By Trish Fontanilla
One of my favorite things to do every month is the interview for Filipinos in Boston. I love highlighting different people and voices around the city, and it’s honestly such an honor that I get to bug these amazing people for weeks or months to learn more about what they do and what drives them.
Meet Nick Pelonia. Nick is one of our Twitter followers that I learned more about while down a total rabbit hole learning more about our astounding community. I hope you’re motivated by this interview as much as I am, and thanks again to Nick for opening up and being so candid with his story.
Where are you from?
Nick: I was born in Olongapo City, Philippines and immigrated to California with my family shortly after being born. My mom’s side of the family is from Candelaria in Zambales and my dad’s side is from Camarines Sur in Bicol. We lived in Alameda, California for a bit and then spent a solid 20+ years growing up in Southeast San Diego in a neighborhood called Paradise Hills. My family still lives in San Diego, and for the past decade I’ve been living and working in a number of places: San Francisco, Hong Kong, Japan, Vermont, and now Boston! Just last December 2017 I actually went back to the Philippines for the first time since 1989, visiting my mom’s hometown and the place I was born and grew up. There I further learned my connection to the Philippines is because of U.S. Imperialism, straight up.
Where do you work and what do you do?
Nick: I work at The Center for Hope and Healing, Inc. (CHH), the rape crisis center in Lowell, MA serving the Greater Lowell area. We are an anti-oppression, social justice, and multicultural agency with a vision of a world free of sexual violence. Along with intervention services for survivors of sexual assault at CHH, we also design and provide social justice-based sexual violence prevention programs that focus on Engaging Men & Boys as allies against sexual violence, LGBQ/T communities, and Youth, which I currently oversee as the Community Impact Manager.
With a Master of Arts in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management (BTW - what a cool degree), what led you to The Center for Hope & Healing?
Nick: Pretty cool degree with a long name indeed! It has definitely been a journey. Much of it revolves around where I started and where I came from. As an immigrant and Filipino man in the United States that grew up in Southeast San Diego, a community that was often known as “crime-ridden and impoverished,” I went most of my life not being aware of the injustice and oppression that was in the community. Much of this I feel ties to the Filipinx American identity of following the “U.S. American dream.” After immigrating to the U.S., I feel my family was following exactly that and I’ve realized the dream wasn’t meant for us and many other marginalized people.
My mom was working multiple jobs and late shifts when we first immigrated, yet we still filed for bankruptcy (twice) while my siblings and I were just going “through the motions” of school, social life, etc. I’m also a first-generation college student, meaning I’m the first in my family to fully navigate through higher education and obtain my degree. Given this, I felt “on-track” in following that “dream,” yet so lost at the same time. It took me seven years to get my BA let alone know what the hell I was doing with my life. It wasn’t until I actually got outside of the U.S., where I taught in Hong Kong and rural Japan. That opened up my eyes more to social justice and intercultural competency, both in direct experience with people from other countries and in reflection of my upbringing in Southeast San Diego, a community with predominantly Black, Filipinx, and Mexican people.
Fast forward to working as an educator and international youth worker for a few years, I thought: “what’s next?” and according to the “U.S. American dream” I thought of graduate school, which led me to the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. Given my international work, I initially wanted to work in International Education with the hopes of supporting people like me with the opportunity to go abroad as well. However, my time at the SIT Graduate Institute was in community with some amazing activists and educators that relentlessly examined social injustice, which inspired me to shift my MA to Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management, with a focus on training and social justice education.
Since then for the past three years I’ve been doing diversity, equity, and inclusion work as a trainer, educator, and organizer in the non-profit sector working with youth, adults, and international students primarily on anti-racism work. With social justice work focusing on identities, privilege, power, and oppression, a year ago I wanted to focus on my own non-target identities: as a cis-, abled, and educated man. And as a man, I know men play an invaluable role to upholding patriarchy and sexism. I believe we can be part of the solution to undoing that, which led me to The Center for Hope and Healing! At CHH we are ultimately building upon and strengthening Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement so that survivors can be thrivers, with safety, healing, accountability, closure, and empowerment. On top of my identities as an immigrant, Filipino, and as a man, I can truthfully say sexual assault and rape culture has been in my life and continues to exist continuously - and men need to do better.
How long have you been in Boston?
Nick: 3 years.
What are your favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Nick: Since I’ve been working in Lowell most of my time here (and Lowell is amazing BTW) there’s a few places in Boston I frequent:
I enjoy going to the Middlesex Fells Reservation with my partner to walk and hike with our dog, Kanji.
The King & I restaurant on Charles St. hands down has the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had. They also have a photo of Usher at the restaurant so you know it’s legit.
J.P. Licks’ Brownie Brownie Batter ice cream with marshmallow sauce is perfect to have any time of the year.
Flour, Myers + Chang, and Boston Barber Exchange are also probably the only other places I go to when I am in the city, supporting my good family friends’ the Lujares and they constantly provide top notch quality services!
And as someone that grew up in San Diego, I’m constantly on the lookout for solid Mexican restaurants so I’m always open to recommendations in the Boston area!
What's your community superpower?
Nick: It’s my dog Kanji - she stops everyone in Boston whenever we’re out for a walk, not even kidding. She is a community hero! She has her own Instagram: @KanjiTheBearDog14
On Filipino Food...
What's your all-time favorite Filipino dish?
Nick: Filipino breakfast! Pan de sal, SPAM, longanisa, eggs, corned beef, vienna sausage, pretty much any of the Silogs with some Ovaltine or Milo - all about that life!
What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Nick: Whenever I miss the taste of home I make Chicken or Pork Adobo and Sinigang in the cold months. I plan on trying to make Arroz Caldo for the first time this year, too.
On Staying in Touch…
Do you have any upcoming events / programs / fundraisers / initiatives that you want to highlight?
Nick: For sure, The Center for Hope and Healing is a non-profit agency and we also provide all our services FREE to survivors. One way that would be a huge help to continuing free services and our mission to ending sexual violence is TO DONATE.
I just recently found out about an organization, Boston Pilipino Education, Advocacy, & Resources (PEAR), I want to especially highlight and support. They’re an organization in the Boston area that aims to promote Filipino culture and history, advocate for the rights of Filipinos in the U.S. and in the Philippines, and provide resources for community empowerment:
Also supporting Ellie and her crew’s Tanam, very much looking forward to opening cause I know it’s gonna be amazing!
My Ate has her own baking business back home making Crinkle Cookies, one of the flavors being Ube! They’re bomb and she ships nationwide! Please support her as she supports two little boys.
Want to highlight #MagandangMorenx as well, Asia Jackson’s campaign that ultimately helps pushes against the anti-Blackness in the Filipinx community.
And last but certainly not least:
Trans & Non-binary folx #WontBeErased
We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have any suggestions, feel free to send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.