top of page

Unlock Your Inner Creator

Transcript of Interview: Joseph Santos-Lyons (S1, Ep1)

Noilyn Mendoza: Here we are. Hi, everyone. Welcome. I'm so excited to have you here. And I just wanted to welcome everybody. We are kicking it off. This is the first official interview of the Unlock Your Inner Creator series. For those that don't know me, my name is Noilyn Mendoza. I'm a transformation coach leadership, consultant, and an energy healer trained in Pranic Healing, Reiki, and Holographic sound.

I am bringing you this series today by calling in the energy of the Spring Equinox. Really, when we think about this time, this is a time of renewal and of rebirth, of transformation and transmutation. So, I want us to keep that in mind, as we get ready to start this interview. I'm so excited to bring a dear friend and colleague. 

You know, my intention for these interviews was I'm very interested in sparking conversations with passionate change makers and creators that bravely dreamed of new ways, and they took massive action to do it.

In the last few months and I think it goes without saying it's been a year since many of us have locked down. We are in a very different time and I think about this quote quite a bit, the last few months by Maxine Hong Kingston, and it reads "In a time of destruction, create something."

We are in the midst of this long stretch of the unknown and often when we think about the unknown… We think about uncertainty and we are taught and we're programmed to fear that. What I want to invite you to think about is we don't have to see it from a place of fear, but instead I'd like to offer that it's a place of possibility.

There are infinite possibilities when we don't know what's next. And because of that, to embrace ourselves as powerful creative beings that can, and have… we have birth different ways that honor the dignity and wholeness of each person living thing and our planet. Despite the chaos that we are seeing and experiencing around us, a radical and liberated future is possible.

A new earth can be realized, and we can create new and better systems and new ways of being. But if it's only if we choose to take brave steps. I invite you today to explore with me what that could look like. As I said, I'm so excited that my first interview is with a dear friend and longtime colleague.

As we were prepping for this call, I was thinking, when did I first meet Joseph? I think it was around 2010. Then, we were just reflecting. Wow, what a decade. It has been more than a decade now, actually. We have evolved and changed in many ways. This is the next iteration of us.

When we first met each other, we were both in very, very different places, right, Joseph? 

Joseph Santos-Lyons, dear brother, is a biracial Asian-American of Chinese and Czech background. He's an organizer and a minister, and he's currently based right now in Antipolo City, Philippines. He has a background serving youth and in adult ministry.

But he was also formally just like me. We used to be part of the nonprofits. He used to actually lead a group out in Oregon called AAPANO. But now he's in a very different role, which he is going to talk a little bit more about in more detail. 

He actually, co-created what I think is an incredible manifestation of this idea of new ways. It's a new center in Southeast Asia, specifically based in the Philippines called the Center for Organizing, Renewal, and Leadership. 

So with  that, I wanted to turn it over to Joseph. If you could tell us a little bit more about who you are beyond, what I, what I included in this, in this intro. So, Joseph, thank you so much.


Joseph Santos-Lyons: Noilyn, hello! Hello! It's so good to see you, Sister. This is such an exciting moment to sort of connect and to be able to create, you know, more spaciousness, um, around sort of how we move with the world. Especially during this pandemic. Yeah, I, I'm also a parent of three. Our eldest is already in college in Oregon and we miss him.


And then we have two daughters here with us in the Philippines. I think also a big part of my identity is wrapped up in being a partner. My sort of co-conspirator in all amazing things. Aimee Santos-Lyons, who's been an organizer and a feminist activist, and now works in gender issues here in Southeast Asia.

She sends her love and, yeah, the only other, maybe big piece that influenced me as a young person was music. That was the, the experience that unlocked a lot of my passion, a lot of my sense of the possible. I was very much a shy kid who stuttered a lot as a child.

And it was the spaces of playing music, playing piano and saxophone and clarinet, and being in those groups, being in band, being in an orchestra, where I really felt like I could express myself most fully and so grateful for music today. Especially during this pandemic, playing the guitar, playing the piano, you know, finding ways to listen to good music, you know, thankful to the artists and the cultural workers and the performers who help us make sense of these times.

Noilyn: Absolutely. Absolutely. I feel that in a lot of ways, most, especially because I think this is something that a lot people actually don't know. I used to have a really bad stuttering problem too, when I was a child. So, to be able to find different ways of expression, I think are huge for folks. We see it now.

Talking about ways of expression, you actually shared with me this quote, and it really touched me in a lot of ways and I wanted to read it because I feel like it symbolizes a lot about what you're hoping to create through CORAL. 

It’s by Mickey ScottBey Jones, and the quote goes 

“Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together,
We will work on it side by side.”


Joseph: Yeah. I love hearing Mickey ScottBey’s words and share these words. It’s like a prayer and an anthem and sort of the grounding mantra and mantra of what we're trying to build here. I have to give credit AAPANO, and the reproductive justice and gender justice organizers in Oregon who brought this reading forward through a lot of our efforts as a people of color working on reproductive health and women's issues in Oregon that I was honored to be a part of.

