I-want-to-be-a-Unipro: small town Filipino American goes to the Big Apple

There is something interesting about growing up in the Midwest. From where I’m from, the Midwest is cornfields, driving past those same cornfields endlessly for one form of fun, and going to the same Applebee’s every weekend for the other form of fun. The Midwest is small towns like the ones I grew up in.

I even had more of an interesting time as a Filipino American. The only opportunities to learn about Filipino culture were the very limited interactions with my parents, and a display of such a minority culture is unfavorable. Speaking out is even more difficult. I lived in smallness. The more I grew up, the more I questioned my Filipino-ness. 

Now after a couple of years into my undergraduate career where I hit the ground running in terms of exploring my culture and civic involvement comes the UniPro Summit 2017: "Persist." 

I came to the UniPro Summit on a mission: to better myself as a leader in Filipinx American spaces by listening to other perspectives outside the Midwest.

From the keynote speakers, I was absolutely inspired by their stories of persistence. In trying times, it is imperative to keep pushing. To be unapologetically yourself is subversive enough, and the narratives of Geena Rocero and Christina Halpern serve as encouragement to remain strong. Workshops focused on the fundamentals of public speaking, adapting quickly to adverse situations within our collegiate organizations, and addressing issues that exist within our communities such as anti-Blackness.

And even though my experience as a Filipino American was very different from many others at the conference, I still felt such a genuine sense of community. It was refreshing to be in a space where everyone is so motivated to create a better Filipino America.

I want to take the energy from UniPro and bring it back the Midwest, which I think is the point of the summit. I must… Persist. It seems overly redundant, but the central theme of the summit is even more true now than ever. Coming together as we are, mobilizing Filipinx Americans on a national scale, is an act of persistence, but it’s important for me to use my voice to uplift the rest of the Midwest community by providing resources of education and engagement. While we in the Midwest pay homage to our cultural roots, we must also address the issues that pervade a problematic US society-- no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Growing up in a small town had me dreaming about traveling to big cities to discover something bigger than me. UniPro gave me an opportunity to fulfill that wish, and now my dream is to use the skills I’ve acquired along the adventure to impact Filipinx Americans and shatter a stagnant idea of smallness.

Thank you to UniPro for having me. Thank you to the people I met who understood me as I am. Thank you to the people I met who taught me how to persist from their acts of persistence.

Christian Paneda is the Co-President of FASA at the University of Michigan. Christian was awarded the UniPro Summit Sponsorship to attend UniPro Summit 2017: "Persist" in New York City on June 3, 2017.