Come Together, Share Food, Laugh and Talk — Loisse Ledres
NAME Loisse Ledres
ROLE Art Direction student, Creator of the board game Road to America
BIRTH CITY Cebu City
CITIES LIVED IN New York, Roanoke Rapids (NC), Gallup (NM), Cebu City
Why did your family decide to move to the US?
I am from Cebu City, which is in the central part of the Philippines. It’s a big city and my parents had pretty good jobs. Especially my dad, but we were still lower-middle class in terms of the Philippines hierarchy. I guess my parents thought that there was more opportunity for us outside the Philippines as it still is a developing country. A lot of the careers and opportunities available there are pretty limited. I think it was 2010 when my family moved to America. My mom actually came here a year prior to get a job. She switched from dentistry to teaching just so she could be on a legal immigrant visa. She moved to North Carolina and then after a year or two we moved. There were five of us, my dad and us four siblings.
At that point I was 11 years old. I had just graduated from elementary school so it was a good kind of ending point in the Philippines. I was ready to go. In the Philippines people move overseas all the time. It’s become a normal thing, which is sad because that really shows there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. We came to North Carolina into a really tiny town called Roanoke Rapids with probably a population of 50,000 people. Most residents were white and so we were the very few people of color around.
I joined a charter school and a lot of the instructions were in English. I think at that point I spoke ninety percent Cebuano, which is my dialect, and ten percent English. But in America I had to reverse and switch to ninety percent English and ten percent Cebuano. So even though I knew how to speak English and I understood pretty easily when people spoke, the difficulty was that people talked really fast. To understand people, I had to go through the process of taking what they said in, then translating it to Cebuano, understanding it, and then thinking of the response in Cebuano, converting it in English in your head and finally responding. I had to work hard to make that switch. It took me probably six months to start speaking fluently with people but it was definitely really hard.
Everyone thought I was a shy girl. But it was me being quiet so that I could observe and take everything in. This was a learning period for me as I started understanding American norms. Something as simple like hugging was initially intimidating. People would just open their arms and hug you, which confused me as we never did that back in the Philippines. I even had to learn to be comfortable saying things like “What’s up?” or “How you doing?”
I had to force myself to relax and become more “American” so that people didn’t think I was weird. By eighth grade it was a lot better. Generally, it was just an awkward time for me and upon reflection my family and I felt a lot of prejudice that we didn’t even realize was happening. I believe simply because we were the few people of color in that town.
When and how did the switch happen from feeling like an outsider to being a part of the larger community?
I think the main factor that I want to highlight while we were in North Carolina is that there were other Filipino immigrant families there. They were like our little bubble within the larger community. This made it so much better and so much easier to hold onto our culture and to be happy and proud of it. We had a lot of families who also had kids of my age. My cousin and his family were also there. So we had a solid group of three to four families that would visit each other over the weekends to hang out and have meals together.
They were like our extended family in America. That was really helpful because you live this American life which is cool, but then you also have Filipino gatherings over the weekends. It was a good balance to have so I felt like I was still a Filipino even in America — I have always been proud of that and I was never really ashamed of it.
I went to a school that was more diverse so it had a lot of White, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Filipino students. Ff I had gone to a less diverse school, it would have totally shifted who I am today.
We were in North Carolina only for two years. We moved to New Mexico and I lived there for five years before moving to New York. While I was there, I had a chance to live close to the Navajo Nation, a Native American reservation area. It was a huge change because you hear about Native Americans but you don’t really see them in popular media. I got exposed to their culture and art. I think it’s a very visual culture. In school and around town, you see all their art with the patterns, the beading and other unique materials and you realize how proud they are of their culture. This made me feel like I should be proud of my culture, too, especially in my creative work.
When and why did you move to New York?
