To the left, right, and in front of me was a new face. I was in a circle with individuals I have never met before. And even before we learned names, we sang in unison:
“This may be the last time,
this may be the last time,
this may be the last time we stand in this circle.”
We looked at each other again, but this time not as strangers. Singing that song made us acknowledge the moment we shared. Thus, there was an essence of barkada, a connection that would be highlighted throughout the conference weekend.
The workshop was called “Writing for Social Justice” hosted at the Empowering Pilipin@ Youth through Collaboration Pre-Conference to the 11th National Empowerment Conference in San Diego, California. Renee Rises was the workshop facilitator, who adapted the song from a colleague and in turn, adapted it from a Negro spiritual. It was the first time I sang in a workshop, second time to sing in a group that day, and hopefully not the last time at an advocacy event.
Thanks to the good folks at UniPro, EPYC, and NaFFAA, I was given the chance to speak on the Regional Student Leaders Panel at the EPYC Pre-Conference. It was an overall empowering experience, where different Filipin@-American youth leaders shared their stories, best practices, challenges, and passions. I felt as if everyone was energized from SoCal’s sunrays and the interaction within the convention center. My primary role at EPYC was to speak in the first panel on behalf of the Filipino Americans Coming Together (FACT) Conference. I coordinated its 21st installment with Grace Geremias and the Philippines Student Association at the University of Illinois last November.
Even though I was a designated speaker and my nametag said “Workshop Presenter”, I caught myself throughout the day oscillating between the role of speaker and attendee. During my hour answering questions and presenting FACT on the Regional Student Leaders Panel, I was a speaker. Listening to and singing with Prof. Ramirez, I was an attendee. While my fellow panelists spoke I was an attendee. I related to their stories. Each of the panelists’ presentations seemed representative of their respective regions. We had differences in how geography and the population of surrounding Filipin@s affected topics of our events. We had similarities in advice to network, apply initiative, and to take advantages of the surrounding resources. Later, I had the chance to speak to some of the panelists one-on-one. We were swapping event-planning tips as if they were recipes.
Kristine Maramot, Marc Densing, Neil Miran, Miko Jao, and Marian Sobretodo: If you are reading this blog post, we should write a book!
At EPYC, I felt reactivated and empowered. After four years of involvement in Asian American advocacy, sometimes I feel like I have seen and heard it all. The same issues get brought out; similar calls to action are established. However, it surprises me when the sense of urgency continues to come back when I congregate with other advocates like last Thursday. I am surprised to learn that I am not too world-weary yet, and that pushes me through any burnout.
Going back to the moment I felt in the “Writing for Social Justice” workshop, I only wanted to stay in my seat and get to know everyone else in the workshop even more. We could not, for there was a timeline to follow. In the hour allotted to us, we managed to write passages of who we are, where we are going, and who we were becoming. Every single person in the room shared their story. In that room we were connected, but the moment could not last- there were more stories to share in other rooms.
Often times it is said that one can only discover passion but cannot learn it. I believe experiencing feelings of barkada on the panel, in the workshops, or speaking to someone on the way to lunch are ways to drive passion to appear. We connect causes to the faces we meet, then faces to names we learn, and then names to a humanity we share.
Jeselle Obina was the Co-Coordinator of the 21st Annual Filipino Americans Coming Together Conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She hopes to see you at the 22nd FACT Conference this upcoming November. She is a recent graduate with a degree in Advertising. She is currently a Bronze Cohort of Designation Chicago and is seeking opportunities as an art director. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.