October 1, 2016

Solidarity in identity and belonging

by Johsa Manzanilla  (Published in Pilipino Express October 1-15)

I first stumbled upon ANAK in 2009. I instantly fell in love.

It was summer, and I was having conversations with other Filipino-Canadians in Winnipeg, as they shared with me their thoughts on identity and belonging. At the time, I was a grad student in human rights and social justice, also personally struggling with my own sense of self as a young Filipina, trying to make sense of who I am and why I am in Canada. The school that I was studying at was in The Hague, Netherlands, so I had come back home for a month to research the social exclusion narratives of my community. Through this process, I met two other young, bright and energetic women who shared with me this conflict with identity and who grappled with the question of how we “fit” in – a push/pull between our “Filipino-ness” and “Canadian-ness.”

As Darlyne and Neneth told me their stories, I felt calmer, safer, knowing I wasn’t in this alone. It seemed revolutionary to have a forum where I could navigate my identities, communities and realities with other young people. Even in a sea of Filipinos, I struggled with who to connect to, who to reach out to. Now I knew I could dialogue.

And then they told me about ANAK. I was hooked.

Both Darlyne and Neneth were part of a group of six who founded ANAK (Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan) in 2006 in order to preserve and promote Filipino heritage and culture through education. Active members in the community, and friends to boot, they came together because they had grown tired of trying to do things on their own. They knew they were stronger together, and through mentoring one another and other Filipino youth, they developed a stronger sense of self and helped build community. It was hugely inspiring to see how ANAK’s programs helped facilitate the development of a generation of kids, teens and young adults who were proud of who they were and where they “came from,” confident and successful with coping, navigating and relating to their culture and others in it.

The message ANAK championed – to provide educational resources, hold events that enable leadership and community, develop and build youth through mentorship, and advocate for representation of Filipino issues in academia and popular education alike – was so relatable to me because I felt I had lived my whole life working through the issues that were the impetus behind the formation of ANAK. Having been born in the Philippines, living for a few years in Saudi Arabia where my parents were working, and then eventually immigrating to Manitoba at the age of four, I became a Canadian citizen as a kid. I went to schools where I was the only Filipino in my whole grade, and did my undergrad at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where I served as Rector, becoming the first woman of colour and youngest person to do so. After finishing my Master’s and moving back home from Europe, I sought out ANAK again, this time eager for the opportunity to be part of something special and to help other young Filipinos find their way through the programs its dedicated volunteers coordinate. I research, facilitate, organize, present, and write.

As ANAK enters its second decade, and we reflect on the organization’s initiatives and the friendships it has helped to form and grow, the ripple effect of its impact throughout the community continues to resonate. As perceptions change and our youth embrace who they are and assert where they belong in Canadian society, they will contribute to the emergence of our world as a safer and more equal place. I am excited – and honoured – to be a part of it.

Johsa Manzanilla is the new Director of ANAK. To learn about ANAK’s educational and mentorship programs and resources, or to volunteer with ANAK, visit www.anak.ca or e-mail info@anak.ca.