Home away from home: student shares her connection to heritage on campus

In a predominantly white institution, such as, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, it’s easy for students of color to feel lost on campus. However, there are also many ways students can still connect to their culture and heritage on campus.

Take for example, Alyssa Gatan, a third year marine sciences major. As a Filipino woman in a dominantly male, white major, she can feel overwhelmed by the lack of diversity.

“Honestly, it sucks when I sit in my class and realize I’m the only Filipino girl, especially in my marine science classes. Luckily, I’ve had a fair amount of women in my classes, but I think I am the only person of color in my major, in my year at least,” Gatan said.

Gatan was raised in the United States but moved to the Philippines when she was fourteen years old. She attended an international school there and moved back to Seattle, Wash. in her junior year of high school. However, she had trouble fitting in as a transfer student.

“A lot of people already had friends and no one really got to know me. It was really hard to talk to people and get to know them… It just seemed like they didn’t have very much interest in me,” Gatan said.

Things changed in college when Gatan discovered PCE, Pilipino Cultural Exchange. The club “prides itself on providing a home to anyone who seeks it. The diversity and full spectrum of personalities in this organization makes it easy to feel at home.”

“It was really nice to be surrounded by people who are like me… In general, PCE was very warm, welcoming and inviting. That’s also because their motto is ‘We are your home away from home,’ and they really try to create that welcoming environment for people who don’t really feel like they have a place here at Cal Poly,” Gatan said.

Johann Cayaban, a fifth year mechanical engineering major, also is a club member of PCE and has been active for most of his college career.

“The most exposure I’d had to Filipino culture was really just the family life I regularly experienced back home in the Bay Area. PCE provided me with an outlet where I could actively explore my heritage through participating in open discussions and performances that touched on filipino culture, both historical and contemporary,” Cayaban said.

Within PCE, students can participate in traditional dances such as Sayaw sa Bangko and Tinikling.

“[Dancing] allowed me to connect with my heritage in a way I never expected to… It’s just a great way to get in touch with my heritage and to also share it with other people and showcase these different parts of our traditions that not a lot of people know about,” Gatan said.

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