This is, you know, definitely one of these pieces that defines both, I think the like scope and the kind of energy we want to bring, which is to definitely be, , you know, challenging ourselves and having that, those, the spaces where we can grow, but also meeting people where they're at and… you know, offering a space that can be both healing and a place where people can find their inspiration, right? To find their courage, to feel like it's a space where they're going to be both taken care of and asked really critical questions. 

Noilyn: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. We have a treat because Joseph is going to show us CORAL. So talk to us before you go. Talk to us a little bit about this concept and what your vision is.

Joseph: So the Center for Organizing, Renewal, and Leadership is one part of the place that we have built here in Antipolo city. We're in the foothills outside of Metro Manila. It's this last greenway before you get to the city to the urban city. So we're just on the very, very edge of one of the biggest metropolitan places on earth.

We're in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, which is this mountain range that runs from the southern part of Luzon to the northern part. So we're in the northern sort of more to Tagalog-speaking area. And this is where my wife grew up, Aimee. She grew up in in Quezon City and for years we had envisioned coming back to the Philippines.

My partner grew up here. But I grew up in the States and after 15 years of doing organizing and ministry in the US together, we finally began to move in 2016 and it was a long move for us. As we were thinking about our long-term home here. We wanted to create community. We want to continue to create community the way we have been able to do in the US and also just be able to connect cross-culturally, which was a big part of my experience at AAPANO and other sorts of community-based programs was to really meet and get to know people cross-culturally.

So the first phase for us was actually finding and connecting with two other close friends. To build a co-housing and these were folks one who, Aimee, my partner had worked with in her twenties as a young organizer, working with women and girls here Quezon City, in urban poor communities.


The other was a newer colleague who she had met when she had first moved back here in 2016 and they were working on a lot of humanitarian issues in response to the typhoons and some of the conflicts that are happening here in the Philippines. And so together, with these two other incredible families, we were able to conceptualize and begin to think about the sort of, the reality of building a place together.

So we built this. Co-housing where we all live in a community together. And as we were doing the designs. We thought about what does it mean to create a little bit bigger of a space? We can also put our values and mission into action  in terms of, you know, wanting to support other organizers, wanting to be a place where people can come and both heal and recover.

My partner has been involved in a lot of efforts to support folks who are going through a reproductive loss or who are, you know, need sort of a place to heal from maybe a medical condition, but need a more sort of holistic place where they can rest and and sort of recover.

We actually just had an incredible young man stay with us for a week who had a recent diagnosis with HIV here. And, you know, just the kind of stress that you go through when you experience that. We want to be able to offer a safe and a brave space for folks where they can settle and they can clarify, and they can eat healthy food.

So with all these dreams, we stretched ourselves. We not only built our sort of our family studios, where the families live in our sort of bedrooms and what not, but what we decided to design and build a larger dining kitchen and to build a community room and a multi-purpose room into our ground floor and to have a larger backyard area where we can convene folks in a fire circle and a roof deck.


And so we began to think about what would be the more accessible and sort of public spaces that we could then entertain and program and host in. It is then, you know, both huge dreams and then a lot of really details having to work within our budget, work with it. It’s been one of the most incredible journeys that I've been on.

You know, I think of my life, like having children and building this place are sort of up there as the really incredible moments that, where I feel very, very humbled and very, very honored.


Noilyn: Yeah. I am curious because you had an opportunity to build a house. What was the catalyst that you all decided we actually want to live not just with our own immediate family, but we're intentionally going to create a community with other families and then not just that, right? You have other families that are living with you in this co-housing space, but you are creating a community space where you live and work. You know, I know that you all had this vision before this pandemic happened.


And I think in some ways it's so interesting because a lot of people are, are thinking about that. The places that we live in are now the pieces that we work in, but you've taken it a step further and even thought about these are also the places that we can be in community with. So I'm just curious again. What was the catalyst in moving in that direction, as opposed to just building your own single family home?


Joseph: Yeah. I mean, I am adopted and I grew up in a community where I often didn't feel like I belonged and I felt a lot of isolation and a lot of… my parents who adopted me were amazing. They were loving. It often felt like we were this very nuclear family and both music… and then later, you know, Unitarian Universalist church where the place was for me, that opened my eyes to the power of community.

And in many ways that is, you know, central to my ministry, which is the forging of places where people can feel like they belong and they really connect as deeply… and as intentionally as possible. My partner, Aimee, grew up in a huge family. She’s the oldest and her folks are the oldest. So that's very much this matriarch, patriarch energy of sort of let's bring folks together.

And her family has this really unique character, like they have been the safe haven for Aimee’s siblings and Aimee’s friends, their Bar… what they call their Barkada (friends) for decades. Like her mother was cooking food for the masses, you know, during the Marcos dictatorship and after the Edsa Revolution here for all the art and theater folks that Aimee was connected to.

