Hit the ground running
by Allen Rey
I am most fortunate and grateful to live here in Canada. I am able and often encouraged to get a taste of other cultures from around the world, whether that means literally tasting unfamiliar foods, learning bits of especially noteworthy foreign history, or perhaps acquiring the odd greeting or phrase in another language.
Thanks in part to its place in the world politically and its generally positive disposition, Canada is known to draw people from all around the globe to come visit and even stay within its borders. Of the positive qualities the country possesses, I often find that fellow Canadians cherish the delightfully inescapable feeling of being different – together. Take any two people from the general population of Canada, let them talk about themselves to each other for a bit, and chances are that they will describe vastly different backgrounds and senses of identity.
Identity. What a fascinating word. Growing up Canadian gave me some experience with it. See, when you are surrounded by so many varying stories of personal heritage it almost becomes fun to declare your own. In elementary school, if I deemed it appropriate, I would almost yell, “Well I’m Pilipino-Canadian!”
I continued doing so for a while before I actually considered what having my roots meant both in the broader historical sense and the more personal, familial one. Perhaps I have been less lucky or failed to see certain opportunities, but I do not remember encountering a single program relating to Philippine studies in my career as a student from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. Making matters worse, to my own and more than one teacher’s dismay, I seem to have had some stubborn aversion to learning things relating to history and anthropology. So, there was a very slim chance for me to take initiative and seek out the knowledge for myself. And since I had no relatives besides my mother whom I could discuss my roots with, my idea of the family I come from is one derived mostly from stories rather than experience. Finally, as a kind of cherry on top, I have a very limited understanding of the language; I can only just barely grasp the gist of a conversation between Pilipino speakers. With all of this in mind, it did not seem likely that I would ever get in touch with my Philippine side.
But thanks to a certain “encouraging” friend of mine, I caught wind of an organization called Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan (ANAK) Incorporated. ANAK was offering the chance for Pilipino-Canadian youths to earn a scholarship.
“Well I’m Pilipino-Canadian!” I thought.
One short essay and a few emails later, and I found myself sitting in a room with a handful of other young people not so different from me. We all grew up for some length of time in Canada, all the while curious about our heritage, and conscious of the disconnect from our roots that arose from living away from the culture. We had a roughly two-hour discussion about what it means and how it feels to be Pilipino-Canadian. And while there were definitely some differences in opinions and varying experiences among us, there was one common thread that linked all of us and made us feel at home: we all felt slightly out of place and different. It was fairly safe to say that we all came out of that room a bit more sure of what our individual identities were, or at least hungrier for further understanding. So, while I did not end up winning the scholarship, I believe that I ended up more in touch with a side of myself that I may not have otherwise explored.
Just this summer, I volunteered to work with ANAK during Folklorama 50 at the Pearl of the Orient Philippine Pavilion, assisting them in presenting and selling merchandise that helps to inform and enrich people’s understanding of Philippine culture. I spent five evenings at the event with ANAK and learned more about my heritage in those five nights than I had in my entire life! I learned bits and pieces of history and mythology like the Sarimanok, discussed how the languages of the Philippines convey thoughts and emotion differently from the English language, got to watch the great performers practice tinikling in between shows, and even learned how to play sungka! By the time the last night came to an end, I was beginning to regret that I didn’t book more hours of volunteering at the event with ANAK, but thankfully they assured me that they would have more opportunities for me in the future.
So while I still have much to learn about the traditions, languages, and history of my cultural heritage, I already feel as if I have come a long way since the beginning of 2019. What’s more, I am excited since I have the rest of my life to seize more opportunities like the one I took this summer. Like many other young people, I am still not quite certain about who I am or what my identity is, but I know I am getting closer. I’ve hit the ground running, and I hope I won’t stop.
Allen Rey is in his first year of studies at university, currently working towards a degree in neuroscience. To learn more about how to get involved in ANAK programs and events, visit www.anak.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org