[OPINION] A Filipino in New York: Thoughts from the edge

Leticia Labre
[OPINION] A Filipino in New York: Thoughts from the edge
I'm about to jump off a cliff. Would you care to join me?


Who wants to read about a Filipino 40-something mom of two, living in New York, at the cusp of embarking on an adventure of personal discovery in the tradition of Thelma and Louise and Eat, Pray, Love?

A few weeks ago, in an admittedly inebriated fit, I reached out to Rappler to offer to contribute content. I went into the meeting pumped with fanciful daydreams of producing lengthy, evidence-based, investigative reports underpinned by months of research that the esteemed editors of Rappler would be proud to publish. What I came out with instead was a commitment to write a weekly column of short pieces about me and my passions.

Since the ideas that I had pitched were in reality only little more than embellished versions of my daily rants, and I wrestle with a serious life-long case of overwhelming cringe factor when speaking about myself, my head filled with metaphors. Toe to cliff, deer in headlights, face to firing squad – I imagined them all.

How did I get to that point?

I was raised in an ultra-Catholic, all-girls private school and arrived at the doorstep of the real world called the University of the Philippines (UP) with a mixed bag of tools for conquering it. On one hand, I had the privilege of being taught by some pretty life-changing teachers. Strong foundations in subjects like literature, history, and biology helped me breeze through college, even masters-level courses with confidence.

Beyond academics however, I had a very blunt and binary understanding of the world, consisting mostly of an obsessive compulsion to classify all that I encountered into two simple categories: “sin” or “not sin” (and very little fell into this second category). My years in UP were a painful yet liberating crushing of that worldview. What? The Catholic Church isn’t the arbiter of truth? And the world can be viewed through lenses other than judgment? Oh joy! Suddenly things are so much more fascinating! 

College was followed by work in government policy, a first master’s degree from New York University, and then a second one from the London School of Economics. What was supposed to be a one-year stint in London culminated in me marrying a local, staying on in London, and having two children.

When the children were smaller, there was work at the British Parliament, and then as an environmental lobbyist at the UN. This eventually shifted to dabbling in entrepreneurship as I grappled with how to maintain a professional life and generate revenue, while raising children and managing a family that was moving between London, Singapore, Manila, and New York, to name a few cities that work has brought the husband (and therefore the family) to over the years.  

And since London, almost 20 years have whizzed by, just like that.

These days, with one child already in high school and the other soon to follow, I am suddenly finding myself with some me-time. Or more specifically, me-time imposed by children who are now cognizant enough to suspect that life could be so good without the quintessential Asian tiger mom breathing down their necks. 

Adventures plus more

Thinking about my next steps, I was initially consumed by fear. Should I go back to a job? What kind of work place would employ a 40-something who’s been an entrepreneur / stay-at-home mom for the past few years? Could I find meaningful work? Could I find meaningful work that wouldn’t require me to give up on having a life outside of it? Eventually I grew tired of feeling so oppressed by my ruminations.

Surely nothing can be worse than this! And so with the prospect of a weekly contribution to Rappler about my passions, I decided “F it! WHY NOT jump off the cliff??” And go down in magnificent flames on the pages of Rappler while I’m at it, editor-permitting. Now seems like as good a time as any to indulge in all the things that I’ve been interested in but couldn’t or didn’t explore. Maybe my next steps will light up like a path in front of me while I’m at it. 

So this is going to be a column about adventures. Some profound (I hope), others mundane. But adventures nonetheless of the kind that I’ve been curious about and others that I hope to discover.

I’ve heard from female mentors that their 50s and 60s are so much better than their 40s because, among other things, they had time to start exercising again. Bring it New York! There will be no type of physical fitness class untried in the service of getting rid of nearly 20-year-old pregnancy fat. I’ve heard that what you eat matters so much more than any exercise you can do. Well then, let me experiment with and write about detox programs and culinary lifestyle changes. And how about that most important internal spiritual life? Shall I aim to get Eckart Tolle and the like to speak specifically about a post-Catholic spiritual life for Filipinos?

I want to look outward and be curious about the world too!  In my past life as an environmental lobbyist, I understood that paper bags were in some way more dangerous to the environment than plastic bags. Let’s go back to that and unearth whether the indignities that Makati shoppers have to suffer in being forced to carry their shopping in unwieldy boxes or handle-less paper bags are for nothing.  Another emerging interest for me is Filipino artisanship. Living here in the U.S., I’d love to write about opportunities that would help this sector become mainstream in the U.S. market and gain the recognition it so deserves. 

What do Filipinos who become successful in the U.S. have in common? What’s life like for the various groups of Filipino immigrants here? I want to find out!

So going back to my question – who wants to read about a Filipino 40-something mom of two, living in New York, at the cusp of embarking on an adventure of personal discovery in the tradition of Thelma and Louise and Eat, Pray, Love?  I’m hoping that you do! I invite you to join me on this adventure! – Rappler.com


Based in New York, the author is a writing enthusiast using this space as a good excuse to embark on some adventures, gain wisdom, and make friends along the way. Follow her on Twitter @beingleticia.

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