When I was growing up in the Philippines, I remember getting “balikbayan” boxes in the mail: care packages from a hemisphere away, bursting at the seams with clothes and books and movies and all the bittersweet symbolisms of distant relatives and their lingering connections to us, the ones they left behind. Little did I know that I would soon find myself on the other side of that exchange.
In 2003, my mother got a job as a nurse in Cleveland, Ohio, and the tides of economic opportunity swept us away to another life and a very different reality in the American Midwest. Our lives became the latest chapter of a decades-long wave of economic migration from the Philippines and the US. The latest episode of a centuries-long saga between the Philippines and the Western World. We lived all the classic beats of that story: the messy assimilation, the hiding — and at last, rediscovery. Over the course of my adolescent years, I went from an island child to a Midwest misfit to a proud Filipino again. I’ve never felt so much whiplash.
In retrospect, many of these moments feel like rites of passage, stepping stones to a shared identity and a common citizenship as people of color in America’s hard mosaic. They are modern iterations of the same experiences that the generation before us went through as they parsed out who they were and what their lives meant.
It’s only lately that I’ve come to learn that we’re also on the verge of something else – that the plates beneath our feet are shifting, and a fundamentally different kind of migration story is emerging amid the vibrations. Today, we are seeing a new wave of diaspora that was born out of some of the most significant shifts rattling the world – and is now positioned to play a powerful role in everything that follows.
We are living in a unique moment in the history of the world, at the intersection of countless disruptive trends. Technology has allowed greater possibilities for voice and connectivity at the individual and community level. The principles of success for business and leadership are changing. Sectors and disciplines are quickly melting into one another. In the context of migration, several waves of displacement, acclimation, and community building have led to the maturation and ripening of societies more diverse than ever before.
In the face of these tectonic shifts, the role of diaspora is changing. The opportunities for migrants to play a role in global leadership and bridging mindsets are broadening.
I saw a sneak peek of it at NextDayBetter’s DC event last month. There was Kalsoom Lakhani of Invest2Innovate, a model of fostering entrepreneurship in Pakistan that’s beginning to scale to different parts of the globe. There was Patrice Cleary, whose restaurant, Purple Patch, welcomes guests to dive deep and get to know both her Filipino and Irish American roots. There was Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground and Maketto; Darryl Perkins of Broccoli City; Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve. There was Nani Coloretti of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who shared tales of collaboration, innovation, and genuine change from the perspective of the public sector.
Together, their journeys paint a picture of diasporas that are no longer limited to the old narratives of marginalization, preservation, and seeking acceptance. More than ever, it’s about truly leading, owning one’s identity, and harnessing it to leave a visible mark upon the world. Here’s more of what this new diaspora landscape contains:
A new set of tools. Our movement is powered by a more diverse set of frameworks and instruments for change than ever before. The way we organize and activate our communities is influenced by our predecessors and peers of color, yes, but at the same time, we find ourselves pulling from different non-profit and for-profit, micro and macro, experimental and proven, digital and analog approaches. Our blueprints are interdisciplinary and unsiloed.
A rising tide of young voices. Over half of the Filipino diaspora in the United States is of the 2nd generation, and most of this population is under 30 years of age. They are a part of the American millennial generation, a generational cohort larger than the infamous boomers themselves. Soon they will be the roaring majority; already they are generating leaders and pioneers. They are natives to a world of change — and natives to the same platforms and tools that will shape the coming century.
Connecting the dots. We live in a more globalized world than ever, for better and for worse. Although much remains to be done at the frontlines of racial justice and equality, we are seeing more diverse societies than ever before, more conversations happening across ethnic and racial lines. Diasporas are positioned to play a unique role in this context, as bridge figures between their homelands and the multifaceted, multicolored networks of their new homes.
Open sourcing the global narrative. This is the era of Wikipedia, where anyone has the ability to change the way a story is told and information is disseminated. The era of open source technology, where anyone can build upon the ideas of another, then pass it on to be transformed once more. The same principles now apply to global narratives and perceptions of culture. Members of diasporas today hold the power to challenge old assumptions and establish new paradigms around the power, potential, and pride that lie within our cultural identities.
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NextDayBetter itself is an example of all this new breed of diaspora movement. It’s a remarkably different diaspora organization from the ones that came before it. Like our own work at Kaya Collaborative, NextDayBetter draws from a palette that’s equally inspired by the worlds of social innovation, social justice, new media, and food culture.
They target the same wicked problems that have long surrounded our diaspora communities – but they are powered by decentralized global networks, sound bites amplified across online channels, open-sourced tools and frameworks, and a generation that grew up with all of this as their daily background.
These are not just timely strategies; they are approaches that literally could not have existed before today. They harness the unique power of the time we live in. And they are early foreshadowings of what the future will look like as our world adapts to this new reality and the possibilities that come with it.
The future of diaspora — and of our globalizing world – is already here. The question is whether we’ll pay enough attention to recognize it and build with its promise at heart. Lighthouses like NextDayBetter keep us awake to that promise, show us what it can look like in living color — and inspire us to beat on against the ancient current, ceaselessly, this time, into the future.
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Rexy Josh Dorado is the founder of Kaya Collaborative, a venture that aims to connect youth from the Filipino diaspora to changemakers in the Philippines. He is a 1.5 generation Filipino American, a 2014 graduate of Brown University, and a believer in the power of identity to spark change.