May is National Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we’re celebrating none other than Marian Dayao (pronounced dye-yow), our Special Advisor, Community & Impact! Marian ensures CCER runs seamlessly behind the scenes, and brings a wealth of knowledge and compassion to serving her community. When she’s not making the staff’s nose run with spicy food at meetings, she also serves as the Board Chair for Lake City nonprofit Literacy Source.

CCER: What brings you the most joy as a part of your community?

MD: The food! Though not unique to my community,  gathering, cooking, feeding, and sharing a meal with one another has always been central to the Filipino community. It’s been really incredible to see Filipino food be embraced by other cultures, by those outside of our community. It’s the achievement of some brilliantly talented, passionate, chef-activists in our region like Melissa Miranda and her team at Musang (amongst so many others) who are continuing the work of our elders before us to uplift our Filipino and Filipino-American community, to share our stories, to feed and nourish all those you meet along the way. It makes me so proud and emotional seeing my peers trailblazing and being recognized on national platforms for the work they’re doing here in our region. It’s not a coincidence that the folks leading the way for this next generation of our community are doing it first and foremost through their food. 

CCER: You recently shared a powerful story about your last name. Could you share more?

MD: I immigrated to the US from the Philippines with my family when I was little. Growing up for me in the South Puget Sound Region was comfortable and happy but only if I could make others comfortable and happy by assimilating as best as I could. Although I never tried to hide the fact that I was a Filipino immigrant, I didn’t think that was a particularly important part of my identity. I only highlighted the things that brought me closer to the standards of an English-speaking, white dominant culture. It never even crossed my mind when I was younger that there was anything wrong with people mispronouncing my last name. I thought it was not an egregious mispronunciation so it didn’t matter, whatever made it more comfortable to pronounce for the native English speaker. It wasn’t until I began my journey of decolonization, anti-racism, anti-oppression work well into my adulthood that I realized that something I previously thought as so minor, not wanting to make folks uncomfortable, was disrespectful to my family, my culture, my heritage, and my ancestors. It’s just one example of active unlearning I do on a daily basis in order to actively choose to celebrate and embrace my people and our community.

CCER: What are some ways you see hope for the future narrative of your community?

MD: The hope I see in my community and other Asian Diaspora communities that folks are commanding spaces, telling their own stories and it’s not seen as being bold or niche. No more playing small, move past dominant white culture’s expectations and stereotypes of us. Give ourselves flowers, be the main character!

CCER: What’s your favorite childhood memory?

MD: My favorite childhood memory is probably traveling to other countries with my family. Whether it was summer vacations visiting family in the Philippines, or fast-paced, culture-packed trips with my mom, I will always be grateful for the exposure I had to other peoples and cultures. My mom worked for an airline, so my childhood was blessed with these opportunities for cultural enrichment. 

You can read more about Marian here.

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