Alicia Bernal

by Skyler Gallarzan from Los Angeles, California in United States

Lost. That’s how most college students begin their freshman year, right? Surrounded by strangers, all by myself. That was until I met her. My Ate. My Hero. 

The word “Ate” (pronounced ah-teh) is defined as an older female relative. An older sister. The need for such a word is derived from the native language of the Philippines: Tagalog, and the closely knit relationships of Filipino families. But for me personally, Ate means so much more than a sister. To me, “Ate” means My Hero. 

I met Alicia “Al” Bernal the very first day of Loyola Marymount University’s Spring Preview Day, that night attending an overnight program to meet other Asian and Pacific Islander LMU students. She was my assigned host that night and was anticipating my arrival on campus. To this day, we still joke about the fact that before we met she eagerly tapped the shoulder of ‘my dad’, introducing herself, and immediately exclaiming how she “was so excited to show Skyler the LMU experience,” only to find out it wasn’t my dad at all. When we finally did meet, she gripped my hand tightly, and we both shared a smile from ear to ear. It was almost like love at first sight. The relationship that sparked between us was almost indescribable. From that moment on, I saw her as a sister. 

141183Al and me.Skyler Gallarzan

That fall, I stepped onto LMU’s campus overwhelmed and scared. At 18 years old, I was in a place where I felt as if I had no one there to support me. The weight of disappointing my parents dangled over my head those first few weeks of school, and the feeling of losing relationships with those of the past, built a growing mass of uncertainty as I took on this new chapter of my life. While I had felt that I was alone in these aching moments, I knew that there was one person whom I could call upon.   

I had barely known this girl. We had only met once before, and barely spent 24 hours together. But the next thing I knew, I found myself exploring LA with her, sharing the stories of our past, and our passions for our future. Soon enough, I began calling out to her, spilling my secrets, my emotions, and baggage. I exposed my vulnerability to a girl I hardly knew but for some reason trusted so deeply. I began calling her my Ate.  

As the eldest girl of four siblings, I, myself, was destined to lead and set an example to my younger brothers, to be the Ate that they could look up to. However, I never grew up with an older sibling. I had never found someone who truly inspired me, who left me in awe of their presence and aura. In meeting Al, I finally found someone to confide in, someone to look to when facing challenges, and someone to celebrate with me upon my victories. She has pulled me out of the deepest holes, pushed me to be the best person I can be, and taught me how to embrace my heritage, my skills, and my growth as a person. 

I remember the nights that I would go on and on, rambling on my uncertainty of the future; “What about my grades?”, “As an undeclared freshman, what will I major in?”, “Why are all of these things happening at once?”... my mind juggling a million questions, weighed down by shackles of fear. I remember apologizing to Al a countless amount of times, saying “I’m sorry, this is a lot for you”, “I’m sorry, you barely know me, I don’t want to overwhelm you”, or “I’m sorry, I know that you have other things to worry about.” Al would interrupt me, every time. “I’m your Ate, it’s my job to take care of you,” she would say. Her infinite acts of compassion for a mere freshman have since stuck with me as I now enter my junior year. I aspire to have a fraction of her same love and selflessness towards those around me. With all the times that she had answered my phone calls, the moments she had held me as I cried, and the times she laughed alongside me, I only wish that I can give back the same amount of joy that she has gifted me. 

Not only did Al gift me with one of the greatest acts of love in my life, but she also gifted me with something I hadn’t recognized growing up and now realize is so incredibly important: an understanding of who I am. What my identity is. In her strong involvement within the intercultural community at LMU, Al was able to introduce me into a group of individuals that shaped a new understanding of what it means to be Filipino American. 

I never had a true understanding of the culture of the Philippines growing up. Up until I had graduated high school, I lived the same life that hundreds of thousands of second-generation Filipinos have lived: out of touch with their culture, unable to speak the native language, unappreciative of the beauty and unique nature of the heritage. I struggled with my own identity. I was an Asian-American student who failed to recognize the importance of my ancestry, a burden I was given the moment I was born in the United States. 

When Al introduced me to these countless faces of LMU students, it was comforting to find others who not only looked like me but also understood my upbringing and, most importantly, wanted to learn more about the culture. I had never grown up around other Filipino Americans, much less learned about the history and culture of the Filipino people. Yet in meeting the people of this tiny Filipino-American Cultural club, and embracing our ancestry together, it made me so much more prideful in being Filipino.  

The culture of the Filipino people is heavily emphasized on the role of family, and the tightly knit relationships between generations. Through Al, not only was I able to gain a sister, but a whole new family. Al has gifted me with so much. She is my Ate. My Hero.

Page created on 7/23/2020 3:12:51 AM

Last edited 4/27/2021 10:50:54 PM

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