With Spring Break right around the corner, we have another APA Leader before you go on vacation! We are proud to introduce our second APA Leader for 2017, Rachel A. Santos! Rachel’s the current Troy Phi President and involved in CIRCLE, PEER, and Student Welcome Week in APASS. Be sure to read the interview below to learn more!

Name: Rachel A. Santos

Major: Business Administration

Year: Junior

What does being APA mean to you?

Like a lot of people, I had no awareness of APA identity before starting school here. I hardly considered myself Filipino American and actively rejected that identity for a long time. I think I’ve come a long way in that sense. I have fallen in love with my culture and its people in ways I never anticipated. It’s been an ongoing journey, and it’s one that I’m still on.

For me, being APA is continuing to learn. There are times when I still feel inauthentic – like I’m not Filipino enough, like I’m not woke enough, like I don’t know enough, like I’m not this or that – but I think that’s the kind of background noise that we’ve got to learn to ignore. Everyone’s experience is valid. We’re all on different journeys, and we have a lot to learn from each other. One of the greatest gifts I’ve received from engaging with the APA community has been hearing people’s stories. There are threads that tie us all together, commonalities in both struggle and triumph. We just have to be willing to listen, learn, and empathize.

I think to be APA is to be in touch with your roots while also recognizing that we’re contributing to the tree as well. We can define where we go next. There’s a certain freedom in that.

Explain in detail your involvement in the Asian Pacific American community on and off campus.

Troy Philippines has been my home here at USC. I interned as a freshman for a full year. My sophomore year, I served as the Pilipino American Culture Night Coordinator with my good friend Fran. That show has a special place in my heart and remains one of the things I am most proud of, ever. This year, I am serving as Troy Phi’s President. Our mission of creating a space for personal growth, self-discovery, and cultural celebration is one that I personally really resonate with. Playing an active role in guiding this mission has been an honor.

I am also a huge fan and advocate for the APASS programs!!! I’ve participated in CIRCLE, PEER, and APA Student Welcome over my three years at USC so far. CIRCLE in particular really opened my eyes and interest to the greater nature of APA issues and identity, so I’m super thankful for that experience. There are things I learned in CIRCLE that I still find myself referencing today. Go support APASS and their great programs!

What advice do you have for aspiring APA leaders?

These are some things that I try to live by, and I hope maybe some of them will resonate with you.

Be honest about who you are, who you love, and who you want to be. Be honest about your dreams, your aspirations, and your insecurities, even. Put up a good fight for what you believe in and for what you want. Doing this will let the right people come into your life. Be like home to these people, as best you can. Make sure they know how much they mean to you. What are we here for, if not for each other?

That being said, let people and experiences change your life for the better. We’re meant to grow and continually become better versions of ourselves. But change doesn’t happen all at once, it happens in small steps, so be content with taking the small steps toward who you want to be. You’ll get there - don’t worry! No need to sprint.                                 

Remain true to your values. Decide what your nonnegotiables are: the values that you won’t give up for anything. For me, that’s loyalty, growth, and doing what’s right.

And when it comes to leadership, it’s hard. Every situation and new environment is challenging and will push you. But I can say this: lead with an open heart. Strike a balance between work and play. Be precise, measured, and intentional. It’s really important to do things with intention and not be on autopilot. Recognize that you can make mistakes and that we can all grow together. Really listen to the things that people have to say because every voice matters. Facilitate an environment that you would want to work in. Give people the space to lead. Know when to step forward and when to step back. Invest in the future - cultivate new leadership.

Push yourself to give as much as you can, but also take time for yourself, too.

Why is it significant to learn about our heritage?

As a Filipino American, I’m constantly bombarded with reminders of what I don’t know. I don’t know how to speak Tagalog. I don’t know the intricacies and nuances of Filipino history in the United States or the Philippines. I don’t know what it’s like to live in the Philippines, what the society is really like. I don’t know how my family grew up, not really. I can’t ever know what kind of strength it took to make it here in America.

Of course, I’m always working toward learning more and have heard about these experiences secondhand, but it’s only like getting an impression. It makes me sad to know that there is an entire experience that I’ll never fully live or understand. A part of me that is so pivotal to who I am is something that is just out of reach.

But I think the impression counts for something, especially if you’re actively seeking it. Knowing what you don’t know is an important step in bridging the gap of knowledge. Continuing to learn and being hungry for that knowledge allows us to put our best foot forward.

There’s a saying that’s common in the Filipino community, a quote from Jose Rizal: No history, no self. Know history, know self. 

What kind of legacy do you want to leave at USC?

With the help of a kickass support system, I’ve really grown into being unapologetically who I am. I’m pretty open about who I am in my personal sphere, and I hope that it empowers others around me to do the same.

There are understandably a lot of anxieties that come along with being vulnerable like that, but I think that it’s our duty to. It allows us to reach a level of richness in our lives that facilitates wholeness and the entire spectrum of human emotion. I know it sounds lame, but I do think that the world needs more people who are themselves, wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are eager to give a little more, especially in the APA community!

