Filipino American
  • Cebu: Thoughts on the Road...

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    The weeks leading up to Spring Break 2017 were a total whirlwind both at work and at home: student activities, Student Safety Week, trip to Prague (!!! - more on that later), etc. So it seemed absolutely appopriate that I booked a trip to the Philippines for a few days in Manila and a getaway to Cebu. Cebu is the place where Ferdinand Magellan laid claim to the Philippines for Spain - charting the course for 400 years of Spanish colonization.  In addition to its importance in Philippine history, it is well known for its food, beaches, and underwater beauty.  Needless to say, Cebu is on my "Philippines Must-sees" list and a definite "must return".  

    Here's why:

    1. The scenery.

    My fiance and I booked an awesome resort in Moalboal approximately 3 hours from Cebu City. We stayed at a magical locally-owned property called Hale Mana - Hawaiian for "good vibes."

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    The resort sits right on the reef wall and has a breathtaking dramatic landscape, especially when it's lowtide:

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    Peaceful comes to mind when I think of Hale Manna. It's not a large mega resort and at times it felt like we were the only ones there. When it rained all day on Thursday (fortunately AFTER our daytrip), we were unbothered. We took advantage of the massage on site and I spent the afternoon writing in the Balinese-style open air lobby; the sound of the rainfall helping to clear my mind as I typed away.

    2. Nature.

    Snorkeling, diving, waterfalls, whale sharks, etc. are all around this great place. We spent a day trekking to Oslob to see the whale sharks, Mainit Hot Springs, and Kawasan Falls.

    4. Lastly, upon returning to Cebu City on our last night, we found a vibrant city full of creativity.

    From our accommodations at the The Henry Hotel:


    To fashion with a heart at Anthill Fabric Gallery:

    A great holiday, with the best company! I can't wait to go back and explore more!

    Cost breakdown

    * 1 USD = 50 PhP at time of publishing

    Flights - ~3000 PhP per person roundtrip MNL-CEB on AirAsia.

    Private transportation to/from Hale Mana Resort in Moalboal - 2500 PhP each way for 3 hours drive from Cebu/Mactan Airport (Cebu City) to Moalboal

    Hale Mana Resort - 3850 PhP per night including breakfast

    Southern Cebu day trip (Oslob, Mainit Hotsprings, and Kawasan Falls):

    • Transportation - 3500 PhP for the day
    • Whale watching - 1000 PhP per person (foreigner rate) OR 500 PhP per local to snorkel
    • Mainit Hot Springs entrance fee - 20 PhP
    • Kawasan Falls entrance fee - 20 PhP

    The Henry Hotel - $70 per night

    Incidental expenses - food, tips for driver, Uber/GrabTaxi around Cebu City, and souvenirs

  • The Hip Hop Counselor...

    Hip Hop 101 is now in full swing.  My students just completed their first major assessment task - presenting in groups one of the 4 elements of Hip Hop.  This assignment was a big challenge for students born in the 2000s who have no historical or cultural context of Hip Hop's roots.  For the first few weeks of the class, it was about establishing that foundation.  They learned about the Bronx, Kool Herc, the impact of poverty/redlining/racism, etc. that created this cultural phenomenon known as Hip Hop. As we started to dabble with aesthetics - I felt it would be more interesting that they did their own research on the 4 Elements.  The presentations were a little rough around the edges, but I can see signs of connections they are making to past and present - what it looked/sounded like. So, when my friends Ceci and Nathan approached the SIS staff about joining the 8th grade Humanities classes in their "This, I believe" participation was without doubt and what I wanted to share came quite naturally.

    It had to be about a huge part of my identity and my own experience as a middle schooler. It had to be about Hip Hop.

    My Audio

    2017 SIS This, I believe Podcasts


    When I was 12, my cousin Ryan’s bedroom was my first dance club.  There, we taped live DJ mixes off of the radio and he tried to teach ME - a goofy 7th grader with two left feet, the latest dance moves.  I was a quick study on the Roger Rabbit, Running Man, Cabbage Patch, the Wop - but the Walk was my kryptonite.  Every day after our homework was finished - Ryan dutifully brought out the boombox and showed me how to do it.  I could NEVER. GET IT. RIGHT.  My arms were always ahead of my feet or vice-versa.  In hindsight getting that dance move down seems so frivolous, but to my 12 year-old self - it was everything. 

    See music has always been an important part of my existence.  I can associate every family party, school activity, and life drama to a song, singer, or genre.  Dancing and listening to Hip Hop and R&B was common ground for my cousins, friends, and me.  We could have very different interests - but this is how we bonded.  Not getting that move down meant the difference between being cool or not. I had to be able to do it, especially when my younger sister got it before I did. And so when I finally got that dance move right, I was walking on Cloud 9.  It was an important milestone for a middle schooler aiming to be like her cooler, older cousins. 

