This month (and every month!) we’re celebrating AAPI and Jewish Heritage. If you know of a local hero from either or both of these communities, nominate them for a feature by sending a message to Joey Phoenix at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coco Alinsug (he/him) is a Lynn resident, Candidate for City Councilor, Ward 3 in Lynn – the first Filipino-American to run for City Councilor in New England, and a proud member of the North Shore LGBTQ+ community.
Joey Phoenix (they/them) met with Coco to talk about what it’s like to live in Lynn, MA, his role on the Lynn Cultural Council, his Filipino-American heritage, and his intersectionality as an Asian American gay man from the North Shore.
Joey: Hi! Thank you for making the time to chat! Would you tell us about you and your role with the Lynn Cultural Council?
Coco: I am currently the chair of the Lynn Cultural Council. I started as the co-chair four or five years ago. This year, we have been reappointed.
Joey: What is some of the work that you do with them?
Coco: The Cultural Council is the Lynn version, which is under the Mass Cultural Council. The group is mandated to support finance, to provide grants to organizations or individuals that are doing either culture, arts, humanity, projects in the community. Although the name is really very broad, our functions and roles are very specific to that.
Joey: Do you live in Lynn? And what’s it like living there?
Coco: I came to this country around 25 years ago. But I moved straight from the Philippines to California. 18 years ago, I decided to move to Lynn to start something different. I have an Aunt that has lived here for 50 years, and she invited me. I fell in love with the city and the rest is history.
Joey: Do you identify as AAPI? And if yes, what does that identity mean to you?
Coco: So growing up, there’s a lot of confusion about all the islands which are facing the Pacific and that includes the Philippines, especially my island province of Cebu, and people there always associate themselves with Asian Pacific Islanders, a lot of folks have relatives from Hawaii, Guam, or the Northern Marianas. It’s just the nature of our culture.
In America people often cluster the Philippines into the Asian community. But I consider myself as an “Asian American,” period. I was just interviewed this morning about about what the advantages and disadvantages of being AAPI in the US and you know, my only strength in living here, especially living in a different culture where English is not my main language, really developing it, absorbing it to really look back and always understand and appreciate where I come from.
Because there’s a famous Filipino saying, which is said by our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, saying, if you don’t look back where you come from, you will never reach your destination. So I always appreciate my heritage, my culture, my devotion and learn from it. In order for me to move forward as a person, no matter what.
Joey: What is an important lesson that you learned in your youth that you still find helpful or useful today?
Coco: Always, always respect your elders. I think that is very common in most Asian cultures. American kids nowadays tend to not follow the elders, or their parents, and they try to think differently. I am not saying that’s bad, but you have to balance everything, absorbing all good practices is a recipe of a successful life – I think, well it worked for me.
I’ve always believed in the law of Karma. This is a very patient belief for me that whatever you do in life, it will return back to you one way or another. So growing up, I always believed in the wisdom of my elders, and have that as your guide towards your own life.
Joey: What’s something that you wish that people, white people in particular understood about your community?
Coco: That we’re all human beings, we’re all the same. You might be raised in a different way, in a different culture or backgrounds, different. We might have an accent, which, obviously, I have, and we have to live together.
Joey: Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
Coco: One thing that they need to learn from us is to embrace whatever beliefs, religion, tradition, culture, food, to just embrace it, and they can’t or won’t embrace it, at least understand and respect it.
And again, the law of Karma, which I mentioned a while ago, if you do that to me, it will go back to you, but you will still receive the same respect. Respect from me and from others as well. You get the point. We’re talking about culture, and a majority of the culture in America centers towards Christianity. I’m a Christian as well.
So there’s this verse in the Bible that says, “If someone throws stones at you, throw bread, make sure to throw the bread back because it will signify something, something like respect. We have a funny saying in the Philippines: “Make sure you throw back the old bread because it’s harder and will cause damage,” but I was just being funny, of course, the message really is RESPECT, we have to embrace, understand, and accept each others beliefs, identity and individuality
Joey: So what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced, like personally in the last year? And did you have the support you needed to overcome them?
Coco: The pandemic. It’s basically the same challenge, the same problem [faced] by any human being in this world trying to live in the new norm and trying to protect yourself and others. It’s been challenging but you have to really adapt and be patient.
But if you want to talk about my life, 25 years in America, about challenges and I, how I overcome it…I recently told the story in a Stop Asian Hate rally here in Lynn about first year in America where I was bullied and discriminated upon, especially with work, even though I come from a good school and good training, because I don’t speak fluent English and, and because I’m a minority, I’ve been bypassed several times.
But, you know, I just moved forward. I came to this country to really live my life as a gay man, and to really be accepted as who I am. I come from a very good background, and my family is well-to-do in the Philippines, they come from good education, they’re very active in politics, and I could follow in their footsteps if I wanted to, but I could never be never live a life as a gay man, or find the love of my life.
So I moved here and to and to a different culture, and I knew there would be different environments and there would be challenges, but I knew that so I was ready for it. That’s why I overcame all the challenges in life when I moved here, because I know that if I will just squeeze my, just tighten my belt, I know I will live the life that I want to here.
And now I’m proud to say I am living that life. I married the man of my life, and we’ve been together for 18 years, we have our own house, and now I’m running for city council. How cool is that?
I still remember really running, being afraid of cops. Just seeing a cop would’ve made me afraid all day. Now being part, being invited to the table to discuss reforms is really empowering. So that’s where I am now. I’m living my life, I’m living my dreams.
Joey: I love that so much.
As a young Asian American, Pacific Islander gay man in this country did you ever feel you were represented? Did you have role models? Did you see yourself in culture anywhere?
Coco: When I moved here, I had no role model, no AAPI leader before me. I’m basically somebody who started a lot of things here. Wen I became a community leader and youth advocate, I just concentrated on my being gay and my LGBTQ community, and never even thought of my ethnicity.
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