Monday, August 11, 2014

Lessons from NaFFAA 2014

I attended the National Federation of Filipino American Association (NaFFAA) in San Diego last week to support a panel for the Congressional Gold Medal for the WWII veterans. I brought my parents because it was their anniversary and it was my mom’s birthday.  I later realized that their presence helped ease the dual generation and cultural gap I have with other Filipinos and my own diaspora as an American Filipina.

My father said he had relatives in San Diego and I said that it had been years since he had seen them.  Did he even have their phone number?  Would they even return his call should he call?  

My cousin, who happened to be in San Diego at the time, asked me if I learned anything at the conference.  She was our gracious guide and chauffer.  I felt comfortable connecting with her because I reached out to her a year ago and she was closer to my age.  We found each other on Facebook and have been threatening to catch up with each other ever since.  To answer her question, I list here three things I learned at the 2014 NaFFAA conference.

     1.    I learned that just because you are no longer within the age group of the young professionals, you can still be young at heart, but you cannot dodge being a “Tita”.  I attended the young professional portion of the conference, EPYC.  EPYC is short for Empowering Pilipin@ Youth through collaboration.  The first time a Millennial called me a “Tita” I almost fell to my knees from the burden of wisdom I needed to bestow on the young lady who was not that much younger than me.  How old do you have to be to be called a “Tita” anyway?  Later in the evening, I met with a handful of young Filipinos from NYC during a hotel room after party.  My lesson learned was I was not the mentor after all.  I am the mentee. They taught me the joy of belonging. Belonging should be easy, natural, and an organic thing that just happens. This is how being a part of a group is supposed to feel.  In business and with the formalities of organizations, we forget this sometimes.  I hope to see this group again one day so I can thank them.
Temecula vineyard grapes
     2.    I learned that the generation gap is alive and well. Another Filipina welcomed me from my home state to work the Congressional Gold Medal issue.  A personal story was even relayed to me and we connected.  Later that evening during the gala, I learned that a whole organization from my region won an award.  They were seated not far from me.  I wondered why I was not introduced and acknowledged at this point. I was wearing my kimona after all. I wanted to introduce my parents.  As a picture of the table was being taken, I thought that if I joined the group photo, it would be ok.  The lady that I connected with earlier looked at me suspiciously – not sure she recognized me.  An elderly lady in a lapis lazuli blue dress stopped in her tracks and gave me a brief dagger-eyed glare.  The glare said without words, “who are you and why are you here?”  At this point, my attempt at a graceful integration became an unwelcomed photo bomb.  I quietly slithered away after that and partied with my table, who where more fun anyways.  They were mostly from Las Vegas and Pennsylvania.  The lesson here is I have a lot of work to do if I am going to work the Congressional Gold Medal issue with the more seasoned generation, much less engage in an honorable way.

     3.    I learned that there were a lot of other American Filipinos, like me, who at one point in time, were in denial of the importance of their Filipino heritage in their lives.  A man named Tony was with an organization called Gawad Kalinga.  The organization works to build strong communities in the U.S. that foster pride in the Filipino-American identity, inspire civic action, cultivate the spirit of Bayanihan, and act together to end poverty in the Philippines.  He spoke of his denial of identity using the metaphor of the movie The Matrix.  He spoke of when he was “unplugged” from The Matrix.  This happened during a very eye-opening visit to an area of need in the Philippines.  Although the people he met lived simply and did not have a lot, they welcomed him in their homes, were proud and happy and kind.  Here, I connected with remembering my moment when I was “unplugged from the matrix” and I am not alone in feeling this way.  I thank him for that.

Seafood Platter at Titas #2, San Diego
My final lesson was not one from NaFFAA, but from my dad.  He managed to find through his DNA GPS, many relatives. In our short time, we toured National City, did a night tour of the Navy base, ate Filipino food almost every night (one night there were many down home classic dishes from a freshly butchered goat!), toured three vineyards, stopped by a Casino, acquired oranges from a family orchard.  Some regretted not being able to make the drive from LA, if even to only spend an hour with us.  The final lesson was the kindness of our own relatives, no matter how far we were in the family tree.  The distance of space and time forgave itself in the form of making us feel like we were old friends that just saw each other yesterday.  Here I felt the feeling of one family.  It was here I think I really disconnected from the matrix.

As I processed these reflections on the plane ride home, I could not help but shoulder surf a female passenger texting in the seat in front of me.  As the plane was getting ready to lift off, she sneaked in a final text that said, “I need a cocktail, I am sitting next to a Muslim woman in a head dress.”  I laughed to myself quietly thinking that maybe some people will never learn.

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