    While dance lessons took over many afternoons, the primary driver of that bonding time was Hip Hop culture and its aesthetics: the fashion, the dance moves, the artwork, the message, etc.  We looked at clothes, dissected lyrics, and we even started looking at politics - at least as much as our pre-teen and teenage selves could possibly understand. As a child of Filipino immigrants who grew up in a middle-class, predominately white California suburb, Hip Hop music helped me explore why many times I felt different from my classmates.  Through the rhymes layered over sampled beats,  I learned about the experience of Black and brown people in the United States that wasn’t covered in my public school history books.  I started reading Malcolm X and Maya Angelou - attempting to process their words on identity, community, revolution, and social justice.  In turn, I was inspired to start exploring my own background and what it was like to be a Filipino growing up in the United States.  For me, Hip Hop wasn’t just beats making me bob my head or move my feet, the words got me to think and brought me to different worlds and told stories that weren’t always within my immediate reach.  Each group or emcee told tales about love, life, friendships, the inner city, growing up poor, or womanhood - to name just a few topics.  The music that backed those stories was often sampled from Hip Hop’s predecessors and it broadened my interest in soul music.  Underneath those rhymes is the funk of James Brown, sax of Tom Scott and John Coltrane, or keys of Ronnie Foster and so many other music greats who preceded the Hip Hop generation.  I was hooked and never let go.

    25 years since those after school dance lessons, I don’t do those dance moves as much any more unless I’m at a 90s theme party or family reunion, but my belief in the power that music has to transform, heal, and express deep and hidden feelings remains strong and unyielding.  I see it in my students’ eyes as they talk about their favorite artists and debate the importance of which songs are played at the middle school dances.  I see it amongst my friends, loved ones, and colleagues as we discuss our favorite musicians and how we use music to cope with the world’s current events.  I see how it helped an awkward, precocious 12 year old find her rhythm and voice through the emcees and singers she idolized; building connections to the world beyond her cozy, suburban hometown.  Music can mean many things to different people and to me, music is life.  This, I believe.

  • On Being an International School Counselor and #BlackLivesMatter


    I say this with every fiber of my proud, WILD (Filipina) American self (Galang 96). I state this at the risk of losing readership, but not at the risk of losing face. If you haven't figured out by now from the premise of my blog (identity, travel, living abroad, etc.) that I might have a thing or two to say about intersectionality and race - then MAYBE you haven't been reading my blog too well.

    Why now? WHY NOT?

    I just read a personal narrative by a teacher in Tulsa, Rebbecca Lee, on her school's response to the killing of Terence Crutcher. Her school, Knowledge is Power Program Charter school in Tulsa, Oklahoma is where Mr. Crutcher's daughter is a 5th grade student.   Her post reflects many of the questions, concerns, and fine lines I constantly contemplate as an international educator/counselor:

    • How can I authentically engage students in exploring these topics when they may or may not understand these issues as deeply as students back home in the United States?
    • Is it necessary for international schools to create a safe space for their school communities to delve into these issues?
    • Why should it matter to me?
    • How can I cope with my own feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, etc.?

    I've been wanting to write about this for as long as I can remember. I just couldn't find the words and for the sake of self-preservation, I busied myself with other things. Lastly, everytime I wanted to write about this before, it devolved into a curse-ridden pile of gibberish.  I was too angry, too sad, and everything in between.  Now, after a few months spent recharging and thinking about my role as an international school counselor/lifetimesocialworker/FilipinoAmerican/womanofcolor and the role I play with my students and colleagues, my mind is clear. 

    #BLACKLIVESMATTER - because even if at the end of the day I believe that all lives matter, according to the Washington Post, just in 2016 alone, Black citizens dying via police shootings represent 25% of total police-involved deaths and they're only 12.5% of the population. (U.S. Census Bureau 13). In plain speech - in the United States, police-involved deaths happen more to Black people than anybody else. Anecdotally, most - if not all - of my Black friends in the United States are afraid to walk out of their homes and those with sons are tearing their hair out trying to protect them.  The pain of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and countless others too fresh, too close, too young, too soon.  

    Moreover, as a student community service volunteer at UCLA and social worker for 5 years in Brooklyn, a routine part of my role was teaching children and teens (Filipino, Black, and Latino) about their rights and how to respond when confronted by police. When I moved abroad, I began to engage students/colleagues (who aren't always familiar with the US history of oppression) on discussions about what is going on back home and how they might be perceived in the United States, especially if they are considered minorities. Or fielding comments/questions from parents about the safety of their children IF they were going to visit the United States.  Furthermore, working at an international school also means looking at world events and social justice issues, patterns of oppression, etc. While I am eager to take this on, I am also quite tired.

    Each day I think - I shouldn't have to do this. 

    I should not have to teach children how to manage interactions with people meant to protect and to serve them and their families.

    I should not have to field questions from parents about their children's safety because of the news.

    I should not have to explore privilege, class, race, gender, etc. with my students - NOT IN 2016.

