In addition to his many esteemed titles, there is one that I consider most important: “kuya” (or “older brother” in Tagalog). Greg and I first met as students at UCLA, where he helped me get my start in the world of community organizing and politics. Not only was Greg an incredible mentor and older brother to me in college where we both served on the executive board of Samahang Pilipino (a Filipino student advocacy organization), he also continues to be an inspiration and role model for me and countless other young leaders. I can safely say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him, which is one of the reasons why I was so excited to interview him for Jeepney Hub:
Jason Tengco (JT): One of the goals of Jeepney Hub is to encourage Filipino-American youth and young professionals to define their vision. What’s your vision for the world?
Gregory Cendana (GC): My vision, and this is a vision that I’ve had for some time now, is a society and a world where all communities, including those that have been historically disenfranchised and underrepresented, have equal access to resources and services and full equality in the world.
JT: Was there a moment or period in your life where you developed this vision?
GC: I don’t know if there was a moment in particular. For me, the vision has been an ongoing process from my own life experiences, interactions with people, and my work. One important and pivotal moment for me was coming out to my parents. It was a pivotal moment because I finally made the connection and the understanding of embracing the full me, the full Greg. Once I was able to make that realization and feel fully empowered, it allowed me to reach higher potential than I actually thought possible.
JT: Can you share when and why you came out?
GC: I came out to my parents in December 2008. I came out because I went through a Rockwood Leadership Institute and I realized there, through a lot of my reflections, that part of my motivation for doing what I did was to make sure that other young people, other young Filipinos, other young immigrants, other young LGBT people…that there were other people that looked like them, that shared their experiences, that came from their communities who understood the struggles they were experiencing, and found ways to overcome those struggles and uplift our communities.
I had done different things, especially as it related to being LGBT. I couldn’t be proud of the accomplishments that I had, I couldn’t share with my parents a variety of things that had happened in my life that were meaningful. At that point I was the first openly gay Asian American officer of USSA, and I couldn’t share that with them. I wanted to not only be my full self, but also have my parents be proud of all that they’ve done to be able to get to that place.
JT: You mentioned the Rockwood Institute, were there other fellowships or organizations that helped with your leadership and helped you realize your vision and dreams?
GC: I’ve done a variety of trainings and programs, and I would say my experience with the United States Student Association was integral. My work and fellowship with the UCLA Labor Center was important, I did the Executive Fellowship with the Center for Progressive Leadership, and also did a variety of trainings and “train the trainers” with Campus Camp Wellstone and the Midwest Academy. Through that too, in addition to going through the training myself, I had to train students, workers, and young people from across the country. This further validated and reminded me about my motivation and vision.
JT: Were there other Filipino-American leaders involved in these fellowships?
GC: To be honest, not particularly in the ones that I mentioned. There has been more informal and less structured mentorship from folks from the Filipino community, but not necessarily in the fellowships that I mentioned.
JT: Is there a way that we can do a better job in ensuring that Filipino Americans are included in these spaces?
GC: One thing that I’ve done is I’ve always recruited and identified people that should apply to those programs so that other folks, especially in the Filipino-American community, are connected. Personally, it’s always been important for me, even if informal, to be able to identify other young Filipino leaders in my similar line of work to be able to offer mentorship and support.
JT: Speaking of mentorship, did you have any Filipino-American mentors, and what role did they play?
GC: One is John Delloro, someone who pushed me to take a lot more ownership of my Filipino-American identity, to take ownership of the history and culture of being Filipino, and to use that to be a better organizer and leader. He would always say that we could make people laugh, that we are a people of food and fun, and people like to be around us, so how do we use that to advance issues that impact our communities? He was always very positive, even in the most challenging of times, and always felt like every opportunity was a learning moment.
One other more recent Filipino mentor of mine has been Jose Antonio Vargas. That’s been an interesting relationship for me personally because he’s not necessarily familiar with my sector of work, so it’s been more about how he’s been challenging me and pushing me to think about our community in all aspects of my work and all aspects of what I do, to understand and recognize the importance of connecting with other Filipinos, and uplifting each other for our collective empowerment and goals.