Here’s the thing, I’ve always thought of being vulnerable as giving up pieces of my heart to the people around me. I’ve always challenged myself to love more and harder, whether it is my people or the work I do. It sounds frightening, right? But I’ve found that doing so has given me more than I could have ever imagined in return.

All money aside, what is your dream job?

I have this fantasy of travelling through the Philippines and blogging/vlogging that experience. I’d want to show other Filipino Americans the motherland through the eyes of someone they could relate to. It’s an experience that a lot of second-generation kids like me have missed out on. There’s this air of longing that I associate with the Philippines. Like a missing limb, or something.

But otherwise, I’d want to open a café and bar combo. Coffee and productivity by day, drinks with your people by night. It’d serve a variety of to-die-for savory fries. I love fries! I’d write musings and vignettes in my free time and live happily-ever-after in the ambience of people enjoying each other’s company. J

What motivates and inspires you?

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately and have really been working at fine-tuning this skill. It’s been rewarding, and I find that it is something that really inspires me. People are willing to talk if you’re willing to listen. I enjoy hearing about where people come from and what their relationship is with their past. I want to know where they hope to go next. I appreciate being trusted with their struggles and triumphs, their anxieties and insecurities. I love hearing what people long for, what they wish they had, what they’re working toward. I want to know how they see the world.

Often times, people find it hard to define what their why is, but I find that sum of all these conversations paints a picture of their why. All that’s left is connecting the dots.

By hearing other people’s whys, I can continually redefine and go after my why, too.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank or give a shoutout to?

There are a lot of people in my life who deserve a lot of credit and all the love in the world.

Mom, Dad, Auntie Helen, Uncle JunJun, Rochelle: The greatest gift you have given me is allowing me to experience the world for myself. You’ve allowed me to create myself, and I hope who I’ve chosen to become makes you proud. I hope I can make you proud. I’m sorry for not going home enough, for not calling enough, for going wildly in the direction that I believe is right. Thank you for all that you do for me, for the sacrifice, and the support. You taught me the love I send out into the world. I just want you to know - I’m strong because you were, first. I love you.

Natalie, Si Yan, Cynthia, and Catherine: You’re still who I run to when everything is on fire, and I always look forward to going home to you.

Krystian and Anthony: Thank you for setting the precedent and the example. I attribute a lot of my courage to be open back to you. Growing alongside you two has been one of the greatest joys of my college career, and I’m so thankful I got to spend some of it with you.

Fran: I maintain that I’m thankful for that culture night experience for a number of reasons, but most of all, because it gave me your friendship. You are constantly teaching me what it means to be supportive and to give a little more. Thank you for the stability you’ve brought to my life.

Czarina: We come from similar places and struggles, so there’s this sense of understanding between us that I cherish – despite all the roasting. Thank you for always having my back and coming to pick up the pieces when things go south.

Matt: Comparing us as freshmen to the people we’re becoming is crazy. I’m glad for being able to experience all the ups and downs with you. And it’s so nice to have a close friend that loves sad things and things we can’t have as much as I do. J

Michelle and Quinn: Both of you separately came crashing into my life at the exact moment I needed. Thank you for the unconditional love, challenging the way I see things, and being willing to work through the growing pains with me.

Kyle: I miss sitting in silence with you. Why don’t you love me back?

Angeline, Darla, Kaitlin, Tori and Czar: Thanks for welcoming me into your little family. Y’all are wild - but also so supportive and silly and wonderful.

My executive board: Michelle, Jackie, Fran, Justin, Matt, Raven, Arianna, Zach, Hallie, Joseph, Darla, Marvin, Gabi, Tori, Kristina, and Jerica – You all have no idea how much you inspire me. I find myself always pushing harder, pushing to be better for our club. Thank you for all that you do, bringing your personalities and passions to the table, week in and week out. I’m really proud of you for all that we’ve accomplished. I can’t imagine a better group of people to experience this with. It’s you all that make Troy Phi so special. It always was. Thank you for doing it for the love.

Members of Troy Phi, past and present: It’s so, so hard to be brown sometimes y’all, but I’m so proud of the community we’ve created for ourselves. Troy Phi has been just the biggest outpour of support, growth, and love that I have ever experienced. It has been such an honor and blessing to serve this organization. Each and every one of you inspire me. I never doubted for a second that the work we do is worth it. Special shout out to the older generation who taught me everything I know about having a blast and having each other’s backs. Keep fighting for each other.

And finally, to APASA & APASS: Thank you for allowing the APA community to thrive. I can say for myself that I wouldn’t have grown to be who I am today without engaging with this community and being inspired by it. The work you do is important and appreciated.

And if you made it all the way to the bottom of this, shout out to you too!

Mad love, thanks y’all.

Thanks again Rachel for letting us interview you and taking a photoshoot as well (and climbing trees)! We are so proud that you are so involved in our community!