    BUT I DO.

    If I don't, then it would not only be a betrayal of my own personal background and cultural history of resistance (Constantino 76), but I'd be betraying my friends and the actions Black people took on during the Civil Rights Movement which afforded the opportunity for my family to emigrate to the United States. I would betray the reason why I became a counselor/therapist in the first place - to help people for the greater good.  I've transitioned that desire into international school counseling because I want to see the world and I firmly believe that Third Culture Kids (Pollock & Van Reken 9) have the agency to effect wider societal change. They need the social emotional tools to empower themselves and their communities to dig deep and think critically about how to make our world a better place to live.

    Because of this - I harness the anger, sadness, confusion, and other emotions I may be feeling and I redirect it towards helping my students explore issues surrounding identity, race, culture, gender and our place in all of it. I write and I engage in productive dialogue with people face to face or on social media. It's the least I can do when I am so far away from home. 

    If Black lives didn't matter to me, I'd be a hypocrite. 


    Literary Resources:

    A History of the Philippines by Dr. Renato Constantino

    Her WIld American Self by M. Evelina Galang

    Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds

    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Dr. Peggy McIntosh

    Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Dr. Beverly Ann Tatum

    Web/Organizational Resources:

    Black Lives Matter

    Define American

    Interrupting Racism: Race & Equity in Your Program - American School Counselors Association

    Learning to Give

    Letters for Black Lives: An Open-Letter Project on Anti-Blackness

    People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

    Teaching Tolerance

  • Dacal Pung Salamat - Thank You.

    Three weeks ago, I received the news that my grandmother, Juana A. Cuenco, was in the hospital. At that time we weren't sure of her prognosis and my parents and I agreed that it would be best that I come home.  It was a good trip, albeit under worrisome circumstances.  I was able to see her everyday and ultimately it was my farewell.  I returned to Bangkok and I received the news of her passing after about a week, I was overcome with sadness and an overwhelming feeling of joy for a life well-lived.  My family buries her today, but we continue to feel so fortunate that she was with us for 98 years.  She had the kind of toughness that one can only get from working hard and passing down your faith, work ethic, and love to your children and future generations of Cuencos. I wish to have at least 1/10th of that true grit as seen in the photo above. Below are my "thank you notes" to her that I asked my siblings to read at her vigil.

    Dearest Apu,

    I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there when you were reunited with Ingkong, but I am so grateful I was able to see you one last time so I could tell you that I love you.  I couldn’t think of a full story or essay to write this time, but I think this series of “thank you notes” captures what I want people to know what me, Mom, Dad, my aunties, my uncles, my sisters and brother, cousins, nieces, and nephews have seen from you and Ingkong, our whole lives.


    Dearest Apu,

    Thank you for being firm.

    I didn’t always understand why when I was younger,

    But now I know the importance of sticking to your convictions

    And not letting anybody take that away from you.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.


    Dearest Apu --

    Thank you for insisting that McDonald’s wasn’t a real meal.

    For giving us that extra scoop of rice and savory main dish,

    even when we thought we were full.

    We grew up eating REAL food, now considered “posh and farm to table”.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.


    Dearest Apu –

    Thank you for teaching us an after-school system –

    homework, chores around your house,

    playing outside if the weather was okay – when it

    wasn’t Holy Week – and then dinner.

    Routines are important to help calm an otherwise unpredictable day.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.


    Dearest Apu --

    Thank you for asking me if I’d already eaten while

    talking on Skype or on the phone;

    It didn’t matter what time it was,

     it was always a comfort to know

    that no matter where I would be in the world,

    there was someone looking out for me.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.


    Dearest Apu –

    Thank you for teaching me how to cook.

    Every recipe and technique is committed to memory.

    I now know the sound fried chicken makes when it’s done cooking;

    Just the right moment to add vinegar to the garlic when making adobo;

    To not rely on measurements, but the senses – taste, sound, smell, and sight;

    The satisfaction of sharing your food with others.

    Cooking is not just a necessity for survival, but a way to bring

    people together and to pass down your legacy.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.


    Dearest Apu –

    Thank you for teaching me to be proud of who I am.

    Eh ku pu kakalingwan reng tiru yu kekami.

    Adyang maragul naku – biyasa ku pa mag Kapampangan ampung

    Antidyan ku pa reng kasalesayan kwentu yu pu kanitang malati ku pa.


    I won’t ever forget what you taught us.

    Even if I am an adult now – I still know how to speak Kapampangan and

    I still understand the stories you told me when I was younger

    Your language carries with it deeper meanings, power, and emotion.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.


    Dearest Apu –

    Thank you for taking care of ALL of us.

    You and Ingkong set an enduring example of how

    Hard work, sacrifice, and faith equals love

    From this,

    WE NOW KNOW how to take care of each other.

    You knew, you ALWAYS knew.

    Kaluguran da kayu.

    I love you.