Filipinos in Boston: An Interview with Professor and Researcher Christine Leider

By Trish Fontanilla

This month’s interview with Christine Leider is brought to you by the good ol' Twitterverse. I’ve never met Christine, but when I was scrolling through the BOSFilipinos Twitter feed a couple months ago, her account caught my eye: Filipina American and ate (Tagalog for older sister). I clicked through to her professor profile, and thought her work was super fascinating. I’m so thankful to Christine for taking time to do an interview with me, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know another awesome Filipino in Boston!

Dancing at Ketchikan Filipino Community Center.jpg

Where are you and your family from?
Christine: My family is Bisayan. Both of my parents are from Cebu; my mom is from Cebu City and my father is from Sogod. My siblings and I are second generation immigrants, born and raised in Ketchikan, which is an island in southeast Alaska. There is actually a relatively large Filipino population in my hometown; and my family has always been active with the Filipino Community Club. There’s a brief article that the This Filipino American Life podcast did about southeast Alaska, and when they reference Ketchikan they refer to Diaz Café – Ninang Clara is my godmother!

Where do you work and what do you do?
: I am a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. I’m a former ESL teacher and my work as a teacher educator involves working with pre-service teachers who are preparing to teach bilingual and immigrant students in PK12 (pre-K to 12th grade) public schools. I also do research on bilingual and immigrant student language and literacy development. A lot of what I do centers on anti-racist perspectives and pedagogy and equity in education.  I feel really fortunate to love what I do. Working with teachers and students is my favorite.

What motivated you to center your work on bilingual education?
Christine: I think it’s a bit personal, growing up in an immigrant family. I wish I could speak Bisaya. We’d speak it when I was younger and I understand when I hear people speaking Bisaya and Tagalog, but I can’t really talk back as much as I would like. My parents really wanted me (and my siblings) to focus on English. English was viewed as the pathway to success. That’s actually quite common among many immigrant families in the US, and not unique to my own experience. Research and census data document an intergenerational language shift among many immigrant groups such that by the third generation, children are monolingual English speakers. Language is definitely a part of heritage and identity, and it’s so unfortunate that society pushes so much emphasis on English. I’m not saying English isn’t important, but students shouldn’t have to give up their home language for it. There’s a lot of misconception around language development and bilingualism – and of course the power associated with English dates back to colonialism. I could go on about this forever. Anyway, I love working in bilingual education because it’s about breaking down these misconceptions about language and bilingualism, empowering bilingual and immigrant students and families, and working with teachers and communities to better support culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
Christine: I moved to Boston in 2008 to attend graduate school at Boston College. I think I “became” a Bostonian when I bought my first Red Sox hat in 2009. Or maybe in 2010 when I first met my now husband – he’s from the Boston area. To be honest, when I first moved here I had no intention of staying in Boston, or Massachusetts for that matter, but here we are 10 years later. I love it, I just wish I was closer to family and that lumpia was easier to find.

What are your favorite Boston spots:
:  l love eating in Chinatown, especially hot pot – I’m partial to Q Restaurant because the a la carte menu includes both tripe and tendon. My dad would always make this dish, that was kinda like a menudo, with tripe, tendon, and beef tongue. I also like dim sum on the weekends at Hei La Moon, the spareribs taste really similar to something my mom would make. I grew up on an island, so I love sitting near water, and I also grew up in a small town so I have a thing for food courts, because we just didn’t have those where I grew up. So this is pretty touristy-cheesy, but I really like to get something to eat from Faneuil Hall and then walk over to the waterfront and eat over there. When I’m not eating, I enjoy walking around the city with my husband or reading a book in the Common. I can also be found grading and writing at various coffee shops in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Are there any Boston-based programs that people should know about to work in / volunteer for / learn more about the kind of work you do?  
Christine: Have you heard of 826Boston? They do awesome literacy work with Boston Public Schools – and their Volunteer Manager is a fellow Filipina! More specific to my own line of work, this is more at the State level, but I sit on the MATSOL (Massachusetts Educators of English Language Learners) Board of Directors, which is a non-profit dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in the education of bilingual students in Massachusetts. There’s lots of opportunities to get involved in different ways through MATSOL and other organizations like MABE (Multistate Association of Bilingual Education, formerly the MA Association of Bilingual Education) and MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition), especially if you are a teacher and / or advocate for bilingual and immigrant students.

What's your community superpower?
: Connecting like-minded people with each other.

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Christine: Lechon baboy. Hands down. Also lumpia shanghai. I was pescatarian for a good amount of time, which was cool and all, but didn’t jive well with the Filipino diet.  I think my family was pretty relieved when I started eating meat again, especially pork.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
“Filipino breakfast” aka a fried egg, white rice, and some sort of pork or corned beef. I could eat that for every meal. When I was in college I would often make bacon and then eat it with a fried egg and rice. To me, it was just “breakfast,” but my roommates would always call it “Filipino breakfast.” That’s more of a meal though. As far as preparing a dish, I think I enjoy making pancit the most. Primarily because I’d make it with my mom. I think it might have been one of the first things I learned to cook. Speaking of pancit, did you know there’s this children’s book, Cora Cooks Pancit, that is all about a Filipina-American making pancit with her mom? I wish I had that book when I was younger.

On staying in touch…

Do you have any upcoming events / lectures / program that you want to highlight?
Christine: It is currently summer, so I’m trying to keep a low profile right now! When the school year starts up though, I am the Faculty Advisor for the Bilingual Education student club in the Wheelock College of Education at BU and the club often hosts several social and informational events on education, advocacy, and bilingualism. Feel free to join us, I post event information to my Twitter and Instagram feed.

How can people stay in touch?
Christine: Follow me on Twitter and Instagram! Thanks so much for the interview!

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