By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, abs-cbnNEWS.com and U.S. News Agency / Asian
While some Filipinos would do anything to migrate to the United States, Eileen Aparis left a comfortable life in Seattle to move back to the Philippines.
“Going back to the Philippines was the most irrational thing I could have done. I had a good job, a house, a car and friends,” she told abs-cbnNEWS.com in an interview last week.
Born in Ormoc, Leyte, Aparis was only 8 years old when her family migrated to the US in 1985. She spent most of her life in Seattle, got her MBA in New York and has been working with communities and immigrant refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Vietnam.
Aparis had a passion for international development and a desire to reconnect with her roots and do something for the Philippines. She was inspired by the Aquino administration’s commitment to good government, especially since the late former President Corazon Aquino was her hero.
“I thought what have I done for my country? I haven’t done anything… So I said, I’m going to check it out, like a sabbatical, but I decided to take the plunge and see what’s really going on because of all the issues I see on TV. I thought: ‘I want to be a part of this’. If I want to see change, I have to do it,” she said.
Much to the incredulity of her parents and friends (“They thought it was craziest, weirdest thing ever,” she recalled), Aparis moved back to Manila in November 2010.
With the help of her mentor in Seattle, she got in touch with Secretary Imelda Nicolas, chairperson of the government’s Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). Soon she found herself volunteering at the CFO, and later, working as a consultant on an anti-trafficking project.
The CFO was organizing the Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora and Aparis suggested to Nicolas the inclusion of second and third-generation Filipinos from overseas.
Nicolas was impressed enough with Aparis’ dedication that she was tasked to head the CFO’s Youth Leaders in the Diaspora (YouLeaD) project. YouLeaD was created by the CFO as a framework on how the next generation of Filipinos overseas can contribute to the country’s growth.
Aparis said she is working to strengthen the current Lakbay-Aral program, a two-week cultural immersion program for Filipino youth overseas to learn about Philippine culture and history. The CFO is trying to partner with organizations such as the United Nations Youth Association of the Philippines and Science Forum for Lakbay-Aral.
“It would be great to have a study abroad program that will connect with universities like UP, Ateneo, LaSalle. We can coordinate and recruit young people that would be studying through the UP, Ateneo and LaSalle school systems. It will be cultural immersion but with migration and development as a focus,” she said.
Being an ‘Amerikana’ in Manila
Many second and third generation Filipino-Americans would like to become more involved in the Philippines, Aparis said, especially since they see so much possibility here.
“We realize that culture and identity is important. This is our country… I’m not just American but I’m also Filipino,” she said.
“How do we know where we are going, if we don’t know who we are? We’re trying to claim it back… There is a great need here for help. Let’s make this better because we see our families and their state has not changed. Even the streets, it hasn’t changed. And it has to be better than this. We’ve got to create a difference,” she added.
As a Filipino in the US, Aparis had to deal with discrimination and name-calling but she was still surprised at having to deal with the same thing in the Philippines.
“I’m not called a Filipino, I’m called ‘Amerikana.’ It hurts and nobody gets that. They don’t know how much pride we have being a Filipino abroad. We represent the Philippines… People make fun of my accent and I’m trying so hard. Nakakaintindi ako (ng Filipino), pero Bisaya kasi,” she said.
But she has learned to quickly adapt to a different, some would say more laid-back, culture in the workplace, as well as adjust to the horrendous Manila traffic.
“I wrote on Facebook: ‘Gone are the days when I jump into my car to go to a meeting.’ Now it’s MRT, LRT, jeepney, tricycle,” Aparis laughed. “It’s definitely a wake-up call. I’m adjusting.” (usnewslasvegas.asia)