by Vizlumin Cabrera (Published in Pilipino Express December 1-15)
|ANAK and UMFSA volunteers|
The youth, ages 14 to 19, came from all over Winnipeg. Some of them were born here in Canada, some were born in the Philippines and some were even born overseas in other countries, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they are all members of the Philippine diaspora. The youth in our community form the metaphorical bridge that connects both our motherland and Canada – the land that we now live on as settlers. As the next generation of Filipino-Canadians, it is important for each and every one of them to feel like they are seen and heard by their community. This includes their perspective on some of the most difficult topics, such as the trauma of migration, separation from family, strained relationships with parents, puberty, first loves, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Teenagers often experience hardships but are rarely given the space to discuss them or are dismissed as being maarte [dramatic]. Without the chance to share their stories, they are denied the opportunity to heal. The reason for the forum was to give them a chance to explore what it means to take care of their mental wellness, and to challenge the stigmas about mental health that exist within the Filipino community.
Some of the best and brightest in our community came to share their stories and guide our youth on their journey that day. The afternoon was spent with the ANAK team guiding the youth through a series of empowering exercises to build them up and connect with their peers. The morning was spent getting to know three members of the community during some incredible workshops. We had personal trainer, graphic designer, and creator and owner of FitPak, Steve Ramos with his workshop called, “#Grateful by teamfitpak: How the Act of Gratitude Can Change Your Life;” artist, photographer and LGBT2SQ+ advocate Ally Gonzalo with his workshop titled “#NoFilter: how unfiltering our social media impacts our mental health and wellness;” and Dr. Hygiea Casiano, Associate Medical Director at Adult Forensic Services, Forensic Psychiatrist and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre, and Assistant Professor for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba who did a workshop called “Positive Psychology for Youth.” Dr. Casiano also delivered our keynote address.
To be honest, I wish a day like this would have been available to me as a young teenager, and I think many of the adults in the room felt the same. Discussing mental wellness has always been so taboo within the Filipino community but I believe it is our responsibility to break that cycle within our youth. Our history as colonized people has followed us into the spaces that we have settled. It is not a coincidence that many of the issues our youth face have to do with their self-worth. For example, as young children we are told to stay out of the sun so as not to “get darker” (as if there is something wrong with the way our skin naturally turns to a deep gold in the sun). After moving to Canada, surrounded by people with much fairer skin, how does one feel seen or even feel beautiful when they have been conditioned to feel less because of their darker skin colour? Or in the case of someone who shoulders the burden of unrealistic expectations from their parents, how does a young person express a need for boundaries, when the parents themselves have not healed? For those who suffer with depression and anxiety, when you have been used to being told not to take up space with your feelings, seeking help can feel like you are being a burden.
Investing the time and money to ensure the youngest leaders in our community have space to acknowledge and heal from their mental and emotional struggles is an investment in the future of the Filipino community, and therefore, ensures that the piece we contribute as Filipino-Canadians to the global Filipino community is fortified with the resilience of our ancestors and equipped with the tools of modern psychology. In short, when we as a community ensure our children feel seen, heard, and valued by the community around them, they blossom. When they are taught how to cope with their negative emotions in a healthy way, we create space for not just growth, but for true vulnerability, healing and a very bright future.
Vizlumin Cabrera is Director of Development for ANAK Inc. If you are a youth interested in getting involved with your community, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org