I grew up in a small town with my family. At a young age I quickly learned that I was different from everyone else at school. I looked different, my lunches included sliced hotdog on Wonder-Bread, and there were many conversations with my classmates about what a “Filipino” was. “No we are not Chinese” and “No we are not Japanese” were common responses to people’s questions. It was always this way and all that I’d ever known and that was perfectly ok with me. I excelled in school, became involved in my local Catholic church where there were other Filipinos, and participated in sports. I’ll never forget when a friend shared with me that he found an application to join the Ku Klux Klan on his father’s desk. My initial thought was, “Why are you telling the only brown kid in this P.E. class this?”.
My home life included a mixture of both Filipino and American culture. We ate mostly Filipino food at home and my grandmother stayed with us many months of the year. She would travel back and forth to the Philippines and I distinctly remember trips to Costco before she left where we would send Balikbayan boxes filled with bar soap, instant coffee, hot chocolate, cans of Spam and Vienna sausage, and new fluffy towels. She would often talk about her days in the Philippines with my cousins and other family. We’d only met a handful of times and through her, I felt more connected with them and envisioned what their life was like.
In school, my brothers and I were involved in all sorts of extracurricular activities and sports. We were just any like other kids, but at home I began trying to connect more with my Filipino culture. I began listening to current Filipino music, watching Filipino movies, and we had even gotten involved with a small traditional Filipino dance troupe. In my mind, this was getting me closer to my roots.
I left home for college and had hopes of continuing this journey. I had imagined most other Filipino-Americans to have a similar upbringing, sharing the same set of experiences, but I was quick to learn that this wasn’t the case. Everything that I imagined being Filipino-American seemed to be unique to me; the TFC, living “under the radar” and trying not to stand out. After my first year of school, we took a family vacation back to the Philippines. I assured myself that I would connect well with the Philippines, but I still felt that I didn’t fit in. There seemed to be an aspiration to be westernized, going against my search for my own identity.
I began a career in critical care nursing after college and found myself with so much more free time. I came across a TV show called, “Dangerous Grounds”. It was a sensational show of the founder of a large coffee roasting company, traveling to origin to find and pick the best coffees. It was very over the top with action scenes and arduous treks and it made me think, “what was so special about this coffee”? A few weeks later, I bought a Chemex, grinder, and some beans. It was a big moment for me, I couldn’t name what I was tasting although I knew it was different and unique. From there, I began exploring and experimenting with different beans and brewing techniques. I’d try every roaster in the local area and would search for new places to try whenever I traveled.
I began to research and learn more about coffee. Along the way, I met some great and helpful people who deepened my knowledge. Also, I had some very negative experiences where I left feeling bad and shamed for even asking a question.
I began to fall back to where I would try to stay “under the radar”, scared to share or ask others, feeling like I didn’t fit in the coffee space. I didn’t have the right look, I questioned what I had learned, and didn’t have anyone to share with.
During this time, I began home roasting and continued my education from the comfort of my home. There were lots of burned batches, fire alarms, but also a newfound appreciation for the art. It wasn’t until a trip to Mexico City with some friends where I felt acceptance in the coffee community. We explored and met roasters and baristas who were open to sharing about their experiences with experimental fermentation, roasting styles, and brewing. We came home from that trip with the goal of creating that environment here.
Out of Office has many meanings. It’s the delineation from the 9-5 or in my case the 0700-1900 to pursue something that you are passionate about. It also represents being able to accept your identity, especially for those who have straddled between one of their ancestors and their current location. Where you have a particular “office” persona and a separate one “out of office”.
Being Filipino-American, I have felt different by not having a full acceptance on either side of the dash. With “Out of Office”, I hope to give those who may have had similar experiences a community where they are supported to be who they are.
Out of Office // Paul