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#HerStory: Embracing Heritage and Finding My Path. A Journey of a First-Generation Filipina-American - Aileen Mendoza

Kultura Princesa by Israel Nichole Photography

Growing up as a first-generation Filipina-American in Toledo, Ohio, has been a journey filled with challenges, discoveries, and triumphs. My parents, who worked tirelessly to build a better life in America, instilled in me a profound sense of resilience and determination. They came from the Philippines—my dad from the picturesque city of Tagaytay and my mom from the serene town of Talisay. Their stories of sacrifice and hard work have always been my guiding light.

As a first-generation American, I often navigated the complexities of two distinct cultures. My parents were learning to assimilate into American society just as much as my brother and I were. This shared journey created a unique dynamic in our household, where we supported each other through the learning curves of our new environment.

One of the most challenging aspects of my upbringing was grappling with my identity as a Filipina morena. I was often mistaken for being Latina, and when I clarified that I was Asian, I frequently faced derogatory remarks. Even within my family, my dark skin was sometimes a topic of discussion. These experiences were a stark reminder of the ignorance that still exists regarding diverse cultures and identities. However, they also fueled my determination to educate others about my heritage and feel the beauty within myself.

My educational journey was equally tumultuous. I switched schools often, which was both disorienting and enlightening. Each new environment brought its own set of challenges and opportunities. Ultimately, I found a sense of stability and purpose at Toledo Early College High School. This experience prepared me for the University of Toledo, where I earned my bachelor's degree in communications and public relations. My academic journey didn't stop there; I went on to obtain a master's degree in Higher Education.

Growing up, I struggled with the stereotypes often associated with Filipinos. I was constantly told I should become a nurse or a doctor, fields that are highly respected but don’t align with my passions. There were also expectations that I would be good at math or have talents in singing and dancing, skills stereotypically attributed to Filipinos. However, I discovered my true calling in creative marketing and content creation, channeling my talents into areas that genuinely excited me.

In high school, my involvement with the Filipino American Association marked the beginning of my journey in marketing. Joining the executive board allowed me to hone my skills in creating flyers, websites, and other promotional materials. This experience laid the foundation for my freelance work with local businesses and eventually led to a position at Balance Pan-Asian Grille.

While working as a graduate assistant at the University of Toledo, I continued to enhance my marketing skills within the higher education department. However, becoming part of the team at Women of Toledo has opened a new chapter in my life. The organization and its movement within the community epitomize the true meaning of "lift as you climb."

Kultura Princesa by Israel Nichole Photography

Through Women of Toledo, I have experienced unparalleled opportunities for personal and professional growth.

"In just nine months, the women here have guided me through situations I wouldn't have navigated alone and have significantly impacted my life. I can't imagine being without the sense of family and support within this group."

I am channeling my talents in marketing and community engagement to contribute to the various programs and initiatives Women of Toledo offers. Being part of something larger than myself is incredibly fulfilling, and I am excited to continue growing alongside such an inspiring team!

I now have two beautiful baby girls, Athena and Aiomi, and I am committed to building a world that empowers them just as the Women of Toledo have empowered me. I aspire to be a blueprint for what a strong, resilient woman can be, setting an example for my daughters and future generations.

Currently, Aileen is working as the Creative Marketing and Community Engagement Associate for Women of Toledo. She manages the Women of Toledo, HerHub, and Women's Business Council social media, websites and handles #HerStory blog posts.

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A inspiring and enlightening story about your journey and your heritage!

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