Um, and so both Aimee and I really, when we got together as partners 20 years ago, we were really found a lot of common cause around the community work that we were doing. We've always integrated that into our relationship. We often see the family that organizes together, stays together. And so. You know, the building of this space was something that we had been testing with family and friends for years.

Like, you know, sort of, sort of wondering like, well, what does, you know, what does it look like to age in place? Like what kind of place do we want to live in for the last part of our lives? Um, who do we want to be able to be close to and connected to? And you know, I think our dream has been to be a hub for our families.

You know, in the end, the folks who really said yes and had the capacity to be able to pitch in together with these two very wonderful, close friends who were, we were really all bonded by both the brave poem that you read. They have a sort of a very strong feminist sort of approach to how they both work and live in the world.

That's something that I follow in many ways as the sort of, one of the male-identified folks here in this collective, our collective Balay Diwata, which means sort of loosely “The House of Spirits”. Yeah. 


Noilyn: I love that!

Joseph: So, Balay Diwata are actually these like feminist sort of sprites and you have sort of these little features that we're adding to the to the place to sort of honor the goddess and the feminine and the feminist sort of energy and you know, spirits here.

So, but you asked this question about living and working in the same place. And, um, this is something that we haven't fully been able to lean into yet. I think we have some ideas, but this is also where there's like, there's a lot of potential for challenges because one is the pandemic. So we're all together all the time.

We're sort of, you know, staying in place here. And, so hosting anything feels at times challenging because you know, there's already sort of so much of all of us being around like my… so Aimee’s work from home. Like we're all work home… from the kids …are here… at sort of home. So I, so I think our dream is that we are really open particularly during the week and that we're hosting sort of day retreats, team retreats.

And if we have an overnight guest, it's just one or two folks who are staying in our guest room, but I'll show you in a minute, that kind of time we'll do sort of weekend or evening activities, especially like around our roof deck and our fire circle. We would love to host like a coffee house this month.

We'll be able to have, you know, folks over to both hear sort of like the incredible local artists here and musicians. Especially women musicians… ending up being sort of a place and a venue where they can connect and folks can connect. And, then, you know, whatever other kinds of events folks would like to host here, you know, already in the four months, we've had maybe a dozen small events and it's everything from like a small staff retreat to sort of individual sort of like healing or writing workshop that folks want to do here on their own.

But still it's still too, too soon to tell and sort of given how the pandemic is unfolding, sort of somewhat, you know, the Philippines has, doesn't really have a vaccine plan for the people. We're looking at another six to 12 months, I think until we're fully able to move around and fully host folks here at CORAL.


Noilyn: Yeah. Well, I think it's, it's definitely making me think about how we see family, health. How we define family and how we, how we defined community and how we define space. Like it's, so it's a layered in that way. Before we go too into it… because I could, I could see us like just really getting into the conversation.

I would love to go a little bit of a pause because I know that you are going to show us the space so that we can see how it looks like.

Joseph: I'm just walking down from my office, but I'll go to the front door to give you a little bit of a look at the outside. Antipolo is this city that's actually outside of Metro Manila.

We're in Rizal province and we, you know, Aimee found this piece of land about five years ago and it's just incredible. We are on the edge of a village where there's no development at all. We’re building on the edge of the greenway. Amidst the Nara trees and the Acacia trees and Gmelina. And we have avocado and mango. And we have buildings together, all connected with our place.


This is one of the studios and then the studio in back. And then inside we really designed it so the first level was the CORAL space, the place where folks could really come together and connect. And so you can see, we have sort of a grand entryway, sort of a sala (living room) and a ping pong table. And we're beginning to build a library that we're also making accessible to the community.

Um, sort of a free library of social justice literatures. And then in here is our multipurpose room where we have has it's own sort of suite with a bathroom where we hope folks will come and stay and have sabbatical or have small programs and events.

And then here's the dining kitchen area. And one of the cool things about this place is we're able to grow a lot of our own food now. And we just started planting last year. So we're beginning to harvest, and we've also connected with several local folks who cook. And so we're able to engage with folks locally who have connections to the farmers who have connections at the market.

And it's been amazing to have, to be able to both support and get to know sort of local folks engaged in catering and cooking and to be able to offer folks more than, sort of, you know, McDonald's and Starbucks, which is often a popular treat. But we are interested in offering, and I'm a vegetarian, but offering as much organic and healthy foods as we can.

Then this is our backyard where we have this wonderful sort of space to sit around the fire. And, you know, in the future we envision being able to have sort of music up here on this little mini stage. We have a small soaking pool in the back that you can rest your bones. Someone donated this wonderful double trampoline so the kids have their own personal play area.

So I can maybe show you quick spot of the garden and then go up to the roof deck. We can wrap up. We're composting here. We're doing as much local indigenous, native planting as we can. I will say that the papaya and the oregano and the string beans called ‘sitaw’and the bottle gourd called ‘upo’ are growing really incredibly.

