's mission to promote Philippine interests in the global spectrum to more mundane things such as my love for Filipino food. It was a great honor to converse with DFA Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., Assistant Secretary Maria Andrelita Austria of the Office of American Affairs, Director Reichel Quiñones of the Canadian Division, as well as with the representatives from the DFA, National Economic and Development Authority, National Commission on Culture and the Arts, and Department of Social Welfare and Development who were generous with their time.
Senate of the Philippines - Immediately after our visit to the DFA, we were ushered to the Philippine Senate to meet and converse with Senators Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan. They graciously shared their programs regarding community advancement, leadership, and political and civic engagement.
Malacañan Palace - I never would have thought I would ever step foot at Malacañan. This place has so much history within its four walls. Paintings of all the presidents and their First Ladies, artifacts from the Martial Law era, and even the fine china used at special dinners were on display. It was such an honor to be there. This was also the perfect place for the traditional FYLPRO teleserye photo.
National Museum of the Philippines
Intramuros and Fort Santiago - Jose Rizal's jail cell with BamBikes Tours
Habitat for Humanity - Bistekville 4, Culiat, Quezon City
100 for 200 - Araw ng Pagbasa - Books for Youth with Ayala CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and Vice President Leni Robredo - Ayala Museum, Makati
XO46 Heritage Bistro - Thank you to owner Andrew Masigan for feeding us until we couldn't eat anymore! On our first day, we were treated to a welcome dinner at XO46 Heritage Bistro in Makati where the servers spoke in old Tagalog and no English! Many of us have never heard that spoken before and it definitely added to the charm of the restaurant.
Mentorship: One important aspect of the FYLPRO immersion trip was to spend time with someone in the community who can mentor us in our fields. Mine is the promotion of Filipino food, and I was mentored with Mr. Masigan who gave me a tour of his properties, including XO46 in the S Maison Conrad which has a gorgeous dining room, inspired by the grand dining room at Malacanang, overlooking Manila Bay and his not-yet-opened Arroz Ecija in BGC. He also treated myself and Batch 4 alumna Nicole Ponseca of NYC's Maharlika and Jeepney to a sumptuous meal over a conversation about their beginnings in the restaurant industry and how to entice the masses to Filipino restaurants. The food was amazing - the pusit pancit from Cavite was my favorite!
Aristocrat with Mama Sita's
Rural Kitchen of Liliw, Laguna
I am incredibly grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Even though the trip was only 1 week long, I felt I became more connected to the Philippines and to my batch mates. We came from all over the country and from different backgrounds, but we all had something in common: we wanted to strengthen our ties to the Philippines because we know we have something valuable to offer. I admire the people I experienced this trip with and I am indebted to all those who helped make this trip possible.
Hi. I'm Jo.
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