Community or komunidad.
A word that calls you in, empowers you, heals you, and strengthens you.
For many of us who live in the diaspora, the word community is a healing embrace.
Many of us turn to community as a refuge where the troubles of being heard are met with an open heart. Some turn to community as a means of reconnecting to one’s identity.
There are those of us who create such spaces with the intention of educating and empowering folks with the knowledge and confidence to face the world carrying our Filipino identity with pride, through their craft and skills.
That’s probably the reason why you’re actually part of the Pinay Collection community.
What makes a community so special is that you will never feel alone. You will always have people by your side, inspiring you to be a better version of yourself or guiding you as you reconnect with yourself.
What is community?
When I pursued a community project into a tangible online platform, I focused on the words commune and unity, treating these two ideas as the ever-present guideposts of my community-building journey.
The meaning of community is intimately tied with our own Filipino experiences and immigrant stories. For many, community has many meanings.
I realized that the best way to define community is to go back to the communities and people who have inspired me in my own journey of seeking and building community. After interviewing people and organizations, I came up with 5 definitions of community. I’d like to think of these as stepping stones towards one’s journey of finding or creating a community.
Community is found in the people who make you feel like home. (safety, togetherness)
Community is found in the people we meet. It is felt in the excitement of seeing your kapwa. It is spoken through the dialect that reconnects you with your family and your motherland. It is the unbreakable bond of friendship or a possibility of a new one.
Growing an online community called Ihayag has brought me closer to home in more ways than one. Little did I realize that the patchwork of stories and ideas that I wanted to form through Ihayag would become part of an even larger patchwork of narratives in my personal life, as reflected in the new friendships I’ve made along the way.
For a poet like Phebe Ferrer, she gravitates towards her Filipino social circle and poetry community, both of which makes her feel safe. She shares how poetry, itself, is community. Through poetry workshops where she gets to collaborate, share her poetry, and listen to others’ works, community thrives. She also adds the importance of her circle of Filipino friends and how she turns to them when she feels like talking to someone about the Filipino community.
When asked about the youth’s influence in the diaspora, Mauriene, Co-Chair of the Filipino Youth Fellowship Steering Committee, shares the significance of looking at what they have already been doing. She continues, “I’m inspired by Pinay Collection’s feature of five Pinays who have fought back against ageism in the community. There’s no doubt that youth have already been leading the most creative, insightful, and progressive conversations around what it means to be a Filipina/x/o in the diaspora.”
Community is a space of celebration, learning, and growth
With the rise of zoom conferences and online meetings, the digital space has become the new platform for many communities. Pinay Collection hosted various workshops centered on reconnection, Indigenous education, and learning. Organizations like Anakybayan Toronto have been continuing their work of activism through educational workshops on prevalent issues happening in the Philippines, and felt abroad. These are just a few of the many community spaces we can turn to when seeking our Filipino community.
The diversity in resources and knowledge that these communities share in their platforms make the community experience truly rewarding. By listening to various stories, we get to have a more collective and unbiased perspective of the world around us.
In an email interview, Charisse Villamar of Mayari Filipina shares the power of celebrating differences. She says:
“...Being Filipina carries the collective history of the Philippines wherever we are in the world, whether or not we ever lived in the Philippines. But as much as we share our country's history and culture, our experiences are varied and multitude...a community that can come together, celebrate similarities, be respectful of differences, and at some point in our lives, [it is when] we feel a true responsibility to uplift the broader community,...”
For Viel of the Filipino Youth Fellowship, they express the interwoven stories of our community as an impetus for social change:
“...there is a sense of family when we connect with other Filipinos. In fact, we tend to treat each other like family, calling our parents’ friends Tita and Tito or calling a family friend our cousin, when they really aren’t. And maybe it is through this need to feel more connected with those that share the same struggles and lived experiences of trying to reconcile our Filipino identities with our Canadian ones, that we find ourselves craving not only for community, but for social change in the broader society.”
For Munggo founders Ronnelle and Ashley, they lend another perspective in which communities not only celebrate similarities, but also differences in perspective, ideas, and stories -- making communities spaces of learning and knowledge:
“People in the community don’t need to have the same opinions, or even the same ways of communication […] You can discuss different topics that are relevant in your community, but tackle them from different perspectives. Through this, individuals are able to thrive in knowledge and perspective that transcends beyond themselves, and cultivate a safe space to shine as a unit.” (Ronnelle)
Her business partner and fellow artist Ashley echoes the same sentiments:
“The idea of community allows us to expand on our own years of experience and live multiple lives simultaneously. This allows us to live beyond solitude and become full of memories and ideas that might not personally be our own. We become fuelled and enriched by the stories of many different people regardless of their political, social, economical, spiritual, emotional backgrounds; which inherently influences our own trajectory. That would never happen without community.”
Communities are built by the problems that they overcome and face together
When combining their art and the idea of community, nelli shares: “I think that when folks talk about community there’s a lot of emphasis on building connections and relationships - which is true, because it’s so needed. But I think another aspect to building community is deepening those relationships by solving problems together.”
Regarding the photo above, she shares:
“One of my favourite moments that I participated in as a member of Bayan Canada - International Working Women's Day 2020 rally in so-called vancouver, british columbia. GABRIELA BC was one of the co-organizers for this annual strike initiated by the APWLD (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development). This photo is special to me because meeting and learning from individuals in this photo was the homecoming I was searching for when I moved back to vancouver two years ago. There has been (and there always be) a lot of struggles and challenges, but I still believe in the work Bayan Canada and its member organizations are doing for the billions of people exploited all over the world.”
