Where did you grow up?

I was actually born in Bahrain which is in the Middle East. My parents were Filipino oversees workers. They met in Bahrain. We were there for I think the first 6 years of my life and the thing is, it’s really hard for immigrants or outsiders to become naturalized in Bahrain. So there wasn’t a future there for us which was why we moved back to the Philippines for 6 months and that was my first time there.

How old were you when you moved to the Philippines?

It was 1997 when we went to the Philippines so I was 6 years old and after 4–6 months, I moved to Canada in 1998. One thing I remember about being in the Philippines is that I actually went to school there because I was really bored at home doing nothing. So I went to kindergarten and I remember that I cried every single day. Even at school, everyone hated me because I cried every single day.

Do you remember why you were crying at school?

I don’t know. My parents would tell me about that time, they used to tell me I was a cry baby and since then I told myself I’ll never cry again. It’s true when you hear other people’s stories, it makes you think about your own story.

I came to Canada when I was in grade 1 and I’ve been here ever since.

When you came to Canada, what was it like coming from the Philippines?

I remember it being interesting. When I came to Canada, I spoke english my entire life and I switched schools in grade 1 and then in grade 2, I switched schools again from grade 2 to 3.

When I was in the third grade they immediately put me into E.S.L. even though I’ve never actually spoken Tagalog. It was always english. So they put me there for the first 2–3 months of class even though I spoke english really well.

When I was in that class, it was weird because other people would speak in an accent in english and I just couldn’t relate to them the way I did with my regular classmates. Eventually they found out I spoke english pretty well so they moved me back. That was one of the things that I remember.

How did that make you feel as a kid? Growing up in an environment you’ve been placed in, you don’t relate to anybody and you know you shouldn’t be there but you have to be there..

It makes you feel different and marked. I remember back then, I felt a sense of failure. A sense of like I wasn’t doing enough or I wasn’t as good enough as the other kids even though, I felt I was better or just as good. I guess back then, it was a misconception that E.S.L. was “lesser.” It made me feel kind of different from everyone and lesser than them even though it shouldn’t have.

You’re doing research at the University of Toronto Scarborough, can you talk a little more about it and the reasons behind it?

This research is part of an advanced undergraduate course in Anthropology. The point of the course is to carry out your own individual research. From the planning stages to getting an ethics proposal passed by a board, and then carrying it out and writing it out afterwards.

When I first started, I was really interested in exploring my own identity as a Filipino-Canadian. That was one thing I searched up and when I was researching, most of the studies I would find were sociological studies that looked at identity from the perspective of the Canadian government. They would look at identity as a kind of a bad thing, as something that would prevent Filipino-Canadians from integrating into a wider Canadian society. As for me, I felt like this was an unfair way to view it and I wanted to view it in ways Filipino-Canadians themselves look at themselves if that makes sense.

I could feel this kind of blaming identity as not fitting in, it didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t relate to it and so I had to think there was another truth out there and that’s what I was getting at with this project.

What is your relationship being a Filipino-Canadian? If you identify as Filipino-Canadian and what that means to you?

So I’m doing this project because I want to explore my own identity. When I was first trying to get permission to do this project, I was talking to the director at Kapisanan Philippine Centre about what I wanted to do and one of the things she asked me was,

“How do you relate to your Filipino identity?”

and I didn’t know how to answer. I was reading all this stuff about what people thought, how they think about their identity and I never stopped to consider what I think about my own. I just stammered through it and I couldn’t even say what I wanted to say. I used all the terms in like articles and stuff like that and on the drive back home, I thought a lot about that and ever since.

If I was to indulge myself a bit, for me, growing up Filipino-Canadian, I associate it a lot with painfulness, and pain. I remember when I was young, I would have rice lunches with spoon and fork. And people would think it’d be super weird shovelling rice into a spoon and eating it. People knew me as that guy who brought utensils to class even though other kids would be eating “lunchables” or whatever. And when you opened up your lunchbox, there’s that food smell that comes out and marks you as Filipino. Or when you mom makes food in the morning you go in and everyone could smell you’re Filipino. It was something I was really ashamed of growing up.

That’s something I wish I told the director when I was talking to her. When I was young, I was ashamed of being different and standing out from everyone. My experience with E.S.L, my experience going to the Philippines and not knowing Tagalog well, I just wanted to fit in. As I grew older, I kind of got used to it. It’s what makes you unique. You might as well embrace it. It’s something that won’t go away and something that I’ve come to accept.

