Taking control of my life (Part 2)

Ana hosted a chess tournament in Spain featuring Grandmaster Eugene Torre -- shown here with wife Maria Lina Torre (far left) – and  Russian Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.

Ana hosted a chess tournament in Spain featuring Grandmaster Eugene Torre — shown here with wife Maria Lina Torre (far left) – and Russian Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.

By Ana Bel Mayo

Several factors were critical in my taking control of my life in Italy. Initially, I used sign language to communicate. Then, I started to learn Italian from television, cartoons, and magazine. I enrolled in Italian language classes. I also became a student at a European private academy and paid my tuition by installment. I showed up at meetings. Initially, to be present. And then, I started to find my voice and to speak out.

Fast forward, at a fiesta, with the help of my friends I was able to show my Filipino cultural identity through a Filipino dance and through showcasing Filipino handicrafts. I saw that the local community was interested in knowing my roots. With this experience, I made it a mission to show my inner-self and to prove I was more than just a good worker, but who I am as a Filipina.

In 1997, a group of us migrants in Italy started the I colori delmondo adda [The Colors of the World] group of migrants helping migrants. Our goal was to help newly arrived migrants, especially with food and shelter, helping them to find work, and assisting with documents. I became serious about knowing what is happening in my community. I attended almost all the meetings and conventions from the town level to provincial, regional, national, and international levels.

In 1998, I was elected as president of the Consulta di Stranieri at Inzago. We started working for integration, conducting dialogs with Italians, organizing fiestas like fiesta di culture in Inzago and tutto mondo nel paese in Cassano d Adda by showing different culture, food, handmade products, and music. In 2009 when planning started for the expo Milan2015, I attended seminars to learn about being a volunteer but more importantly, about how to bring Philippine representatives to the expo Milan2015. At the expo, our participation consisted of Milan based artist sculpture Richard Gabriel and the Filipino dance group during the opening celebration.

As a community leader in Italy, Ana helps organize a program that teaches Italian language to immigrant children and their families.

As a community leader in Italy, Ana helps organize an after-school tutoring program for children of immigrant families.

In 2000, opportunity knocked. I was accepted as kindergarten school helper and this started my journey as an educator, including being a mediator and a teacher. In 2007, the I Colori del Mondo Adda was registered in the region of Lombardia. Town officials, parish priests, and politicians started to take notice of me as a community leader. I began to talk in my crooked Italian during meetings and conventions. I Colori del Mondo Adda started developing projects, like a school for learning the Italian language, called the abracadabra and an after-school tutoring program for children to complete their homework. My work in I Colori del Mondo Adda led to my participation in 2009 in the Migrant Associations and Philippine Institutions for Development (MAPID) course, organized by the ISMU Foundation and promoted by the Scalabrini Migration Center. This effort was co-funded by the European Commission. My MAPID training was pivotal in my leadership development. What I learned from MAPID provided the framework to explain the migrant situation in Italy and provided the tools for working collaboratively with our Filipino migrant associations, the Italian government and Philippine institutions. My passion for volunteering for social causes blossomed after participating in the MAPID course. (See Box 1 for more information about MAPID.)

In 2011, the Associazione Citta Mondo Milano was established as a partnership between non-profit organizations and the city of Milan. The association includes 115 non-profit organizations and contributes to the growth and diversification of the city of Milan. The goal of the association is to help with the process of integration of the migrant population by highlighting social cohesion. The association stimulates the member bodies to share similar objectives. In 2014, the association elected me as one of the councillors and until now I serve in that capacity.

In 2012, the Filipino diaspora in Rome served as the secretariat for European Network of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD). ENFiD includes Filipinos from about 17 countries in Europe and is growing. The aims of ENFiD include connecting, networking, and trying to have a unified voice on matters that are important to the organization. It was at ENFiD where I met for the first time Attorney Loida Nicolas Lewis who nominated me for the GLOBAL FWN100 2016 award. I am grateful that I was recognized for my social commitment and as a Filipina woman leader behind the scenes.