For Viel of Filipino Youth Fellowship, she shares: “...That’s where FYF is able to bring these needs together by creating opportunities for Filipino youth in our diaspora to not only build community, but to also become community leaders to challenge and to stand for social injustices whether it be in Canada or back home.”
Togetherness is truly tested during moments of turmoil and trouble. It is during those darkest storms when we, as a community of people, draw strength from each other’s strength. Strength upon strength. Goodness begetting goodness.
Community is a space of healing -- both individually and collectively
The Philippines and its people have been plagued by natural calamities, injustice, and inequality. Yet, people like nelli use their platform to support those who are going through difficult times. As an artist, they have been supporting SAGIP Migrante by donating 20% of their profit to them. With the recent typhoon in the Philippines, nelli donated half of their profits to the same organization for typhoon relief and recovery.
nelli’s story reminds us that we don’t have to look too far or think too hard when finding ways to help others in our community heal. By utilizing our passions, we can create spaces of healing.
In fact, she shares, “For me, community means constantly asking myself, “How does my art (or skills) serve people?” I don’t want my art to just elevate their voices, but to also provide tangible support for the Filipino masses.”
Through conversations, the meaning of community evolves and grows with time.
Conversations, whether within your homes or social circles, are at the heart of communities. Through these exchanges of ideas, we learn, unlearn, and rewrite our notions of identity, reconnection, and even community.
When asked about the importance of conversations within the community, HOHOL Podcast of the Filipino Student Association of Toronto at the University of Toronto has a lot to share. HOHOL is short for the Filipino phrase “hang out, hang out lang”, which is very representative of the fun, bubbly, and raw stories that they share in their podcast. With a mission to “illuminate stories of individuals and groups within the Filipino-Canadian community...with the hope of showcasing the richness and diversity present in our collective culture”, HOHOL podcast empowers Filipino/a/xs to share their own narrative and their passions, to inspire others to do the same, and to share the importance of Filipino/a/x representation in the realm of podcasting.
HOHOL Podcast Logo
They celebrate the intimacy and reflective format of a podcast: “...What makes [podcasting] even better is that we’re able to share these raw conversations with others through multiple podcasting platforms (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, etc.) so that they feel like they too are right there with us.”
We are not tied to a single definition of community — its meaning changes through time and grows with time. And through these conversations, there is so much possibility for individuals and communities to continue thriving and supporting one another.
How can we foster and create community during a pandemic?
Start with the self
Charisse of MAYARI also believes that fostering community can begin with the self. She says, “During challenging times, it's easy, and understandable to just go into "survival mode," and just focus on ourselves and those closest to us. So the answer is to have a real desire to contribute to the Filipino community.”
Ashley shares: “ For me, the first step of building community is truly understanding yourself…. Understanding what you have to offer, what brings you the most joy, and how you want to channel this energy. When you are fully in love with yourself, you gain the self confidence to reach out without obligation, present something authentic to the people around you. Then we can discover communities that will reap cultivation and prosperity for everyone for the better.”
Seek out community in the digital realm
For Phebe and nelli, the online space serves as a promising platform to build strong communities where inspiration and communication thrive. Although Phebe misses the physical poetry workshops where people write together, she believes in the power of digital storytelling. She says, “Because of the pandemic, I attended a lot of Zoom poetry calls. It makes me feel less alone and it inspires me in my own writing.”
Ronnelle of Munggo shares: “...We’ve been able to share fun stories of our upbringing, bond with others over memories of receiving unique pasalubongs and foods; all the while, this made us understand our own heritage, and the generations who lived before us. This has all been done through the virtual space!”
Always create spaces of inclusion
For Filipino Youth Fellowship, the rise of zoom meetings has allowed them to create spaces of inclusion while respecting the context of each participant:
“In developing this new program, there’s also an added reminder that this is rarely an opportunity provided to our community, as well as trauma of being excluded from political and decision-making spaces...One of the more intimate engagements we’ve done are kwentuhan (storytelling) sessions last summer where we gathered with other Filipina/x/o youth to imagine how to build a politically-informed, equity-oriented, and anti-oppressive program for the next generation of leaders.” (Mauriene)
Integrate community in your own life
While nelli shares the same optimism about the digital space, she also gives very concrete steps we can take in order to promote community in our own lives: “Find other people to learn and organize with. Keep learning and showing up in the best ways that you can. Adapt, stay flexible, and be patient with yourself and others. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.”
We don’t have to look too far to seek out the community we belong to. Social media affords us the network of people, professionals, and communities who are building and fostering these spaces of learning and discussion. From there, there are many possibilities awaiting you.
Maybe looking at these communities mentioned here are great pathways to your community journey.
You story, your voice, and your presence are part of the larger story of our Filipino community. Whether you are an immigrant, someone who grew up outside, or who lives in between, community will always be a space where you can celebrate yourself and amplify your voice.
About the Author:
Isabela Quito Villanoy is a Filipino creative storyteller based in Canada. She is also the founder of two online communities on Instagram called Ihayag and Sa Pagitan, communities that aim to reveal and proclaim the stories of Filipino/a/x immigrants and Filipino/a/xs in the diaspora living in Canada. Her work has been published in The Mike, MNERVA Literary Journal, Her Campus U Toronto, The Foolscap Journal, and Cambio & Co. Isabela dabbles in various creative passions related to reading, drawing, music and photography. You can also find her on her blog: isabelavillanoy.com
Thank you to the following organizations and individuals who shared their wisdom & stories for this article:
- Mauriene Tolentino (they/she), Co-Chair of FYF Steering Committee
- Viel Tolentino (she/her), Communications & Engagement Lead