Fresh off the Vote

Homie I demand my respect. Everywhere I go I rep my set. I'm fresh off the boat”

- Danny Brown

Helena in her natural habitat, canvassing to register voters!

Helena in her natural habitat, canvassing to register voters!

I’m someone who “stumbled” upon being civically engaged, and it took me years to find my voice. In fact, by all intents and purposes, it is surprising that I turned out to be a political activist considering my background. I grew up with a lack of exposure to politics, and the exposure I did have was homogenous.

I grew up in a siloed community, and I attended a private Catholic school that was predominantly white. In fact, I was one of the few Asian American kids in my class. On the flip side, I would come home to a traditional Filipino household. I often felt torn between two worlds, and struggled with my identity as an adolescent. I frequently asked myself whether I should be embracing my American or Filipina values. The answer would certainly change as I progressed and my thinking matured.

A three year old Helena, expressing herself in rural New York. At this age she thought she was going to be an Olympic figure skater, not an activist!

A three year old Helena, expressing herself in rural New York. At this age she thought she was going to be an Olympic figure skater, not an activist!

Helena on left as Jack’s Mom, in her college’s production of Into the Woods - proving that Asian Americans can be in non-stereotyped roles, and that activists can also be artists.

Helena on left as Jack’s Mom, in her college’s production of Into the Woods - proving that Asian Americans can be in non-stereotyped roles, and that activists can also be artists.

To be honest, I embraced my American side and rejected parts of my Asian identity. At the time, rightly or wrongly, it just felt easier to conform to my surroundings, similar to Eddie Huang's character in the show Fresh off the Boat.

Let me tell ya... it was certainly easier to fit in by bringing Lunchables for lunch than be casted as the kid who brought her mom's "stinky" noodles, as delicious as they actually were. It wasn’t until I went to public high school, that I began to come to terms with my identity as not just an American, but an Asian American. Being exposed to a more diverse environment, it felt easier to let go of the “lock and key” I had on my Asian American background. I explored my identity and became passionate about issues such as language access, dismantling systemic racism, and immigration reform. However, despite this period of “enlightenment” I was still very cynical about my voice - in particular, if my Asian American Voice even mattered.

What changed my attitude was moving to Boston six years ago. My college was deeply rooted in its surrounding communities. In fact, almost every course I took was inextricably linked to civic engagement - as such I found myself evolving into a “community agent.” I learned and came to care about the issues that faced the surrounding cities and towns. In addition to interning for several government officials, I also became involved in a slew of campus groups that volunteered in the community. Being so deeply ingrained in the community helped me realize that positive change can occur through persistence, active communication, and collective voices. More importantly, I discovered that I can be a driving force in change if I engaged myself, and owned my voice as a Filipina American.

That's why I'm #AAMUnite.

That's why I'm #AAMUnite.