“Bayanihan” is a Tagalog word whose literal meaning is, roughly translated, “the act of being a country.” It lacks a concrete dictionary definition, for it can only be accurately explained by the actions from which it is coined. The term describes the act of when neighbors help other neighbors within the neighborhood in literally picking up their house and moving it to another part of the neighborhood. This occurred commonly during the days when houses were still built with bamboo sticks on stilts and when moving companies were not yet established. It is the sharing of strength of many individuals in order to selflessly advance a neighbor, after which everyone sits down and shares a meal. Bayanihan, then, extends beyond its literal meaning. Rather, it describes the spirit of brotherhood, selflessness, and compassion.
Although the original act of bayanihan is almost unseen nowadays, I believe that Filipinos innately have its spirit in their blood. I was blessed enough to experience what I would call the modern-day bayanihan with my schoolmate, Terry Bustos, when her and I attended the Eastern Regional Convention of the Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA) on November 9, 2012, in Williamsburg, Virginia. PNAA is an organization that serves Filipino-American nurses in the U.S.A by providing: a voice in the field of nursing; an education about professional development, leadership, and advances in nursing practice; and a community. We were graciously funded by the Keys to Inclusive Leadership in Nursing (KILN) program of Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing. Additionally, we were placed under the care of Mr. Rollie Perea, MS, RN, ANP-BC, a BC alumnus who now serves as the liaison between Boston College and PNAA through BC’s Diversity Advisory Board. Throughout the conference, I experienced bayanihan in the ways that nurses in the conference educated us, networked, and shared stories with us.
Upon our arrival, modern-day bayanihan took full effect. Due to air travel difficulties, we ran late and missed part of the program, but Mr. Perea ascertained that we would not miss anything else from that point on, beginning with immediately integrating us to his group for a competitive activity. The team’s task was to formulate and present a grant proposal to the rest of the conference attendees. In the formulation of the proposal, Mr. Perea motivated Terry and me to simply jump in and participate, while he encouraged the nurses in his group to actively include us by asking for our input. In this group activity, I learned a bit about writing grant proposals. More importantly, however, I saw the nurses’ eagerness to engage with nursing students, namely Terry and I, for the purpose of furthering our professional development and the mission of nursing care.
Next, we attended the Convention’s networking night, during which bayanihan occurred through meeting the nurses one-on-one. In doing so, I had the opportunity to meet various inspiring individuals such as PNA’s President, Ms. Victoria Navarro; Gulf Coast Florida Chapter President Ms. Cecille Santos-Medenilla; and PNA New England Chapter President Ms. Maria Gianan. All the nurses that we encountered shared their stories as nurses, especially in the context of being a Filipino immigrant being immersed in the culture of the United States and the challenges and adjustments that it entailed. I learned about the different adversities they experienced in the U.S hospitals, including the language barrier between the Tagalog and English speakers. Additionally, since Filipinos are likely to endure as much struggles as they can handle before complaining, another barrier was being too timid to speak up about hardships and problematic interactions at work. It was admirable to hear about ways these nurses faced the challenges of being in an unknown country but eventually excelled in the nursing field and led other nurses to succeed in their professions.
Everyone at the convention openly shared their own experiences with us, and even extended their invitation for us to contact them in case we need guidance in our professional and personal development. Terry and I were invited to be the first student members of the PNAA, which was very exciting, since it was basically an invitation to be able to work more closely with them and serve the Filipino community in practical ways. In the way that the experienced nurses were open to mentoring and guiding nursing students like us on a more personal level rather than just educational, I again experienced modern-day bayanihan.