Filipinos in Focus: Melissa Parungao

I was very fortunate to have Fil-Am Melissa Parungao be our next Filipino to be featured for the Filipinos in Focus segment on Fil-Am Ako. Melissa shares her experiences as a Filipina-American growing up in the Chicago suburbs and her journey in becoming an educator.

Please tell us who you are.
My name is Melissa Parungao and currently, I’m living and working in San Antonio, Texas as a middle school math teacher. However, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago all of my life. My parents are from separate areas of the Philippines: Bohol and Bulacan and moved to America in the 70’s. I attained my undergraduate degree at Marquette University in Civil Engineering and then continued on to get my masters degree in Education at DePaul University.

How did you get into your chosen profession?
After graduating from Marquette University, I did a year of service with AmeriCorps*NCCC, where I was first exposed to teaching. One of my job assignments was to teach at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. After completing AmeriCorps, I knew I wanted to get into a profession that allowed me to use my passion for working with young people and the technical skills that I learned through engineering. Teaching math seemed to be a good mesh of I wanted.

What does being Filipino-American mean to you?
Being Filipino-American means that I am as much of a Filipino as I am an American. Both cultures have greatly shaped my life experiences, my upbringing, my character, and my morals. Who I am today is a direct result of having been raised a Filipina in America.

Are you in or have any experience with any organizations or clubs relating to Filipino/Asian issues?
At Marquette, I was very actively involved with the Filipino student organization called the Bayanihan Student Organization (BSO). Looking back, I realize that being a part of BSO greatly influenced my entire college experience. It’s through this organization that I formed a strong bond with other students, both Filipino and non-Filipino, as we learned from each other’s similar and sometimes dissimilar upbringings. It really helped me to open up as a young adult.

What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how the world views Pinoys?
The gossip. I’m definitely going to work on this myself, but I’ve noticed that Filipinos LOVE to gossip. I think in order to stop it, we need to really think before we speak. Often times, the gossip that is spread is of no value to anyone else and just creates unwarranted judgmental feelings. It’s unnecessary. Period.

As an educator and an accomplished Pinay, what words of wisdom can you offer to Filipino youths?
In terms of career choices, never loose sight of who you are and what you feel is your calling in life. I think so often, young Filipino-Americans, specifically children of immigrant parents, feel incredible pressure from their parents to live out their (the parents’) “American Dream.” Parents move to the states from the Philippines in hopes of a better life for their children. This ‘better life’ often equates with making a lot of money (by entering the medical field, or becoming an engineer or lawyer). But if you decide that none of those professions make you happy, then you need to honest with them about it. Indeed, it’s important to respect our elders, especially our parents and those who raised us and of course, we should be grateful for the sacrifices they’ve made to move to the states. However, we need to understand that we shouldn’t sacrifice our own happiness in order to please someone else, especially when it comes to something that impacts our entire lives, such as a career. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself feeling resentful to them for having “pushed” you into choices that you wouldn’t have made for yourself and you’d have no one else to truly blame but yourself. So if you are reading this and can relate to what I’m speaking of, I urge you to communicate your feelings with your parents. Keeping an open line of communication is KEY.

What is your favorite Filipino dish?
Ube Hopia! I could eat that forever.

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