And, we're able to really begin to enjoy fresh locally made, locally grown foods.

The architecture for this place was done by one of Aimee's high school classmates from the Philippines Science High School, Vlad Longid, and who is an indigenous person from the northern part of the Philippines. And so it was really wonderful to work with him and his team. We had a lot of local workers who helped us build this place here.

We really struggled during the pandemic. You know, we were locked down for three months and couldn't build it all and also had to make some decisions about how to support the workers because in the Philippines, when folks build a house, they often live onsite. And so we have workers locked down here and, you know, we sort of pulled our money to keep paying folks.

We brought food. You know, it, it, it was definitely a very difficult process to get through to the end, but in the end, we were able to finish the place in about a year and a half. Then here's the roof deck, and this is looking primarily to the west. So in the distance, you can see the city and at night and see the city lights. And then we have a kitchen up here on the roof deck as well.

And one of the parts of the roof deck is we've been painting a mural to loved ones who have been inspiring to us and who have passed away. And this is a living memorial. And you can see we have both folks from the Philippines and folks from the States who have been huge mentors to us. The woman here within this village passed away last year was the very close mentor of my wife's, the Quimpo family was very active during martial law. She was a journalist and a healer herself. And it's really because of her that we are living in this area. She is someone who has mentored and supported my wife especially during the transition back to the Philippines and had created the group that we're active in called the Martial :aw Chronicles Project that looks at the history, the impact, the continuing influence of the dictatorship here in the Philippines.

So that's the quick and dirty tour. You know, the place is built mostly of concrete, which is so interesting. We did our best to collect some secondhand wood so we were able… and some old bamboo, so we were able to do some sort of Filipiniana in the space, but we're still sort of  unboxing a bit. Like finding our old ‘banig’ sort of mats and, you know, collecting beings that have been in boxes for years and years.


This little floor here is, Aimee’s and our sort of family floor and our kids' bedrooms here. And I don't know if I really showed a good, a good view, but the two studios are on the other side of the house and I didn't show the pocket garden, but this is the connection between all three units.

See the yellow doors there that goes to Jing’s house and then Clem's House. So we know they have their own kitchens as well, but we often come here and have a family dinner together.


Noilyn: I love it. I just want to read a quick comment that somebody put and I have to, I have to echo this, “What an incredibly beautiful space you were created with such intention.” Yeah. It's so… it's so beautiful. 

Joseph: Yeah, thank you. I would say building a place was never on my, um, sort of list of what I thought I would do in my lifetime. I feel like my generation especially in the States, we don't think about building our own house. If we're lucky, we'll even buy a house. So once we got into the sort of the commitment to build this place, you know, both, I think scraping our savings account and borrowing, selling things to sort of, you know, pool the resources.

We were just so open for feedback. And there are a huge part of this place has been totally transformed from a conversation like the serendipity of sort of sharing our plans or talking it through or saying what was on our mind of what we were struggling with. And having someone say, how'd you thought about this, or here's an idea that you might consider.

And so a huge shout out, especially to upon folks, because just before I left Oregon, AAPANO was building its own sort of community center and affordable housing on 82nd Avenue in East Portland where our offices were and, you know. It was a blessing to be able to connect with other Asian Pacific Islander architects and designers who helped us with that place and drew some of their inspiration here for the place that we were building.

Everything from just thinking really sort of clearly about being accessible to the movement and the use of space and the ability for us to have some private family space, but really to maximize the sort of public areas where we can officially host folks. 

Noilyn: Yeah. I wanted to ask you, because I remember there was a… there was a story that you shared as, as this place was being built.

It was about the fence and whether fences should be up. Can you talk a little bit about that? 


Joseph: Yeah. So man, the Philippines they love, especially in the city and some of this might also be the effects of the dictatorship, but folks, especially the middle class. The middle class have really significant concrete fences often with barbed wire and broken glass on top.

And they’re very imposing. There's that sort of culture. I think even extends out here into these, you know, we're in a sort of a semi-rural area. I think for like reasons of both being,  like a place that really feels like a retreat and not like a fortress. But also because we had a really explicit conversation about safety.

We decided to not build a massive fencing system here, so I can sort of show you outside my little window here. We have essentially like, you know, lights and a wire fence. That's very low around most of the properties and we have planted a lot of things. So there is a setback of bamboo and bougainvillea which has like some forms on it.

So, you know, we are creating a little bit of a separation, but more of a living barrier. And, you know, we have other like aspects that make us feel safe. Like we do have a CCTV system, we have a new dog, who, you know, is sort of our early alert system. But we're also clear about that. Like, we're here, like, like someone's pretty much going to be here sort of 24/7.

Um, and you know, I think we haven't gone back to sort of the normal work and travel yet. But when we do, I think our thought is to, you know, be able to have someone in the place. Um, and that is one of the benefits of living with other families is that you've can kind sort of coordinate. And so all those things allowed us to sort of like step back from saying, we're not going to build an eight foot fence.

