Dear younger self,
Four years ago, you made the decision that altered the trajectory of your life. A month after turning eighteen, you moved to the United States from the Philippines to pursue a dream that seemed much larger than your frail body. You have always been interested in politics, and you wanted to incite change on an international scale.
You knew what you were getting yourself into. Moving whole countries meant starting anew. The baseline was zero, and you were faced with an undeniable truth; the world you leave will still move on without you.
But that did not stop a woman like you. You were passion personified. And although the risk was high and the future did not guarantee the reward, you bet your life in pursuit of a dream. Although the numerous voices surrounding you stood as an anchor that repeatedly hindered your ship from sailing, the current of determination and devotion was strong enough to break the chains.
I recall the day you stepped foot on San Francisco’s concrete floors. The first wave of wind gushed your skin as you stepped into the cool, crisp air. Your skin was rising as it came into contact with the cold, an awakening from the hot, humid air of the Philippines. It did not hit you until the first night you crept into the bed; you looked at the ceiling and were met with a flat beige surface, a foreign sight. You took a deep inhale, and as you drifted off to slumber, your voice creaked what your heart sang, “you have made it.”
That was just the beginning. The months following consisted of tears stained pillows and peculiar emotions. For the first time in your life, you felt “alone”... because you were. Timezones were an international student’s enemy. Everyone back home went to sleep when you awakened, leaving you with your only companion: your thoughts. As you entered college, you began to notice how you were different, how things as simple as how you enunciated a word labeled you as “different.” Every time you spoke, the voices inside you begged your accent to be unnoticeable. You desired to achieve a high score on the TOEFL to prove that you were worthy of being there. Even if English was not your first language, every word you typed on the electronic TOEFL exam felt like a desperate plea. You thought, "if I could not prove my proficiency in English, how can I change the world?” However, taking an English exam was an experience only international students go through; it further reminded you of your “otherness.”
In your second year of college, a professor told you: “you would have done better if you were much more proficient in English.” After then, you began to apologize for how you spoke. You started to talk less. You were envious of people whose conversation starter was “hello” and not “sorry for my accent.”
Being in the United States, you were able to pursue numerous opportunities that brought you closer to your dream of working in politics. However, countless times you felt lacking and were not satisfied. To think you had your goal figured out at fourteen and proven wrong at twenty was an unfamiliar situation. Until then, you had always considered yourself a woman of passion, but for the first time in your life, you were scared. To be in a place you have worked hard and dreamed of being in but not feeling worthy of being there, you felt like a ghost waiting to be noticed. Trying to keep yourself grounded felt like trying to reignite a burning passion with overused matchsticks. You were overwhelmed and tired, unsure how to deal with the thoughts and feelings you had never felt before.
However, you needed to stay grounded and remind yourself why you worked hard in the first place. Instead of stagnating, you began to use your experiences of fear and exclusion to empower people. You started to join organizations and organize in your local community. You began to be in positions of power wherein you were the only young Asian woman. You wanted to prove to people, especially those who were underrepresented, that it was possible.
Your hard work was soon rewarded as you could work for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., in your third year. You enthusiastically stared at your laptop screen as you were offered the position. You recall your promise to your eighteen-year-old self whose stomach would flutter every time she passed a poster promoting the work that you would make it one day.
And indeed, you did. The anxiety of being in a space where you were rarely represented creep up your body as you walked through the long halls. The badge hanging above your navel was an attestation that you belonged, even if your mind thought otherwise. Your fingers played a melody as you typed your work username into your computer. The act made it official; it all finally felt real. Tears form on the corners of your eye as you scan your surroundings. You have always dreamed of this life for yourself, and you have made it.
To my younger self and the young people who feel lost, scared, and unsure, you will be okay. We are all meant to dream and are equally told to pursue them. One piece of advice I’ve learned and practiced throughout the years was to always put faith in yourself. It is so easy for you to feel like your dreams are too big or impossible, but never let anything, or anyone dictates how you live your life. The world is big and wide for you to dream and create. However, there will be numerous situations wherein that dream will be tested. When this happens, it is essential to reflect on why you pursued the vision in the first place; in being tested, you are proving how much you want something. And when you put your heart and soul into something, you will always be rewarded with something better.
I also hope you know it is okay not to have it figured out. For a large part of my life, I’ve been set on this one dream, and I limited myself because I thought I was sure. But to my younger self, please do not be afraid to put yourself out there. Try things you have never done, and take on positions wherein you feel unqualified. You will never know if you never try, and you will never move if you stay. A boat does not reach its destination if it stays in the dock.
Ultimately, younger self, I am proud of you, and I am sorry. I am sorry for not celebrating the small wins and for stopping you from pursuing great things because I thought you were not worthy. But I am proud of you for following what you feel intensely on, even if it meant experiencing pain and heartbreak like never before. And although the journey consisted of the most tears and pain you have participated in in life, I would like to let you know.... You made it.
Frances Eliana Eusebio (21) was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to San Francisco when she was 18 years old. She has always been passionate about public service, human rights, and politics and is in her last year in college studying international politics. She and her sister started a youth-led organization based in the Philippines focused on women's equality and accessibility. Other passions and hobbies include writing, dancing, learning a new language, reading, and art.