API Month Leadership Spotlight: Bianca Filart

By Jackie Bueno

This year, the Restorative Justice blog is highlighting community leaders from the community for Asian Pacific Islander Month (API). Because the voices from the Pilipinx community often are underrepresented in U.S. media, our center recognizes the importance of uplifting voices like these.

For our API series, we’re highlighting various leaders from the Pin@y community in the Bay Area and at UC Berkeley. For our fourth feature of this series, we’re featuring Bianca Filart, graduating senior from UC Berkeley. Bianca is majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology at Cal. Bianca was a former ASUC Senator and was the Party Chair for Student Action this past 2018 student elections. We commend Bianca for the work she has done and wish her nothing but the best as she graduates from Cal.

Here’s our interview with Bianca:

Jackie: Tell me about where you grew up.
Bianca: I was born in Manila. My family was going back and forth between the Philippines and the U.S. since some of our family members were already working in the U.S. My Dad was also finishing up his medical school residency in New York. When I was four, I officially moved to the U.S. and lived in Carson, where there is a huge Filipino presence with rich culture.

I went to St. Philomena Catholic School for my younger education, and then I went to St. Joseph High School in Lakewood California.

Jackie: Tell me more about your experience emigrating to the U.S. from the Philippines.
Bianca: I remember we were going back and forth for a bit until we finally settled in a house in Carson, where maybe eight of us lived together — my cousins, uncles, aunts, Mom, and Sister. I honestly don’t remember too many details from the move, but I think moving specifically to Carson helped with the transition.

Around the city, I encountered a lot of people who looked like me, spoke Tagalog, and had similar mannerisms. I also didn’t speak English when I first moved, so it was definitely hard for me to communicate. I remember one time at Disneyland, I got lost from my parents and since I didn’t speak English, it was hard for the employees to help me.

I think living in Carson and living around people who had similar ethnic backgrounds to me made it relatively easy for me to transition. There wasn’t like a huge cultural shock, I would say. I think the first cultural shock I experienced was when I was in high school — when I was with a lot more diverse people and a lot more diverse ideologies.

Jackie: What are the aspects of the Filipino culture that you grew up with?
Bianca: I think being really grounded in family values and keeping that at the forefront of everything is something I grew up with. My sister, cousins, and I were taught to be really family-centric and especially respect my grandparents.

I also grew up speaking Tagalog. To this day I can still speak and understand the language. When I came home from school, my grandparents always had the Filipino Channel on, and I would watch the daily episodes of all the teleseryes (Filipino television dramas). My grandparents would cook Filipino food for us for almost every meal, which I really miss right now. I haven’t had good Filipino food in a while.

We also celebrated very traditional Filipino traditions like Christmas, which is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. We would attend midnight mass on the 24th, then have a massive feast called Noche Buena or “midnight meal.” New Year’s was also huge for us and we followed the traditions of hanging fresh grapes up on every door, having round fruits on the table, and throwing coins around the house.

My parents are divorced, and my Mom pretty much raised me. My Mom was also very culturally rooted in the way she was brought up. I think it was really hard for her to find a balance for how to raise me and my Sister. My Grandma was pretty strict, you know, like typical, strict, Asian families, really focused on studies, didn’t let you go out all the time, but my Mom was very reflective about growing up like that. She was cognizant of how different life was like in the U.S. and was very understanding and supportive when raising us.

Jackie: How would you say your experience has been at Cal as a Filipino-American?
Bianca: I was really excited and scared coming to such a big university where I knew no one and didn’t know that much about the environment. It was the first place that really challenged my identity. I grew up around a lot of Filipinos, and I knew that I wanted to try new things and meet a lot of cool people.

I think joining the Greek system, really defied the norm for someone like me. I remember my parents were really against the sorority thing for a bit just because they really didn’t understand it. They only knew the stereotypes from movies and assumptions of the people based on their social behavior. But after meeting my sorority friends, seeing the house, and attending a lot of the welcome events, my parents grew to realize how good of a support system my sorority would be, especially since I was coming from an all-girls high school.

Thankfully, I felt really accepted and comfortable in my house, and I’m grateful to have had an inclusive experience. However, I know that wasn’t the case for everyone, and I hope the Greek system continues to push for more inclusivity and diversity.

Aside from Greek life, I knew I was missing a lot of the cultural connections that I always had in middle school and high school. I joined PAHC (Pilipino Association of Health Careers) and found a lot of mentorship within the organization. I also joined a PAAmily, which is also kind of a mentorship program where we get big sisters called Ates or big brothers called Kuyas. Those two organizations really helped me stay grounded in my culture and allowed me to celebrate a lot of the cultural traditions that I was missing from home.

In the ASUC, there is a lot of identity politics and it was really hard for me. I knew I wanted to be a leader and serve particular communities that I was a part of, but because of my party affiliations I was received negatively as a leader in certain spaces. I ran with the intention of serving the Pre-Health Community and Greek community. I was never going in with the idea of being the Filipino Senator because there was always a Pil-endorsed Senator who was slated by the community.

I respected that completely but there was always this internal tension. Especially when I would get called out as “not Filipino” or “there’s only one rightful Filipino running”. It hurt, obviously, to have my personal identity discredited like that. Nonetheless, I embraced my uniqueness and served as a Senator with Student Action, working on issues that really mattered to me. I’m very proud of the work my office had done for the Pre-Health and Greek communities and I was always an ally when the Pilipinx community needed any help. All in all, that was my dynamic in the ASUC.