We're not going to, you know, make it seem really imposing and gated. We're already in a gated community. It's not super hard border compared to some of the subdivisions here, but there is a, there is a security guard. When you come in to the village, you know, they will check your ID. All these different layers made us feel like we should definitely not build this humongous fence.

Plus fences are expensive concrete walls and not to sound like let's just plant a lot of really amazing stuff. And it might take us a couple of years for it to really fill in, but we're going to have some sweet, you know, bamboo and bougainvillea, which is this beautiful sort of like tropical vine that grows and blossoms so nicely.

Noilyn: Yeah. And I just remember the conversation about like, I mean, you brought up safety and about accessibility and thinking about those things. And what was, what struck me in the conversation that we, that we were part of previously was this idea of, well, what are fences for? And in some ways, you know, safety is in knowing.

Your community is to be engaged in your community is to build those relationships and that trust. And so I just think it's, it's so symbolic in so many ways and that the things that you have chosen to use are from nature to just delineate to me… it's more like just delineating that this is where our home is. This is where our family is, but it's not a way to like, keep folks that don't live there, you know, out.

Joseph: Yeah. And we live on the edge of the subdivision where there is a large informal settler community, which there are hundreds of them around the Metro Manila where basically urban core or folks from the rural areas have moved to the city. And they are basically squatters who are living in often communities for 20, 30, 40 years.

So we live right up against one of these urban poor communities. And, we actually have some of our workers have come from that community and there's not a hard barrier at the edge of the village, into the urban poor community, which is called Daang Bakal and this area, because there were no houses. Before our house was also sort of like their hangout, like youth will come up here after school and they'll play.

Um, sometimes you'll see young adults up here, sometimes drinking and hanging around. So we've had to really, I think, negotiate with folks, like we wanted to be both neighborly and we didn't want to be, you know, um, the kind of neighbors that were like complaining all the time to the security guard about these kinds of incursions into the village.

So we've also had to contend with a lot of sort of anti-poor sentiments here. You know, I think that there is a very much, like there is a class caste system in the Philippines. Um, so we've made it a point to get to know the young people who come up. They know our dogs sometimes they'll come and they'll play with our dog in the street.

We've offered them, you know, some of the youth had done some like help around the yard or like they picked up trash or helped us with our windows and collected firewood. And then, you know, our sort of approach is, you know, to be kind and to be in relationship with the folks who are here.

Seeing that as a protective factor that, you know, we could be harsh and strict and report everything, but we don't really see the value in that term. Like it feels like it just creates, sort of an energy of animosity and fear. This is such a beautiful green place I really want, I think people sort of deserve access to these green spaces.

So we've had incidences of school children sort of walking through our subdivision on their way at home from urban poor to urban poor community. And part of me thinks that's great. I'm like we should be open to pedestrians and bicyclists through here. Um, and, and so we're really, I think, actively promoting like, “Hey, let's have new village rules that allow people to utilize this space”. Because the Metro Manila area is notorious for being sort of a concrete jungle and, you know, to get fresh air, to get to the sort of green open spaces to access public parks, these things, all cost money. Like you cannot really live the kind of life that I experienced in States without having to pay a premium.

That is… that super sucks, especially if you're urban poor and you're just really living, you know, day-to-day, like a huge contingent of the urban poor populations is here in Manila. They're all day laborers. Like they may work in a factory job or they may work, you know, as a driver or a tricycle driver or, you know, buy and sell food, but they're really living day-to-day.

Um, and so one of our connections through the church is that we have a small ministry in an urban poor community. And we've hosted a couple of the youth from that, uh, from, uh, Taguig City, which is one of these sorts of big, sort of urban cities in Metro Manila. And some folks had never even been outdoors.

It's that same experience. I think we see in the states where sometimes urban youth often don't have opportunity to ever go out to the mountains, to the beach. I think that people need to be able to put themselves in the way of beauty. I think they need to be able to feel that connection to feel human.


Noilyn: Yeah. And a lot of what you said really resonates and touches me in a, in a deep way as an energy healer, because nature is so healing. And you were saying like the energetics that we're putting out, we don't want to create, um, separation in many ways. And, and, and the power of being in nature and how healing that is.

And this space that you're trying to create is a, is a healing space. I mean, there's even research studies talking about forest bathing and what that could do to a person, right? So we could expose folks to more to air, to water, to land, and just being able to have that connection, because I think that's something that we've actually lost.

You know, whether you want to call it the advancement of technology or capitalism or the urbanization, right? We have actually lost that connection to the lands that we're on and to have reverence for it and the healing properties of it. So I just think it's just so beautiful. I just, I did, I did want to uplift that, of this, this vision that you have.

You also brought up another point that I think is really interesting. You and your wife have done organizing in the states and you're active in communities in the Philippines. And to some degree also in Southeast Asia. What would you say are the similarities and the differences in the way that people do social justice work in the US and in other parts of the country, but more specifically your work in the Philippines?

