My lived experiences are my motivation to commit myself to public service, cross-cultural, and social issues. My circumstances can be seen as half-full or half-empty. Half-empty because as a gay Filipino from a low-socioeconomic status and a broken family in Mindanao – the odds are against me. But this has not stopped me from chasing my dreams. I have valued and maximized education to learn knowledge and skills that will benefit my country in the future. Coming from a marginalized background, I have learned the virtue of hard work. I want to contribute in making the world a better place. I hope to become a diplomat for my beloved country, the Republic of the Philippines, to move up to be an Ambassador or the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and to become one of the first openly gay men who holds high public office. I want to serve my country in supporting Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), boosting security and economic development, and empowering LGBT Filipinos.
Unlike others who have found their passion for public service through service trips to Africa or global conferences in Geneva, my personal experiences have fully shaped my aspirations. As the son of a migrant worker, I spent my childhood getting used to my father being gone ten months a year so he could provide us with a better future. However, this distance inevitably caused turbulence in our family creating a void between my father and us and eventually causing my parents’ separation. When I was 16, I was chosen for a highly-coveted, life-changing scholarship to attend the United World College (UWC) in Hong Kong where I studied and lived with promising future world leaders from more than 60 countries -from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, to Lesotho. I was immersed in a mosaic of unique perspectives which has influenced my stance on debates. This is where I solidified my idealism. With my own two eyes, I saw my peers from Israel and Palestine become the best of friends, classmates from Indonesia and East Timor hug tightly, and friends from India and Pakistan study Spanish together. In my opinion, ideal situations are possible.
When I studied in Hong Kong, I witnessed massive numbers of my countrymen working as domestic helpers. In my work for Help for Domestic Helpers, I encountered many who were not paid in a timely manner, were left to sleep in cramped kitchens, and were even sued by their employers for crimes they did not commit. On their days off, the workers would all congregate at Central, sit on cardboard boxes and hang out. They didn’t want to spend their salaries because they preferred sending them home. This ultimate sacrifice resonates with me deeply. It is both personal and political. Because I deeply believe ideal situations are possible, I want to ensure that Filipinos abroad are not trafficked. Instead, they should have good working conditions and a connection with their nation and loved ones. I want to protect them all and I want to do it as my profession so that I work for the benefit of my people every day.
The most famous motto in the Philippines was said by our national hero Jose Rizal, “He who does not know how to look back to where he came from, will never reach his destination.” I didn’t quite know what it actually meant until recently. Coming from Mindanao, I learned to value peace and economic development. Unlike quaint Rhode Island, Mindanao is filled with conflict between Christians and Muslims and poverty is ubiquitous. To this day, I can vividly remember when my mother and I went to take out a loan and a couple of rebels fired their ArmaLite guns into the bank to kill a woman. They were paid to kill her. Because our region was extremely undeveloped and lacked opportunities, people became so desperate to bring home rice that they could be paid to assassinate someone. I was three then but I can still hear the gunshots in my sleep, in moments of crisis, and even when I’m doing great at school. Looking back, this unexpected happening ruined what was supposed to be a happy day because we would receive our loan. When my mom and I were in the safe room, I knew I had to do something. The sound of the gunshots, ironically, became a blessing in disguise. It became a gentle reminder of my heartfelt commitment to public service – to ensure that no harmful incidents will happen to my mom, to all moms, and to people surrounded by conflict so that no more happy days will be ruined.
Last year, DOMA, the law that denies legally married same-sex couples benefits and protections that their heterosexual counterparts possess, was deemed unconstitutional in the US. This news transformed the world because it opened a window of opportunity for gay people like me. Being gay in the Philippines is very difficult. The LGBT community continues to face discrimination; thus, gays are forced to work in beauty salons, drag shows, and the entertainment industry because these are the only environments that welcome our identity. Growing up, I faced discrimination: I was called hateful names by my peers; I was perceived as weak and incompetent by my teachers; I was destined to work in a beauty salon by society. However, in 2012, I became epically lucky. I got into Brown which was my dream college not only because it was a prestigious academic institution known for its open curriculum, liberal atmosphere, and an outstanding International Relations Program but also because I knew it had an environment where I could be me – be gay. At Brown, being gay is not my Achilles heel. It’s what makes me special. I want to empower LGBT Filipinos because one shouldn’t have to be “epically lucky.” We should all feel accepted in our homes, in our chosen careers, and in our country. I don’t want LGBT Filipinos to lose hope and not love our country because they don’t feel accepted.
Hence, I am here at Brown. Aside from Brown’s generosity by offering me a full scholarship, I strongly believe that Brown will make me a better public servant. My experiences at Brown, from the honest conversations about structural disadvantages to stimulating lectures about human rights, gave me tools that will be helpful the next time I participate in creating welfare projects, foreign policy, or economic development goals for my country. I traveled great distances to learn as much as I can while I am here and it has been worth it. Sadly enough, most Filipinos who study in rigorous institutions like Brown rarely go back to the Philippines and work, let alone working for the government with a low salary. However, in my opinion, Brown’s culture of open conversations, acknowledgement of privilege, and leaning towards discomfort in order to understand the other perspective is very helpful in public service. Often times, bureaucrats stifle creativity and disregard moral implications just because they have been working with the system a certain way for many years. I like Brown’s culture of being receptive to new ideas and positive view on change. This culture supports betterment because there are ways to make things better. There are ways we can make another person’s life better. Lastly, in the Philippines, there is an extremely high regard for degrees acquired from esteemed American institutions. My goals may seem ambitious but they become more achievable because I’m at Brown. Because of Brown, my aspirations of becoming an Ambassador or the Secretary of Foreign Affairs will be one step closer.
I have never been so happy in my life. But you shouldn’t have to be lucky to be happy. One shouldn’t have to beat the unfathomable odds just to be happy. Everyone should have access to opportunities and belonging.
The magical part of my lived experiences is that they can also be seen as half-full. At the end of the day, I have images in my memory that will forever motivate me to serve other people. Because I know how painful it is to be marginalized, I want to prevent structural disadvantages. My identity is not my demise; it is what ignites the fire inside me to make a difference in the lives of others.