In 2014, along with Marie Luarca-Reyes of ENFiD and Michele Piacentini of Les Artistes, and I, representing The Colors of the World, organized a show based on Fibers Philippines, Eco-sustainability and Fashion in Cassano d’adda. The show was held in the presence of the outgoing Filipino Ambassador Virgilio A. Reyes Jr and the Vice Consul, welcome remarks were made by the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, and the Councillor for Culture of Cassano d’Adda. The show brought to the Villa Maggi Ponti in Cassano d’Adda an original collection of the Filipino designers. The designers arrived in Italy for the occasion with their clothes made exclusively of natural fibers, to promote the eco-sustainability of textile production of Filipino origin. The Province of Milan, the Municipality of Cassano d’Adda, and the Municipality of Inzago supported the event. Famous Filipino designers including, Patis Tesoro, Jaki Penalosa, and Andrada were among the Filipino designers. Designers, such as Jaki Penalosa have sought my help for return engagements in Milan. They know from experience that they could count on me because, as they say in Italian, “Conosco i miei polli,” or literally “I know my chickens,” that actually means “I know what I’m talking about.”

A yearly project with different associations in Inzago, a Christmas tree where families donate gifts to be given to poor families in the community.

A yearly project with different associations in Inzago, a Christmas tree where families donate gifts to be given to poor families in the community.

Last year we were able to host 500 youth who are ethnically Filipinos but who now carry passports from different European countries. We hosted the engagement of Eugenio Torre a chess grandmaster, considered as one of the best chess players in the Philippines; and Jay Taruc who wrote the documentary, “From Manila to Milan” about two different countries, two different cultures, two different persons, sharing one mission of overcoming boundaries. In the documentary, Taruc documents the story of Marvin Aguda, a Filipino dishwasher-turned-pizza shop owner in Milan and Roberto Bellini, an Italian who established a restaurant in Cubao. Their success in overcoming boundaries resonates with me. At these various events, my leadership skills in organizing and in bringing together multiple people with shared interests have become visible resulting in interviews with media and universities in Italy, Philippines, India, Japan, and other countries.

The consulate of Milan and municipality of Inzago have given me an award for the work done with migrants and for migrants. Upon receiving news of the FWN award, I was very excited. I considered the award as an indication of gratitude. Thanks to MAPID, I had laid the foundation for my growth as a volunteer engaged in social work and in the promotion of intercultural dialogue and integration. I also thank the municipalities of Inzago, Cassano d’Adda, and Milan, with whom I had targeted projects with the Italian immigrant population residing in the province of Milan. Even after receiving this recognition, my goal remains to continue working to shape a positive image of the Filipino community in Italy. In an article about me, Vita.IT wrote that I beamed when I said: “The Filipino migrants are a mine of culture and human capital, not only an army of domestic workers.”

My lucky charm
I married an Italian man, Giovanni Riva in 2004 who adopted my children and who took the responsibility for securing their future. With my husband’s help, I continue to enjoy my advocacy work. Being married to Giovanni has given me new respectability in the eyes of the Italians. Giovanni only asks me if I am happy with what I am doing. I am very pleased. With his help, I have secured a better future for my children. It took 20 years of hardship but I did it. My daughter, Lyanne Mayo Guillermo Riva graduated cum laude from the Pamantasan ng Maynila. Lyanne works as a board director for one of the leading Philippine companies and is based in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. My son, Willie Guillermo Riva Jr. Riva graduated from the Philippine AeronauticsTechnical School. Under the family reunification plan that I helped implement in Italy, Willie works at the Home for Aged Cooperatives in Milan; Willie, his wife Cristina Agustin Guillermo, and their daughter, 15-year old Chrisele Anne now live close to me.

The first time I went abroad in 1988, I had U.S. five dollars in my pocket. I remember that the agency gave me U.S.$23 as a cash advance and I gave my father U.S.$17 to feed my family and my mother who was bed-ridden. I left the Philippines with one small baggage. I remember how difficult that decision was to leave my family and my young children, with only a hope that tomorrow would be better. It was like going to war without a gun.

Let me close with an Italian expression: “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco,” or “Not all doughnuts come out with a hole.” Sure, you might expect them to, but that is not the way the world works. Things do not always turn out as planned. Sometimes, things turn out better than anyone could ever imagine.

Part 1: Five dollars in my pocket

Ana Bel Mayo is president of I Colori del Mondo d’Adda [The Colors of the World] Association in Italy. She is the recipient of the Most Influential Filipina Woman in the World recognition in 2016. This essay is included in “DISRUPT 3.0: Filipina Women: Rising” — an anthology of personal essays — which is available on Amazon.

Coffee break with fellow community organizers.

Coffee break with fellow community organizers.

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