By: Rochielle Canare, MD Middle & High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Rochielle
Hey everyone! My name is Rochielle (pronounced roh-shell, pronouns she/they) and I’m thrilled to join AALEAD as the MD Middle and High School Program Coordinator.
I was born in San Diego, CA to first generation Filipino parents. As the youngest of three children, I was nicknamed liit (little) or bunso (youngest) by relatives.
My family spoke Tagalog around the house while I was growing up, but I always felt shame for not knowing how to speak the language. I often felt I wasn’t “Filipino enough,” so I became averse to learning the culture. As I grew older, I was incredibly fortunate to attend college, especially since my parents didn’t have that opportunity, and studied at the University of Maryland, College Park. I initially wasn’t interested in joining the Filipino student organization there, but became involved because my older sister was a leader in the organization and I wanted to spend more time with her. It was actually she who suggested I take the Filipino American History and Biography class, despite my eye rolls and disagreement. But feeling I had nothing to lose and wanting to prove her wrong, I signed up. As it turned out, she and the class proved me wrong. I attribute that class to a turning point in how I viewed myself and the world.
It was the first time I was affirmed as Filipino enough and saw I wasn’t alone in those feelings, thoughts, or experiences. It was the first time I read about other Filipinos who not only struggled in their ethnic or racial identity, but other intersecting identities as well. It was empowering knowing there were words and concepts for the things I experienced — and now I had the language to describe them.
I came out of that class questioning why I wasn’t taught this when I was younger. I also realized how privileged I was to be able to take this class because it was one of the only Filipino American history and biography classes in the DMV region. I knew not everyone who would benefit from this class has the opportunity to take it, particularly those not in the area or can’t attend college. I became determined to make the knowledge I gained more accessible.
After college, I continued working in fields related to the Asian Pacific American (APA) community and youth education. In one capacity, I served the working class APA community in Northern VA organizing folks around socioeconomic change and civic engagement. In another, I was a researcher in Fairfax County Schools studying social-emotional learning in diverse classrooms. Oftentimes my roles involved working with either APA folks or youth, but rarely ever both. As I started looking to the allure of organizations in the West Coast who have APA youth focused programs, I felt a pull to somewhere much closer: AALEAD.
My first experiences with AALEAD were from friends and mentors who were a part of AALEAD or from events like Youth Summit. I remember being in awe when I saw the youth take lead at Youth Summit and thinking, “I wish I had this program and space when I was younger!” It’s evident from the programs I’ve attended and the people I’ve met how impactful AALEAD is. AALEAD has since left a positive impression on me and motivated me to become a supporter.
Looking back now, I’m grateful for the journey I’ve taken to get here. Who I am is in large part a reflection of a community that invested time, love, and effort in me with the utmost patience. I’m also the culmination of my ancestors and everyone I’ve ever known. Whether they were family, friends, mentors, or loved ones — I had a support system who believed in me before I believed in myself. I am eternally grateful for their support and I hope to pay their efforts forward.
Looking forward, I cannot wait to meet the youth! After reflecting on my experiences, my hope is for youth to have the opportunity to define who they are and realize they, too, are enough. I’m eager to facilitate a space with them where they feel they are able to thrive and be empowered. I’m excited for the youth to tell their own stories and I cannot wait to hear them!
Just for fun, here’s another childhood photo!