JT: Tell us about your experience with the Filipino-American community at UCLA. How did it shape you as the leader that you are today?
GC: I actually appreciated when I saw this question in the sense that I felt like I had a unique experience within the Filipino-American community at UCLA. I started off feeling very alienated when I tried to get involved with some of the Filipino-American organizations on campus. I felt like I wasn’t accepted or didn’t feel welcome so it turned me off. I didn’t get involved in Samahang [Pilipino] or any of the Filipino organizations right away, but got involved with the broader API [Asian Pacific Islander] and social justice organizations.
I pushed myself, despite not necessarily feeling welcome, to get more engaged. I became a STEP [Samahang Teaching Through Experience] intern...and I eventually joined the board as Kabalikat [gender and sexuality] Coordinator. And it was a full circle in the sense that Samahang ended up being the place that I was able to go to after not being elected as USAC [Undergraduate Student Association Council] President. I could carry on the work that I wanted to do, and had the support and the community to back me up. It really reminded me that there’s a lot of work that we can do despite the title we have, that everyone has a role in this broader movement for change and the uplifting and empowerment of our communities. So the question now is how do we create a space where we can value each of those roles, and to have the support necessary to be successful?
JT: Was there ever a mistake that you made or would advise others to avoid?
GC: Sometimes I undersell myself, or I don’t give myself enough credit for what I know I’m able to do or what I’m capable of doing, especially as a young person and as someone who comes from an immigrant family. I think that there is something that happens as we start advancing in our careers where we get shy, or we get embarrassed about what we’ve accomplished or what we’ve been able to do. We don’t necessarily communicate or articulate all of these things to people, whether in a job interview, or to potential partners or people.
My advice to others as it relates to that is everything we’ve been able to do, no matter how big or small, is a part of our collective experience as a people. It’s important for us to not only continue to remind folks of the struggles of those experiences, but use it as a way to inspire other people to either take risks or try new things that they’ve never tried before. You'll make more mistakes, or fall along the way, but through these mistakes or from falling, you learn a lot more about yourself and you become a better leader and organizer. I think people believe making a mistake is a bad thing, but for me, making mistakes will only allow me to be smarter, and allow me to learn and grow. It’s when you deny the mistakes and when you don’t learn from the mistakes, that making the mistake is a bad thing.
JT: Is there a quote that you use in your professional life?
GC: One quote I’ve been saying a lot more is, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” I say that because everyone who talks about engaging young people and engaging the next generation speaks about our leadership in the future, “You all are the leaders of tomorrow” or “In 10-20 years you all will be the leaders.” I disagree with that sentiment because I believe that many leaders are young, and many young people are leaders. I encourage people who have ideas, who want to make change in their communities, who want to dream big, to do that.
For me, I never thought I’d ever be appointed or asked to be an ED [executive director] of an organization when I was 24 years old. And I think everyone was thinking, “Why do you feel like that’s an important thing to share,” and sometimes it sounds like I’m bragging. But part of why I share that is because I want other people to realize that it’s also possible for them too. It should be used as a motivation and a way to imagine what’s possible in our lives and other people’s lives. I hope that someone else is able to become the ED of another organization at an even younger age so there’s even another story to share.
JT: Do you have any other advice for Filipino-American youth and young professionals?
GC: I would just say, while our careers are important and thinking about our futures is important, that it’s equally important for us to have fun, for us to enjoy the moment that we’re in now, and to remind ourselves that we’re people. I find that fun and taking that time will look different to everyone. For me, it’s dancing, it’s going to concerts, it’s singing karaoke, it’s trying to cook. I wholeheartedly believe that fun is an important part of our balance and part of being holistic people, and will help keep us grounded.
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We hope that Greg's story inspires you to pursue your own dreams. Learn more about Greg and connect with him through the various ways listed below. Don't forget to leave us your feedback about this Jeepney Hub exclusive here or by posting a comment below.