We end this Real Talk series for the year with a dynamic woman who is not only a warrior in the classroom, but who is also a devoted servant of the community. Among other things, Dr. Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University's College of Ethnic Studies, has been an instrument of change and a driving force of social awareness and responsibility for the Pilipin@ American youth. As the founder and director of Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP), she has been an even more positive model of hope for us all.
BakitWhy.com was fortunate enough to speak to her one afternoon on the very rare occasion that she was available. In this phone interview, Professor Allyson reveals how the odds were stacked against her and offers heartfelt advice for the nationwide youth. Drawing from her personal experiences and struggles as a Pilipina American in Northern California she continues to guide and pave the way for the next generation of our community, the future community organizers, the professionals, engineers, lawyers, scientists, performers, artists, journalists, and educators amongst us.
1) Who did you look up to when you were growing up and why?
I didn’t see anyone in front of me as role models - I had a really hard schooling experience. I grew up in Fremont, and I didn’t really see people around me as role models. For example, my teachers didn’t look like me. Although I had a lot of my peers look like me, I didn’t really have any role models that were positive. With my parents, I was kind of a disappointment with all the expectations they had for me. They wanted a better life for me - they wanted me to go to school, but I had a lot of issues with schooling. I wasn’t into it, except, of course, the social life, but I couldn’t relate to anything that was being taught. I was deemed early on as not being smart. I was trapped. If you didn’t do well, you were set up with that throughout middle school, your high school experience.
2) What were some of the issues /obstacles/challenges that you faced while growing up? How did you overcome them?
Definitely, one of the big issues was being Pinay, being kind of stereotyped as not being very smart, but sassy. People didn’t believe in me for a good amount of my teenage years and even earlier. You can tell people were still not taking me seriously even now as I’m older - as I was teaching people, but I think I challenged that.
Also, I think when I was younger; I didn’t know how to deal with [all of it]. I internalized the very thought that I was ‘dumb’, and I thought I wouldn’t amount to anything. So it took me a really long time to figure stuff out.
My teachers didn’t have any belief in me. They wanted me to become a beautician. My Mom wanted me to go to college and so she pushed me to go, but she encouraged me in a really weird [unconventional] way, because she wanted me to get health insurance.
My Dad was a janitor before he retired at Kaiser and they had really good health plans. So I ended up going to a community college: Ohlone, and I just took whatever.
I took a few classes and one of them happened to be an Ethnics class. This professor would say some outrageous stuff - about racism, etc. I didn’t really believe it all at first.
The first Gulf War. My friends were getting involved in the first rounds of the military then and I was trying to understand the world around me at the same time. I graduated in high school in 1989 and it was during this time, all of this was going on in the world.
I went from being that student in the back of the room inching my way to the front. I wrote a paper on my experiences with racism, it touched on racist issues and I explored all these different options with it. I turned in this paper and the professor said ‘I’d like to talk to you after class’ - I thought I was in trouble. ‘I want to talk to you, don’t worry about it, after class’, says this Chicano guy. ‘I wanna give you something’ - and he hands me this book, all ripped up, messed up, and it was AMERICA IS IN THE HEART.
‘I want you to read it, because I feel like you’re smarter than you think you are’.
Those words I’ll never forget - ‘I feel like you have the potential to succeed.’
Telling me ‘you have the potential to succeed’ changed my life.
From that point on after reading 'America Is in the Heart' liberated me in many ways, and it didn’t stop from that point on. So, I kept reading, got myself involved with anti-war movements.
In the classroom I was now responding to all the messed up things these people were teaching.
I was now the one raising my hand, getting involved in discussions.
3) What is your life's dream? What are you currently pursuing in life?
You know, I think about Martin Luther King, Jr. and I think of Obama. I feel like for Martin Luther King, Obama has sort of become the dream. I see a dream as being hopeful.
So, I really hope that your future children live a better life, and I don’t mean a better life with money, but I mean ‘success’ in the ways they are afforded good quality education, they are afforded to live life with food on their table, that they are able to see the world in a different way.
I hope that the community sustains themselves - that they don’t’ depend on the system of capitalism here in the US as well as for the Philippines. My other hope also extends beyond the immediate Pilipino American community.
Awareness is a critical first step for massive change. We [Piilipino American community] focus too much on individual success, our individual gains.
4) What do you have to say to the youth now? What is your special message to them?
My message to young folks is, I feel like as young people, they need to find purpose in their life and that purpose is definitely something that is personal, but it has to be connected to their communities. They need to find a purpose and that is related to what they want to become, and what they want to become is related to their communities and what is needed globally, for the Pilipino community.
One big thing about finding purpose is to start out looking within yourself, your community. What are some of the major problems, and how are you going to solve this?
You can find more information about Dr. Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales and the Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP) on their website: http://pepsf.org