This article was originally published on the ChooseSocial.PH Blog.

Last week, Jérôme and I were invited to speak at the NextDayBetter + TO event. For those of you who don’t know, NextDayBetter (or NDB for short) is a global food and speaker series which aims to empower diaspora communities through storytelling and culture (they’re awesome! Check ’em out). We had attended the same event last year, which you could say was the start of us being introduced to the Filipino community in Toronto.

When we were first approached by the NDB+TO team to speak, Jérôme and my first reactions were along the lines of, “There really must be some mistake. I think you want someone more legit.” This isn’t about humility. This was us not being able to comprehend how our story  could be interesting or relevant or on par with the likes of Caroline Mangosing and Filipino comic book artist Francis Manapul who spoke last year. I mean, come on, Francis has his own Wikipedia page (!!!). In contrast, Jérôme and I are just two random people who started a website out of our own apartment. We work full-time in the corporate world, make dinner at home like everyone else, and then continue working into the night on our laptops. How could that be guest speaker worthy? 

In my previous blog post for NextDayBetter, I talk about what it’s like to run a website on Filipino social entrepreneurship despite being something of a Filipino “outsider” myself. Despite this already being out in the open, part of me felt embarrassed and afraid to be so vulnerable on a stage in front of over 150 people.

Photo by: Bo Fajardo | NextDayBetter Toronto

But that’s what we did. We went on stage. We spoke about how surprised we were to be invited to speak. How we felt out of place because we weren’t “typical Filipinos” (Jérôme, after all, isn’t even Filipino). I spoke about how, despite me losing touch with my roots at such a young age, that didn’t stop me from feeling proud to be Filipina, that I was here to re-connect and share the story of ChooseSocial.PH, share the story of social entrepreneurs in the Philippines, and ultimately, share our story of me and Jérôme.

After our talk, several people came up to us afterward. They told us how they loved our presentation and how it resonated with them. And then they started telling us their stories. One woman told us about her research on Filipino food history and how she’s always dreamed of sharing the story of the Philippines through food. Someone else told us about her involvement with Gawad Kalinga and how she is passionate about expanding their efforts in Canada.

That’s when I had a realization. The beauty of platforms such as NextDayBetter isn’t that they find the best and brightest people to speak and share their story. It’s that they allow anyone to be a storyteller, to be an expert, to be a change maker. By sharing our modest and perhaps even ordinary story of ChooseSocial.PH, we unconsciously allowed others around us to feel liberated and empowered to reciprocate and share their own. The people are the stories. NextDayBetter is just the platform.

As I reflect on that night, I think about the people we met. I think of the genetics researcher who is learning about Filipino genes and how looking at them through a microscope can tell you our history of colonization, diversification, and deviation from our indigenous roots. Or the young Filipino who works at CAMH and is committed to sharing stories of people suffering from mental health and the importance of bringing those stories to light. Or about the many Filipinos I met who have come looking to re-connect and re-discover their Filipino roots.

All of those stories are worthy and deserve to be shared on stage. What’s funny though is that when I suggested they should be up on the stage, the thought had never previously occurred to them. Expressions of “Really? Oh, I don’t know about that…” or “Huh. Maybe I should…”

What I learned more than anything that night is the beauty and power of storytelling. And more importantly, of vulnerability. By being open and about our fears and hopes and dreams, we unconsciously allow others to do the same.

In a sense, our stories are all the same, and yet so distinctly unique. That’s the beauty of it. – Gelaine Santiago

 

Photo Credits: Bo Fajardo

About NextDayBetter | NextDayBetter is a speaker and food series for diaspora communities. Its global events in nine cities celebrate the stories of changemakers from untapped global migrant communities and call them to action. It believes that diasporas like the Filipino Asian Pacific Islander global communities are hubs and inspirations for world changing ideas. Learn more at nextdaybetter.com.

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