When I was thinking about my identity, something came to me. What my Iraqi co-worker used to say a long time ago when I was working at Daniels Spectrum. She had this molar problem and a bad filling that led to operation. The operation was 3 weeks away and she was in constant pain everyday and would just speak from the side of her mouth and when she would start speaking normally, I’d ask if she got the surgery and she would say no. And I’d ask her why are you applying that pressure on yourself? It was the way she’d look at me… she was older like around 60 and she looked at me and she said,

“My son, I got used to the pain. The pain became my friend.”

And that’s something that I used to remember a lot. “The pain became my friend.” For me, that’s how I relate to my identity. It was like a pain that won’t go away and it’s something that I became friends with.

When you have a pain and you get used to it, and afterwards you don’t feel it anymore, or you feel it less…it’s kind of nostalgic to think about.

Are there any other times or stories that you experienced struggle with your identity?

It’s kind of similar to what you were saying earlier about the pressures of being Filipino-Canadian. How your parents expect you to be great. I remember when I was in the Philippines, my favourite aunt would always tell me I was destined to be a doctor or a lawyer or something. So one day, I was washing my hands, and I was very very thorough with it and she was with my mom and they were just watching me. And she would say, “I know that’s how you’re going to become a doctor. Because he washes his hands like a doctor would.”

I remember growing up I would always wash my hands extra long until they were wrinkled just because I used to remember what she said and I always felt that I had to live up to what she was saying. My mom would make me hot chocolate when I was studying and would say “That’s an A’s worth. You have to get an ‘A’ now because I gave you chocolate.” I internalized that and getting those A’s. For me, one of the shocks was realizing that I wasn’t a “genius” or whatever, or I wasn’t super smart like not making it to gifted classes. I remember in grade 9 getting a 60 and I felt so lost and didn’t know what to do. In University, I guess I kind of got complacent and lazy. I had a girlfriend really early and then I started feeling like I plateaued. I was getting 80’s but not 90’s or 95’s, I didn’t feel myself growing as a person. I remember one class, I chose to go out with my girlfriend instead of studying for a test and I thought I was going to flunk it and fail and I ended up getting a 75. I felt great! I felt like I was living my whole life wrong. I felt like having fun all the time and not giving a damn. I ended up doing that and missing the deadlines for a lot of classes, my grades started slipping and eventually, I was dropping out of courses because I was failing and not handing in assignments and I wouldn’t tell my parents. They’d find out later on I was actually a year behind. I would be in my second year even though I was there for three. It was messed up. I felt like I was in a rut.

I felt like no matter what I was doing, it wouldn’t lead to anything. I feel like I was pushed into university because of my parents’ expectations. I wish I spent a year thinking about it or spend some time to consider what I was doing. I felt like I’ve been just moving along and just get this degree to please my parents. But the big thing was that I couldn’t see what I’m doing now could lead or connect me to a future later on. I feel like for me, what got me out of it, was this course that talked about hope.

The reason we move forward is because of hope. This guy Ernst Bloch, he basically says we need hope move forward in the present. What happens in the present, won’t make sense unless you look back at it from the point in the future. To get to that future point, you don’t know what you’re doing now, but you have to hope to get to that point. And that’s the thing. I couldn’t think of a way that connected me to the person I wanted to be. That’s why I stopped going to classes, just started having fun, I failed a ton of classes and to be honest, I didn’t care.

What changed for me, was seeing myself now working towards a place where I want to be. When I was in this huge spiral, I blamed my girlfriend a lot. I felt bad. I would take refuge, go out and spend time with her even though I had assignments the next day and it’s ironic because now I credit her for pulling me out of it. She graduated before me, she got a job and a lot of her money was spent paying for her parents because she came from a lower socio-economic background. That inspired me. She would say that she wanted a future together and I can’t do that if you’re still in school, messing around. It was a wake up call to me. What am I working for? Why don’t I want to finish? I don’t know if it’s bad or good, but I’m doing it for her. I’m doing it for a future where we can be together and we don’t have to worry about money. That’s the future I’m working towards and that’s the point of my life I’m in now.

Is there any other pieces of advice that you’d like to share with someone who may be going through something similar?

Always consider your story. Always consider how what you’re doing now connects to where you want to be. I feel like for me, that got disconnected. I feel like, you should always be working towards something. The reason I kind of fell off was because I couldn’t see how it related.

Rise Over Run is a visual project that focuses on people, their stories, experiences and how we can learn to overcome personal struggles | email me: ror@riseoverrun.org
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