The Next Balikbayan Generation

Announcing the 2016 Kaya Collaborative Fellows

This summer, a third class of young global Filipino leaders will be interning in Manila, learning from local Filipino changemakers, and training to lead a larger movement to connect the global Filipino community to its motherland.

For nineteen years,” says Louie Vital, a current student at the University of Washington, “I had suffered from a self-inflicted, stubborn case of colonial mentality.” It’s a classic story that many 2nd generation immigrants and beyond can relate to: the struggle to fit in, the wrestling for self-definition, the resistance against and erasure of some of the most inner and authentic parts of one’s self.

“I am now resisting in the opposite direction.”

That changed for Louie in college, when she got to know Filipinos outside her family for the first time. In her own words, she fell in love. “I found love for the people, the culture, my body, myself. I am now resisting in the opposite direction.”

In 2014, Louie studied abroad consecutively in the Philippines and in Spain, and learned about colonialism and world history from both sides. The experience jarred and awakened something in her. Soon, she started writing. Soon, she started telling her story through spoken word performances in the plaza of her university, then at culture shows, at classes, high schools, speaking competitions, festivals. In her university’s Filipino group, she has begun to open up spaces — in the form of bi-weekly workshops — that explore and educate others on topics ranging from colonial history to climate justice to Fil-Am privilege.

Rediscovering People Power

Louie is one of many emerging voices from this generation of Filipinos in the diaspora — the global children of migration — who are rising up to reclaim their cultural identities and carve a new space in the global conversation for the Philippines and the Filipino people.

This summer, 11 of these young leaders will be returning to the Philippines through the Kaya Collaborative Fellowship. Over 8 weeks this June to August, the Fellowship will connect them to internships with local Filipino social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders, a curriculum on social change across boundaries in the Philippines. This summer experience is the first part of a larger mission: to develop these young global Filipinos into leaders in driving resources, networks, and knowledge globally to accelerate the work of local leaders in the Philippines.

Kaya Collaborative is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works to inspire, educate, and mobilize Filipino diaspora youth as partners to long-term, locally-led social change in the Philippines. Over the past two years, Kaya Co. has brought 23 young leaders back to the Philippines to rediscover its history, its culture, and the landscape of people working to create solutions to deeply entrenched social problems.

Past Fellows Share Their Reflections

“I’m not supposed to be back here, in a way,” said Anthony Garciano, a 2015 Kaya Co. Fellow, not long before his fellowship experience in Manila. “But through Kaya Co, I’ve found an avenue to connect my passion for the Filipino and our culture to support the Philippines.”

As an undergraduate in the University of Southern California, Anthony was already working before the Fellowship to shift the culture of his Filipino student group towards deeper dialogue and effective action. Since being elected a Fellow, Anthony has gained even more momentum: in 2015, he helped transform the school’s annual Filipino culture show into a fundraiser for typhoon survivors, and he is now crafting a transnational mentorship program that engages young Fil-Am college students and high schoolers in the Philippines in dialogue with one another.

Sierra Jamir, another 2015 Kaya Co. Fellow, started her cultural leadership in high school, as the founder of her school’s Southeast Asian club and the first cultural blog for young Filipinos in New England. For her, the Fellowship opened up “a platform to do something big, to hopefully influence others here that there is something we can do despite the barriers that we often say hinders us.” Sierra now leads Kaya Co’s outreach in the US Northeast and is creating a new series of workshops in Cornell that focus on critical discussion of Filipino issues.

Stay tuned as we share the 2016 Fellowship class and their stories as they approach the summer, go on to experience the Fellowship, and begin to chart their paths as global partners to the Philippines. In the meantime, read a bit about their profiles below.

The 2016 Kaya Collaborative Fellows

Aina Abell is a junior studying Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California. She is half-Egyptian and a 1.5 generation Filipina-American, having spent the first half of her life in Antipolo. After finding herself between several identities, she has since grown into a leadership role in USC’s Troy Philippines.

Trixia Apiado is a sophomore at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. In her freshman year, she took part in Georgetown’s Futures Fellowship, where she worked with other students to help scale a feeding program at Ateneo de Manila. She has since worked with Filipino American groups to fundraise for the same program, and is currently part of the executive board of Georgetown’s Club Filipino.

Frances Anne Aquino is a senior studying Science & Society at Brown University. Over the course of her studies and through performance arts, she has come to know the cultures and histories of Havana, Cuba; the unspoken stories of Black Seminole Indians; and her own complicated Filipina roots.

Kristy Drutman is a junior at UC Berkeley building a career in environmental justice, climate policy, and city planning. She has organized stakeholders and mobilized campaign in social justice through her work with Roots of Success, the Partnership for Pre-Professional Pilipin@s, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the California Student Sustainability Coalition. She is now focusing her efforts on building Filipino representation in the global environmental movement.

Kathleen Guytingco is a junior studying Global Health and Environment at the University of Michigan. Over the years, she has taken on several leadership roles at her college’s Filipino American Student Association, and last summer, she learned about disaster management, refugee crises, and family educational services through an internship with the German Red Cross. She now seeks to deepen her leadership at the intersection of those experiences.

Melissa Joseph is a junior studying Social Anthropology at Harvard College. Her passion for tackling education inequality has taken her to teaching and facilitation roles in Massachusetts, Botswana, Taiwan, and the Philippines. In 2015, she was awakened to her connection to the Philippines through a January service trip with Harvard Philippine Forum, and she now serves as the organization’s Director of Service to lead the experience for upcoming generations.

Jacqueline Ramos is a sophomore studying Urban Studies at Stanford University. A coffee addict and a consummate learner around social systems, her earliest profound experience of changemaking took place in high school, when she and a group of friends started a social venture focused on coffee. Today, she is launching a new mentorship program in Stanford’s Pilipino American Student Union, and runs several blogs on coffee and cities.

Dianara Rivera is a sophomore at Brown University engaged in writing and ethnic/cultural studies. She has deconstructed and shared the story of her Filipina identity through Archipelag-a, Brown’s Filipina spoken word collective; organized educational events as Filipino Alliance Cultural Chair; published her pieces on several campus magazines; and supported E(RACE)D, a conference on Asian American identity. As a Minority Peer Counselor, she has grown into a campus leader in embracing, unpacking, and strengthening ethnic identity.

Claudette Sambat is a junior at the University of Washington studying Communications. As a 1.5 generation Filipina American, she is seeking to connect back to the Philippines in a way that connects with her passion for Public Relations. As Vice President of UW’s Filipino American Student Association, she has taken steps to explore that intersection, and in 2015 produced and wrote a play on Filipino identity for the group’s cultural night.

Bianca Taberna is a senior studying Political Science at McGill University. She began to exercise her ability to lead change in high school, where she led the transformation of her city district’s Youth Empowerment Council from a loose collective into a hub for action. She has since harnessed that instinct to tackle issues in the Filipino Canadian community, and now seeks to connect that journey with the Philippines itself.

Louie Vital is a senior studying Political Science and Communications at the University of Washington. Initially detached from her cultural identity, she has since been drawn to the ability of grassroots movements to drive change. She now works to build bridges, strengthen self-understanding, and develop empathy through public speaking and the performance arts.