I Was, I Am, We Were, We Are.

Growing up, the only facts I knew about the Philippines were that 1) Adobo was the national food and I didn't really like it that much 2) Barongs were the national dress of the Philippines 3) The Philippines version of McDonalds was Jolibee 4) Filipinos loved playing basketball and it was the national sport of the Philippines... I think.

Like many young Filipinos growing up away from the homeland, my knowledge about Filipino culture was skewed at best. The bits and pieces that I had through family and friends' gatherings, and the rare trip back to the homeland was all I had.

When I grew up, I was just Filipino. There was no arsenal to my identity. There was nothing to be proud of, other than that we were good at playing basketball... even though there were no Filipino players in the NBA. There was nothing to be proud of, that I saw, about being Filipino.

As a teen, acceptance and belonging was one of the top items on my agenda. It was hard enough "finding myself" let alone finding where I "came from". I was looking for a niche. Something I'm good at, something I can belong to. I found that niche in the martial arts.

Through all my experimental years in Karate, enrollment inΒ  junior high and high school wrestling teams, Aikido, Wu-shu, all my achievements, tournaments, hard laborious training, I was still just the Filipino kid. In some cases, I hate to admit, I cast my Filipino heritage aside and just rolled with the punching stereotype. "Yah I’m Chinese." I admit, I preferred the mystical Kung Fu wielding "Chinaman" over the karaoke addict Filipino stereotype.

I did not have access to find out about my Filipino-ness.

I couldn’t have found KAPISANAN at a better time in my life. My curiosity about my heritage, my culture, my people was awakened again, thinking, "Is this really all we are?" At KAPISANAN I learned that Filipinos were poets, like Len Cervantes . We are visual artists like Kristina Guison. We are composers and playwrights like Romeo Candido.We are producers and actors like Caroline Mangosing. We are screenwriters like Carmen Leilani DeJesus. We even rocked it in the indy feature film world writers and producers like Vince Galvez. We are even entrepreneurs that own successful and original clothing stores like Jodinand Aguillon. I also found that we were a warrior race and had our own fighting art, Arnis.

Through KAPISANAN, I found out who I was, am.Β  There weren’t many Filipino resources to fall back on when I was growing up. But now there is.Β  My story is still constant throughout today’s younger generation. My work at KAPISANAN is part of my desire to foster this resource, expand on it. Because, like my colleague, Allison said, "You have to work on what you have to keep it."

-- Ian Mationg