“If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
From the way my house always seemed to smell like rice, to the Santo Nino statue on the altar in our hallway, from the refrigerator in the garage, to karaoke until 3:30 in the morning, from the walis ting-ting in our closet, to the infamous, “Hoy pssttt!” my mother would use to call me when I was in trouble, it seems pretty obvious that I grew up in a Filipino household. Both my parents were born and raised in the Philippines. My mom grew up in Malate and my dad in Mandaluyong. They both came to America during their teenage years, met, and married almost fifteen years later. In the fall of 1997, I was born. From the very beginning they instilled within me values most Filipino parents instill within their children: galang sa matanda (respect for elders), takot sa Diyos (fear of the Lord), pananagutan (responsibility), mapagkakatiwalaan (trustworthy), tapusin ang iyong pag-aaral (finish your education),pamilya muna bago ang lahat ng bagay (family comes first before everything else), and huwag kalimutan kung saan ka nanggaling (don’t forget where you came from). Filipinos are usually best defined through their loved ones rather than as an individual. Filipinos are so closely knit that it’s really hard to try to separate them. Because of that, my parents wanted to make sure that I represent them well and to make sure that I’m always mabait (well-behaved). My parents once told me, “The only legacy we [as parents] can leave on Earth is the success of our children.” That means that I am obligated to strive for success for the sake of my parents and also for the sake of myself. I mean, my parents are the ones that brought me up, so why let them down? For a high school sophomore, I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job representing my parents. I maintain a 4.0 GPA and take part in extracurricular activities, just like they wanted me to. Usually, extracurricular activities are done to put on your college application, but one after school activity started out as an obligation and quickly turned into a passion: Key Club. Coming into a public high school from a private elementary and middle school was actually pretty horrifying. I had never switched schools before so I really didn’t know what to expect. My cousin was talking about this club he joined called Key Club where they do service projects around the community and fundraise for charities. He said he gained a sense of family and belonging with those Key Clubbers. Unfortunately, my school didn’t have a Key Club. So I thought, “What would Jesus do?” In all honesty, the answer terrified me: Jesus would have made a Key Club. January 2012 I took that first step out of my comfort zone and used the initiative my parents taught me about to establish this club. Little did I know that this decision would change my life forever. Establishing such a well-known organization at my school was a pretty difficult challenge to take on. It required constant e-mailing to strangers, phone calls to Kiwanis authority, and lots and lots of waiting. This experience imparted in me professionalism despite my relatively young age. I mean, how many 14 year olds can say they established a Key Club at their school? Not many. Once I began attending divisional Key Club service events, my eyes were opened to how life-changing this organization really was. Whether it was participating in a walk against Leukemia, raising money for pediatric trauma, or volunteering at a local community center, I began to realize how great Key Clubbers really are. They wake up early on Saturday mornings to read to children or sacrifice their time after school to fundraise for maternal/ neonatal tetanus. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” It was really great working with other high school students who share the same passion for service as you do. Through all those events, you indirectly gain a sense of leadership, caring, inclusiveness, and character-building within yourself. I am proud to say that I am the founder of Northridge Academy Key Club and two-term club president, currently serving my second term. I honestly would not have been able to say that without the help of my parents. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the initiative to even think about starting the club in the first place. One of the values my parents taught me that was mentioned earlier was to never forget your roots. I was given a chance to really learn in depth about the beauty of the Philippine culture in 6th grade when I first joined Bahay Kubo. I got to learn about the different aspects that make our culture so great and I am reminded of that every Saturday. Bahay Kubo offers a lot of different programs in which you are able to learn more about what it means to be a Filipino, from the Learn Filipino Program to the cultural dances. But the program I have really fell in love with was Filipino Martial Arts. Filipino Martial Arts may not have played a significant role in our culture, but it definitely was something I became rather passionate about. From learning small pieces of history about the arts, to mastering the Heaven-6, to defending empty hand. FMA has definitely tested my disciplinary skills, strengthened my leadership ability, and definitely taught me a thing or two about defending myself. Over the years, FMA turned out to be one of the elements of the Filipino culture that I have really come to treasure. I grew up in a respectful Filipino family that has imparted in me the moral principles that have made an everlasting imprint on my character. My whole family, including my Key Club family and Bahay Kubo family, have played a role in shaping me into the person I have become today. I am a strong, confident young lady who knows a little something about leadership and defending herself, but most importantly, I am a Filipina-American.
Monica Ann Reyes is a longtime LFP and FMA student at Bahay Kubo Center, and currently mentors the younger beginner students of LFP and FMA.