… And what can we learn here in the US? 

Joseph: Yeah. Yeah. There are much older, much more mass based organizing efforts in Asia than I have ever known in the US. That there are folks who have had to choose to be on the edge of being underground or not. So the idea of safe space of personal safety, of personal livelihood, people are risking that, all the time here.

It is, it is, you know, an ingrained way of life when you live under a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime. And so that, I think, you know, in part, broadens like the diversity of folks engaged in political work that you, you know, I think there is. A strong sort of consciousness here of both sort of economics and imperialism and colonialism.

Uh, and then people here are finely tuned to what's happening around the world, especially in the U S and in Europe and the middle east, where many Filipinos work and live abroad. And, you know, I got a taste of that as an Asian American in the States, in my own community, and then through AAPANO and other groups.

But here it is like the calendar year, the liturgical year is built around, you know, overseas workers coming home, around family sending their Balikbayan boxes with gifts and pasalubong for the family, uh, around major anniversaries and reunions when their families can come back together and see one another, or they travel to the States and to Europe.

And so there is, I think, you know, this sort of critical, like awareness of the need to have these strong connections and bridges between sort of communities. I’ll admit, like I grew up in the US and I was pretty politically and socially active, and I just, I didn't know, barely anything about social movements anywhere else in the world.

And I sort of had this, I had this sort of theory that like, if I could just make change in the US everything will be fine. Right, because, because we're the engine of so much destruction and devastation. So if I can change the American sort of society, that's good for everyone. And part of that is true, but it's also how do we change it that I think my eyes are opening here.

It's like, there's so much that I just don't know about what it satisfies folks here. Like what I think they might need is not what they might self-determine that they need. There is just like the organizer of one-on-one of like having one-on-one conversations, really sort of, you know, listening to folks where they're at.

It has been, you know, I've had to do that all over again here, um, and to learn the landscape and to learn the nuances. And also the competing interests that exist here because the colonialism is very internalized as well. It's like the culture of the Philippines and other places in Asia. It's it is orientated towards whiteness.

You go, you'll see an entire aisle at the grocery store that sells whitening creams and other beauty products. Like you don't see that in the us, you know, it is like billboards and, you know, actors and sort of movie stars, all promoting this sort of close proximity to sort of the European and American whiteness.

And so that stuff, you know, I think does get internalize, you know, everything down to like, you know, dating people just the same way there's colorism in the US. There's a lot of these internalized things. And so, you know, there's still this work to do. Um, and, and, and still the questions to be asked. And the new way forward.

Noilyn: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you bring up a really good point around the colonial mind and this work that a lot of people are doing around decolonization on all levels. Right? But to understand it from a global context, I think adds a different layer for me, personally, of understanding how to do movement work here in the US because I think in the, in, in America, we are pretty self-centered.

We think that everything is, you know, uh, the world revolves around us. Yes and no. Right. But we also have like, such a little knowledge of the interplay of our own country and other countries. Right. And, and like you were just saying, like, on all levels of even how in another place, that's not the us, just that the impact of colonization and imperialism has on the psyche of a people.How does that play out? 

Joseph: And, and the case for reparations, I think takes on a new meaning for me, because I've taken every resource, including the people of places like the Philippines to build places like America. And I think I've known that intellectually, but to see how that affects, you know, people on like a spiritual and an emotional level, um, you know, even within my relatively more middle-class sort of network of folks, folks who have education, folks who maybe have a professional job, there's still a desire to live and work overseas.

Like there's a pull to leave the Philippines. And I have never experienced that in the States. I, you know, no, not on the scale that I experienced here. You know, I have a close, um, sort of friend who is a doctor and works in public health and is very like in a prestigious position and is already… (oops my internet is) is, is, is sort of thinking about, you know, spending time abroad, um, sometimes it's for education, which can make sense. The educational opportunities abroad are substantial and important. And that is a great way. I think folks can bring back. You know, so that is, you know, Aimee’s family, they identify sort of as Katipunan, which is like freedom fighter folks.

They're the Filipinos who were nationalist, like let's build the Philippines, let's come here. Her parents never left, even despite all of her uncles and aunts moving to Canada and the US. So Aimee always had this spirit of, you know, I'm in the states, but I'm going to come back to the Philippines.

And it did, I will say, take me a decade to really accept what that really meant. Like for me, of course, uprooting and leaving, you know, my known home and community. Um, but also now experienced a little bit of what she experienced in the states, which has been totally new and not, you know, making so many mistakes and feeling like at times inferior and, you know, questioning around judgment and needing to relearn how to engage with folks and how to have patience and how to be listening and asking the questions.

Noilyn: Okay. Yeah. I mean, this is absolutely that this is a time of learning. On learning and relearning in many respects. I wanted to talk a little bit about your role as a minister, but in particular, this area. So, you know, a lot of what you do as a minister. And I'm saying this as somebody who, who has relatives, who serve in the ministry, right?