Coming out of senior year when I was looking at colleges, I felt like I had to go for the most practical places. My mom and I decided that I could do occupational therapy, which is a creative side of the medical and teaching field. I even did an internship but just didn’t feel too excited about it. Looking back now, I am sure with the knowledge of design I have now, I would be able to better appreciate it and add more value. One night in my senior year, I remember distinctly, I had to make a project for my English class. As part of the assignment, we had to create a response to The Canterbury Tales. People would just draw or write a paper on it but I wanted to make something big. I created a huge stained-glass panel using cheap supplies from the dollar store and worked really hard on it. When I showed it to my mom, she paused, then randomly suggested that I go to art school. She then started surfing the Internet for the best art school in the United States that were public and found the Fashion Institute of Technology. They had a great design program and mentioned they had a 99% employment rate. So that was great! I could be creative and practical at the same time. I got accepted, thankfully, and my mom and my little sister moved with me. We literally arrived here with a bag-pack, a suitcase and two boxes each. Miraculously, within a week, we found our current apartment.
What gives you a feeling of home?
I guess it’s hard to claim a place anymore as home when you constantly move. You don’t even know where you’re going to go next. I think the biggest thing that a place feel like home for me is having people over and sharing food like we did in North Carolina with our Filipino community. They were like family because we shared meals constantly with each other and shared our experiences together. After eating, the kids would run out the door and go play or we would go upstairs and sing or dance.
Even the Philippines is a very communal country. We would go to the province to visit our relatives and have dinners together. All the cousins, the second cousins, the neighbors would come together and share food, laugh and talk.
A few of my friends didn’t have stable homes or good family homes when I was in North Carolina and New Mexico. I loved inviting them over and making them feel comfortable. I wanted to do that because a lot of people have done that for me. My older sister and I were like a team when it came to hosting. She would be the food person and I would be the people person. In New York it is so hard to find a community, good friends and a good place but I still want to continue those practices with me here.
I guess to narrow it down, home for me is when I am around people at home — talking, sharing and making them comfortable, making them feel like they are home too.
Is there a childhood memory you remember?
Throughout my childhood in the Philippines, we lived in the same house. I think the fondest memory I have from there is playing with my neighborhood friends after school. I lived in a sub-division, which is a closed off neighborhood. So in our little corner all the kids would come out after school and play Pilipino games until it was too dark at night and our parents called us in. It was an everyday ritual after school.
Another fond memory I have that’s not necessarily in that location is in the province Balamban that I mentioned before. This was when all us cousins, some twenty of us would visit Balamban. My dad had four sisters and my every aunt basically had four kids so there were a lot of us and then a few kids would join us from the neighboring areas. My dad wanted us to practice karate to teach us self-defense so he had hired somebody from the neighborhood who was really good at the traditional Pilipino way of fighting similar to karate. We would all cram up in my grandma’s living room and he would teach us. But after that, we would all run to the beach which was within walking distance.
It was a simple life. The things that really matter in life. I think these childhood experiences developed my love to be around people.
Is there any object or thing that you carried with you from your Philippines home?
I think a common practice that I follow and something I’ve always had with me is a memory box. It is basically a box that you put things into that spark different memories. Things like a movie ticket, a brochure to an event you went, rough notes, scribbles and so on. I am always so sentimental so I do this often. I have my notes, greeting cards and a lot of other small things that I’ve kept. This is the only thing that I can remember of that has always been with me.
Why and how did you create the board game Road to America?
My classmate had just taken the US Citizenship Naturalization Test. He was telling us the story about how the instructor had asked him what the longest river in the US was and he had answered the Hudson River. I was just so entertained by it. At that point I had to start applying to become a citizen so the test was always at the back of my mind. I had heard that most Americans failed at it as well so my friends and I took a BuzzFeed American Citizenship test for fun. We did relatively well but I realized even my classmates who were already citizens didn’t really know much.
Around the same time for my User experience class we had to come up with a project using digital technology. I was thinking of ideas I could take up to make something meaningful. That’s when I decided to do something on the immigration test. I thought it would be interesting as it was a niche topic that people didn’t talk about and could be appreciated by immigrants as well as citizens.
Flashcards were the starting point and then I slowly moved into creating the board game. I realized digital technology didn’t fit into the project. I broke down the flashcards to fall into paths on a board. Every person could have their own individual path like it’s their own path to America. I wanted it to be very much metaphorical. I kept developing on this, eventually created customizable game pieces. I wanted do something my whole family could enjoy and practice together since we all had to eventually take the test. It’s hard to get involved in topics like politics and government, so I wanted this game to turn something stressful into fun. The game is a great way to learn these heavy topics and remove the pressure from something that can feel like an obligation.