In terms of being a Pil womxn in STEM, it’s definitely true there are a lot less women of color in STEM in my classes and even more so a lack of women of color professors I’m MCB Most of my Professors were white men or white women. I don’t think at any point my Department minimized my identity as Pin@y or woman of color, but you know when you walked into a classroom, your Professors aren’t culturally attuned with you.

I’ve really struggled with my identity here at Cal. Socially, I’ve vibed with people here, but it was hard for me to find out what I was going to do, who I was going to be. I think dipping my toes in a lot of different things has helped me figure it out. And I figured it out, that I’m not one thing. I think that’s what really pushed me to go above and beyond and realize I’m capable of so many different things.

But I’m definitely happy that I came to Berkeley. While it’s huge and hard to navigate, there are places and spaces for people to have the potential to do anything they want, and by challenging myself, I was able to figure it out.

Jackie: If you discuss how you got into your role as a former Senator in the ASUC and also discuss your experience as the former Party Chair this semester of Student Action?
Bianca: I started off in the ASUC as a freshman and was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna join a campaign” like most freshmen do (laughs). It was actually a campaign for the Pre-Health senator at the time. And then, I worked in a Senate office after that and was slated to run as the Pre-Health senator that year.

Once I was elected, I worked on platforms related to campus and student safety, Pre-Health resources and the formation of the first Pre-Health Student Council, and Greek affairs, specifically on substance and alcohol use. During my term, it was really dynamic, where I was able to learn about so many different communities and campus needs.

Being a Senator really had a huge impact on how I think. Being around 19 other Senators who all came from across campus to represent students needs was really eye-opening and taught me so much about this school and about people in general. It was an amazing experience having the opportunity to lead a staff who was so passionate about improving students lives and making really impactful change on campus. To this day, I see my Pre-Health successor(s) continuing work that I’ve started and doing even more work for the community year after year.

And as Party Chair, I did the role because I wanted to influence and support the future leaders. I think that’s a role that’s so important and many people take it for granted. I was more on the Policy and Advising side and helping current Senators with their work, ensuring they were getting platforms done and guiding them through their transition into Senate and Executive Offices. And I had a huge role to play in selecting the new candidates and leaders that would influence campus after my time here has gone. Student Action is full of hardworking leaders who are truly passionate about helping students and I’m so proud to see them thrive in their work

Jackie: Why did you want to run for Senate?
Bianca: I wanted to run on the ideology that if I have the capacity to and have the opportunity to, I want to take advantage of that opportunity and support people in any way I can. Maybe that was influenced by my family and the values they raised me with.

I was always involved with student government. Never understood what the ASUC was, but I saw there was a huge opportunity to work on issues related to pre-health students. There were no institutional resources that really supported students in STEM. And so, I was very much an advocate of having a pre-health Senator. ASUC has the capacity to do so much for students and it’s just about having the right leaders who can use its resources to its capacity.

Jackie: What are your biggest takeaways from being in Senate and being Party Chair?
Bianca: Being in Senate, my huge takeaway is there are a lot of different needs of students on campus. I think being a Senator really humbled me and brought me in to recognize not everyone is having the same experience as me in college and there are so many diverse needs that need to be addressed.

As for Party Chair, my biggest takeaway, first — wow, it was hard. I’m not just referring to the physical work, like meetings and running around to different things, but it was more emotionally taxing in a lot of ways. Student Action was being framed as though we somehow don’t care about communities of color when in reality we’re composed of students from all over this campus, including underserved communities like myself.

There were a lot of identity politics this year, and I think being a Party Chair and experiencing a lot of that but still showing we are above this and being a role model for a lot of the candidates and the Senators was so important to have. Our actions can show that we work to uplift underserved voices while not bringing others down.

I’ve been personally affected by all of this in the past so I’m glad I was able to give that same kind of emotional guidance to everyone.

Jackie: What kinds of support, whether it be from friends, professors, or other leaders, has been helpful to you in being comfortable with your identity?
Bianca: I think when people recognize my individuality what has put me in this place. I think everyone should be supported for their individuality as opposed to the color of their skin. I think I feel really lucky to feel supported by my friends who recognize that. I think it’s really easy to fall into stereotypes, and I think that’s everyone’s initial reaction with me or similar people from my ethnicity — and it’s all about defying those stereotypes.

Having friends and colleagues who supported my individuality, my leadership, and my work have helped me become really comfortable with my identity. I feel really lucky to have friends who recognize and support me as a person as opposed to the color of my skin or the communities I am a part of. That’s really all the support I needed – knowing that I was being valued for my work and leadership.

Jackie: Where do you think you’ll be once you graduate around your Filipin@-American identity?
Bianca: In general, I really want to make a difference. In the future, I want to be affecting people’s lives, whether it’s through medicine or policy, and I think being a part of these communities, all the positive and negatives will have a huge influence on the work I do and how I’m able to influence other people.

Again, my culture and my family have been the foundation of how I have created my individual identity, and so implicitly, it will have a huge effect.

I do think being at Cal gave me a lot of perspective about how I move forward going into the world and all the struggles communities face. Berkeley through me into the ocean about what diversity looks like, what it doesn’t, and what it all means. I’m a proud Filipina and I’m excited to face post-grad with all the lessons I’ve learned here at Berkeley, from my family, and all the different communities I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at jacquelinebueno@berkeley.edu.

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