You hold a very specific role in the community. And you're often one of the people that folks turn to during very turbulent times in their life, whether it's a pandemic or not, you know? So you, you hold that very, very special role. And what I haven't seen a lot lately is, um, there's been more and more talks and you, and you kind of alluded it.

Uh, you alluded to it earlier around the spirituality piece. And understanding social justice work, but sometimes it, like, they operate in very like distinct silos, but I am seeing a little bit of like this convergence of traditions, spirituality, whatever you want to name it… religion and movement work. What, what particular role do you see yourself having?

And I'm, and I'm asking this because I'm also thinking about Deepa Iyer had a piece, a few years of ago and she like resurrected it, right, last year is “what is your role in social change work?” So having all of these hats and it's not, right? Either, or. It's all. It could be this and. Or it could be this ,for this particular time.

What, what unique role do you think that you play right now? 

Joseph: Yeah. Yeah. I've been thinking a lot about how the minister is one of the last generalist positions. The generalist’s roles or professions in the world in a world of more, um, specialization. And so I do see a big part of my role to be a resource for folks, and to be, um, to be working at the in-between in those gaps where there is uncertainty.

But as you said, there's possibility, you know, because I'm more engaged as a community minister, not with a direct parish or congregation full time. You know, I am paying attention to these intersections, those crossroads, where maybe things are rubbing up against each other and there needs some ritual or some blessing, or even some cursing come from.

From me or from the community in some ways, I mean, the pandemic has definitely been a time of great grief and great loss. And that has called me in to action and ways that, you know, no one wants to go, could be part of funerals to be, um, in hospitals. Um, and there's a big part of the ministry that is also, hands-on like, here's a referral, here's somebody you can call to get a sack of rice.

Here's, you know, here's, here's a place you can stay. Um, you know, if you're experiencing domestic violence during the pandemic. Um, so there is definitely an, um, sort of paying attention to those. Uh, so the social sort of issues that are going on, you know, longer term, my hope is to be both a spiritual resource, so to spiritual direction for the hosting of retreats through collaboration with other groups. You know, when folks come here and they are utilizing our space, they're often consulting with, with us, for folks who live here about what programs or what opportunities would be helpful to folks.

And it could be as simple as taking folks on a guided hike. Sort of talking through our garden, like introducing young people to, you know, local fruits and vegetables. Um, you know, there are so many disconnections that we experience, I think, as humans today and plus we're plugged in and I am also plugged into the internet a lot that, you know. I think we want to be a place where, you know, folks can look up and look around, sit by the fire, you know, share, you know, good food and drink, and to have that place of sort of deep dialogue conversation.

So sometimes I'm thinking about what are the prompting questions that we should be asking. Um, and for example, right now, one of them is around me, Myanmar and the coup in Myanmar. And we had a convening last year before the pandemic of a lot of sort of Social Democrats. They included Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, and we met a lot of these activists. You know, Myanmar. It's just, you know, close to the Philippines.

It's like, you know, California to Texas. So this is our region. Like we, want to be facilitating and fostering these kinds of connections. We were able to be a part of a conversation on the religious dimensions of protests in Myanmar. Because religion plays a much different role in these countries than I've ever experienced in the states.

I mean, this, these are not necessarily pluralistic, sort of countries like the Philippines is a dominant Catholic sort of culture, especially in the north. It is Muslim in the south, but you have sort of these right wing Buddhists in Myanmar who are on the one hand backing the military coup, but then you have this incredible array, actually of a more pluralistic mix of folks with different religious backgrounds who are part of the opposition who are part of the MDL in Myanmar.

And so just learning these nuances, I think are ah… just they are teaching points for how I would relate even back in the US. Like the assumptions. I think that is probably the biggest sort of de-colonizing thing is just to really check assumptions and critique my own outlook. Um, and you know, yes, I want to be fierce and have opinions and like, you know, contribute to a conversation.

And I find myself instead of the 80/20 sort of the organizer listens and the, you know, 80% and then talks 20%. It's like 90/10 here or 95/5. And, um, and doing what I can to pick up the local news, local literature, local poetry, uh, to sort of, you know, hear what folks are really saying. 

Noilyn: Yeah. I love that. There's so many lessons. I'm going to be rounding it out because we're, we're coming up to the top of the hour, but I did want to ask you this. You know, again, as your role as a minister, you hold space for so many people. How are you being held at this time? Because I think that's also important, not just as a minister, but for so many of folks that I know that are in my network, especially that do advocacy work or that do social service, direct service work, they're always in service of someone else.

And especially during this time, they're being called to rise and elevate in many ways, even beyond their own capacity. But they show up, they still do it. So I think that there is some lesson there too. So in what ways are you being held or want to be held at this time? 

Joseph: Thank you a really deep question.There are definitely moments. I feel super overextended and feel emotional about it. And existential, like wondering, like, who am I now? And what is my purpose? I think one of the things I've stepped into or moved into this year is, um, I've started taking a re-evaluation counseling course. It's this peer counseling program that has been teaching me some new ways of engaging with the emotionality of life and being able to articulate the needs and hopes and fears.

