This interview features Samantha Maceda, a student at the George Washington University, Program Coordinator of the School Engagement Branch at the GWU International Student Association, Participant Manager at AIESEC Washington, D.C., and Social Media Manager at GWU Amnesty International.
How did you become a youth leader in the migrant sector?
It was a huge adjustment when I first arrived as a student in the United States. I was a youth leader in the Philippines, partaking in student council and non-profit organizations such as Talang Dalisay, Girl Up Philippines, and HABILIN. When you get into the community of changemakers within the Philippines, it’s pretty steady growth from there. While there are many new people you will meet across organizations, you encounter friends or friends of
friends to ease your transition into actively being part of collective actions like these.
Abroad, however, you know no one. In GWU, at least in my graduating class, I am the only Filipino from the Philippines. This may apply to perhaps the upperclassmen as well, but I cannot assume. I am only certain that there is no Filipino-speaking student within my circle—even being a part of GWUISA and experiencing all events with international students. This was a very difficult adjustment. Even if I spoke English with friends and family back home, Filipino was a language that became integral in everyday life. Now, I had to pause to filter
my thought processes, removing simple words I once thought of indifferently like “kwento” or “di ba?”
Yet, unfamiliar environments do not merit and should not merit any falter in one’s advocacy. If there are pressing issues that require your voice, then speak. If you believe you can lead even if there are no familiar figures for miles, then lead. It is this same mentality that slowly brought me back to the position of being a youth leader. No one knew the history or contemporary politics of the Philippines, and though I am majoring in International Affairs, our nation would rarely (perhaps once or twice in the time I’ve been here) appear in the conversation.
After years of working over leadership positions, I thought that perhaps in college, I should take a step back. However, when I realized the absolute absence of Filipino input from a resident of the Philippines who has lived there for the entirety of her life, I knew I could not. It was scary, admittedly, to insert myself in that aforementioned conversation. However, you soon begin to realize that people genuinely want to learn about you in the same way you do with them. I’ve had friends—Americans, Europeans, Asians—who had asked me what a word was in Filipino, to explain what the politics were like, to expound on the developmental issues in the Philippines. It warms my heart. Mostly, however, it pushes me forward to continue to lead.
What are the most pressing issues that concern Filipino migrants and how do you address these issues?
From my personal experience, there’s this disassociation you can get from having the identities of both a foreigner and a migrant. Whether you are a student or a worker, I believe there is tremendous pressure from the Philippines put on your shoulders. Back at home, there’s this huge concept that “if you go abroad, you’re privileged” and thus, you’re looked up to. In my high school graduating batch, there was a surge in the number of students who decided to go abroad. From what I knew, this was not only in my particular school but in others as well. There are so many reasons they choose to leave, but from what I have heard, the top two are to either leave the country in search of somewhere better, or to leave, receive benefits, and bring them back to the homeland. Indeed, it is a privilege to go abroad, but it also adds to the struggle of adjusting to the identity of a foreigner. This type of mixed identities leads to a kind of imposter syndrome—you’re alienated in a land you are unfamiliar with, yet you’re also disassociated from the land you call home. This in-between leads to a constant burnout that is almost implied to keep to yourself—you got to go abroad, so why
And it’s hard. I am still in the process of addressing these issues, having my own challenges as I adjust to becoming comfortable with my identities. The pressure of being seen as a sort of “lucky one” who got to go abroad only adds to it. I am incredibly grateful to be where I am, but I admit to struggling and acknowledge that many Filipino migrants feel the same. I do my best to address these issues in the Filipino migrant community by reaching out to them—family friends, distant relatives, batchmates who are in different states, and more. There is such a
great conflict in being a foreigner and a migrant yet an immense lack of support. The best we could do, especially for those of us who are students, is to build a community and provide aid when we can.
As a youth leader in the migrant sector, what characteristics are you looking for in a national and local government candidate? How would these characteristics enable the candidate to address the issues that you mentioned?
As a student leader in the migrant sector, my ideal candidate is one who pushes for quality education. Education, at its core, is the root of various problems within our nation—decaying democracy and national development being a few. I love our country, but the fact that there has been a surge in Filipino students who seek better education in foreign nations saddens me. I, personally, chose to go abroad because the area I specialize in is not as developed within the nation. The youth are the backbone of the Philippines, and for them to receive a quality education is to allow opportunities for prosperity. We are in need of a servant leader who can push for policies that put an end to the idea that one has to leave the country in search of better opportunities. It is then that the pressure that overwhelms Filipino migrants will lessen. Migration should not be immediately correlated to relief, to the idea that “I want to get out of this country.” It is the government’s responsibility to make the nation a home for its people.
As a youth leader in the migrant sector, what policies and programs do you want national and local government candidates to support? Which of these do you want to be prioritized?
Former President Ramon Magsaysay once said that the root of foreign policy in the Philippines should be primarily moved by three considerations: first, national security; second, economic stability; and third, political and cultural relations with the free world. Over the years, this has evolved into the three (3) pillars of Philippine foreign policy: first, preservation and enhancement of national security; second, protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of overseas Filipinos; and third, promotion and attainment of economic security.
With the current administration, I wonder—where have those pillars and considerations gone? Throughout their term, the administration has antagonized Western allies such as the United States and the European Union yet strengthened ties with China and Russia. Additionally, the administration has put to waste years of Philippine resistance against China’s maritime assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea. We need foreign policies that are motivated by what Philippine foreign policies ideally should be rooted in—not programs that are based on a biased agenda or that relinquish previous Philippine foreign policy efforts. We need policies that protect our people and our territory, the very things that comprise our nation.
Should candidates with these characteristics and priorities succeed in #Halalan2022, how do you envision the Philippines and the lived realities of Filipino migrants in 6 years?
Noting how the “I want to leave the country for a better life” mentality has just recently rooted itself in the minds of many Filipinos these past years, it may be difficult to shift the pressure Filipino migrants receive from the homeland. Yet, progress is progress. To work towards this ideal is to envision the lived reality of a Filipino being comfortable within their own homeland, and thus, migrant Filipinos being relieved of the overwhelming pressure to be the “success story” within the family. In relation to foreign policy, Filipino migrants should be ensured safety and support regardless of the countries they chose to move to. Philippine diplomacy should not be negligent of any international relations in the interest of Filipino migrants’ wellbeing. As the world continues to globalize, I hope that the Philippines may not only improve its national politics but its international presence as well.