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AAPI Heritage Month: #HerStory with Hannelore Pena

As an Asian American who was born in the Philippines, but grew up in American Samoa, I have quite a mesh of cultures in me. I grew up dancing the hula and attended one of the only four high schools on the island learning about America and Samoan history besides the one I was born into. I was complimented for my perfect American accent while learning to be ashamed of the accent my parents bore. Filipino markets are saturated with whitening products to lighten your skin to mimic the more (perceived) prestigious East Asian skin. Thus began the very long road home to understanding what it is to be a Filipina and to be proud of what my heritage offers.

It’s not a secret that almost every Filipino parent wants their child to either be a nurse or a doctor. It can be quite easy to continue that narrative when we don’t see representation in other fields or success stories that allows us to expand what’s possible for us. This is why I am grateful for my parents who weren’t disappointed when my siblings and I did not choose that trodden path.

It was that support that allowed me to pioneer my own way in this world. My culture played a huge part in where I am today as a Trauma Informed Certified Divorce & Parenting Coach. You see, my mother, grew up in times steeped in ignorance of mental health awareness or support. She left an emotionally and physically abusive marriage and migrated to a whole different country to give my siblings and me more opportunities for a better life. That was her part to play in healing generational trauma. Now, the torch has been passed to me to play my part.

Filipinas are amazing, strong, and quite selfless to a fault. Reflecting back on my mother’s life, she was doing it all on her own. I couldn’t be more proud of her strength, but I also have to be honest about the toll that took on her and her ability to be the kind of emotionally available mother that I knew she would have been if she had resources and support.

That’s why it’s so important to me to offer these resources and support to women in my line of work. And to show that Filipinas aren’t just really fantastic nurses or good at domestic work. They can pursue their passions, be in alignment with their soul’s purpose, choose a vocation that means the most to them, and showcase their gifts and talents.

I moved to Toledo in August of 2022 because my family here is able to provide the kind of support that I needed as I stepped into the world of entrepreneurship as a single mother. It really does take a village and I had to practice what I preached by asking and reaching out for help. Little did I know that I would find much more. I am grateful for the Women of Toledo who have created and are nurturing a community where a voice like mine can be heard. It reminds me of Filipino food - warm and of sustenance - and Filipino culture where we find our way to each other during times of need or crisis despite our differences.

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