And so, you know, I appreciate that. I'm able to be a part of all Asian America or all Asian, not Asian American, but all Asian. So folks from Myanmar folks from Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines are in this virtual re-evaluation counseling fundamentals class that we've started. And, and so that, you know, from sort of a personal level has felt really supportive.

I think the hope of going back to see our son in the States. At some point we were supposed to visit last year, but we canceled because of the pandemic and to spend time with friends and family in the Pacific Northwest is also something that keeps me, it keeps me grounded. Um, and then maybe the last thing is, is, is sort of everyday.

I spend a little time in the morning and a little time at night with the sunrise and my tomatoes and the sunset and my squash just really, just hands in the garden, but also the rising and setting of the sun. And so, you know, after three, four years of living in the city in condos, and then being here in this very green sort of, you know, forested area with the sun.

So present, uh, I'm appreciating that sort of simple connection to the earth and to the cycles of the universe. 

Noilyn: Yeah. Medicine in so many ways in so many forms. I love it. So how can the folks that are tuning in connect with you and with CORAL?

Joseph: Well, we are just standing up our website and we have a Facebook, so you can look for us under Center for Organizing, Renewal, and Leadership, and we anticipate, you know, hosting a couple events, um, sort of publicly each quarter. We are actually preparing to have a conversation between Myanmar and Philippine activists around organizing under authoritarianism in response to the coup in Myanmar.

So if those are interesting sort of conversation topics for you, you know, sign up and follow us on Facebook. We have an email list. And if you ever thinking of coming to Asia and you're coming back to see family, but you'd like to do your own retreat, or you'd like to get some recommendations for other places to go, to even make introductions, to be able to support folks, especially, you know, with folks who know us, or who know you, Noilyn, um, and are just looking for that kind of relationship. We're happy to help, you know, be a guide for folks. Actually just, last week… there's an old friend from Oregon who moved to Toronto and she met a Filipino in Toronto who moved back to the Philippines and she just introduced us. He lives in Cavite, a little south of here, and he just reached out and was like, “Hey, I just, you know, our mutual friend introduced us and I'd love to connect.”

It turns out he knows people we know. He was in the underground during martial law. You know, so we've already begun to talk about just getting together for a dinner. Those kinds of informal connections, I think, are for us, the foundation of CORAL. You know, we would not have been able to build this without these really genuine, authentic relationships that we have been building over the years.

You know, yes, we saved some money, but we've also done our best to really preserve and build and maintain these relationships that are at the core of all that we do. 

Noilyn: Yeah. And it's, it's right there. I think it's a beautiful way for us to almost wrap up. Cause I do have one, one more question, but this idea of just connection, right.

Even across the ocean, we have these connections to each other. So to bring it back to the series title, which is Unlock Your Inner Creator, what does being a creator or what does creator mean to you, Joseph?


Joseph: I mean, for me, it's about leaning in to being generative. Being an edge Walker. So walking along the edge of the known and the unknown. It’s at times being uncomfortable and being frustrated, and feeling like for us, like the pressure of deadlines and money, but also holding that deeper purpose, like having a clear sense of your intentions and the future that you want and putting things in context.

Yeah, and I, and for me, it's a lot about collaboration. I mean, I, as part of my theology as a Unitarian Universalist theology. Ministry… it happens in community. Uh, you know, I'm, I'm adjusting to this new role of being outside the city. Being sort of, you know, minister on the hill that folks can come up to, to visit.

And you know, I'm going to do my best to reciprocate, right. To reciprocate that sort of outreach and that connection back in that, you know, giving them time and treasure to support a range of efforts. Well, uh, here and abroad. 

Noilyn: I love it. I love it. Well, I want to do one more thing we're going to do.

And some of the folks who have ever been in any of my leadership trainings or that I coach know that I do this every once in a while. So I have these cards and you know, when we think about creation, one of the biggest things that we can think about is this, the phrase I AM because there's a universal truth.

And when you embody that, so I have, I have, I AM affirmation cards. So let's, let's do this. I'm going to fan it out and I'm just going to take my hand and you're going to tell me what to stop on and that's going to be our closing thoughts. 

Joseph: Stop. Okay. What did I land on? 

Noilyn: This is a good one. Okay. So, I am passionate.


I put my entire heart into the people and the things I believe in. My passion is a powerful force. It is an external fuel. I recognize the strength of my passion and therefore I am careful where I choose to focus it. I am passionate, so appropriate. It always is. 

So thank you so, so much Joseph for your time. For your energy. For your wisdom. And I will have his information up. So if you want to connect with Joseph directly, you can. And I want to thank everybody for being here as we launched the series and I'm looking forward to continued conversations. So stay tuned, everyone. Thanks. Good night. Good morning. Good afternoon. Wherever you're tuning in. Thank you so much.

bottom of page