First Generation Game

“My name is Jillian Montilla and I am a first generation Filipino-American proudly pursuing a MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at the Paris School of International Affairs. My passions and interests in women’s rights, economic theory, and sustainable peace building intersect and synergize to create a candidate ready to join and grow as a part of your team” goes my elevator pitch. I’ve gotten it down to 3 breaths and usually only one hiccup in diction around “intersect and synergize.” Maybe if I swap out “Paris School of International Affairs” for “Sciences Po” I can save on time and keep the velocity in the pitch going, but of course, that’s only effective if people know how absolutely elite Sciences Po is — how high up it is on the QS World Ratings.  

There’s a switch that’s flipped — unconsciously, but not inconspicuously when a bespoke suit, an ascot-wrapped throat orders, “tell me about yourself.” I don’t remember when I became a byline of a CV, my description on LinkedIn.

I was not lucky enough to have a tiger mom to point fingers at – to explain away why I am the way that I am: a high-achieving perfectionist who is rarely content. Instead, I was blessed to have two parents, happily married, who set down law degrees and MBAs to immigrate to the US over 25 years ago and became secretaries, Dunkin’ Donut workers, and eventually, nurses. While absent for the larger part of our childhoods — leaving for night shifts when we returned home from activities and going to sleep when the sun came up — they sacrificed tremendously to build up our Country Hills home.

It was every Tuesday. I wasn’t more than 7 years old, dressed in a pink Danskin leotard, hands covered in the dirt of autumn, play-cooking on a boulder of a stove outside Ms. Evelyn’s Dance Studio. My mom, dressed in her scrubs ready for the night shift and the two of us, waiting for my brother and sister to finish tae kwon do. While I stirred away my imaginary soups of pine needles and acorn tops, she would exhale her worries and grievances for the older siblings to the homely cook. Maybe she figured I was too young to understand her concerns; perhaps it just felt good to confess to open ears, without expectation of a mindless bid at consolation or the assignment of 10 Hail Mary’s. I absorbed it all: neither details nor power strategy, but her sadness, anxiety, and at times, shame for a perceived inability to raise kids in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

I remember looking up from my stove, giving my stew some time to simmer, and seeing my mother, editing a crinkle of a smile to the corner of tired eyes, coming back to mother-of-control: valedictorian mother, head of the church choir, next mayor in the family mother. 

I asked her simply, “Why did you have me? Your hands are full with the others.”

She replied simply, “Anak, I knew I would need a referee.”

I was not lucky enough to have a tiger mom to point fingers at – to explain away why I am the way that I am: a fixer-upper who is debilitatingly critical and deeply insecure. Seeing her exhaustion, her worry over bills, her exasperation of my brother’s fickleness and the my sister’s restlessness, her whispered conversations with my father in the Tagalog they never taught us seeped in nonetheless. I believed that the only way to make their sacrifice “worth it” was to exhaust myself just the same.

And so I ran cross country, danced pointe and ballet, conducted a marching band ensemble of a school with the oldest high-school football rivalry in the country, and graduated high school with 60 odd advanced credits that allowed me to get my Bachelors in 2 years. Model UN, honor societies, invited presentations, admission to one of the top 3 political science MA programs in the world and yet, I sit here, in Paris a newly-turned 21 year old, and I still feel unfinished. Though my parents have never presented me a receipt, I still feel like I haven’t “paid them back”

My parents know that I’ve achieved: organizations have given me awards. They know that I can draw; professional artists have Liked my art. They know that I can write poetry; the published have asked me to open for them. They know that I can write, PhDs have requested to cite my work.

I do not fear being inadequate as much as I fear how my inability to secure “professional verification” would impact my connection to my parents. Not to the extent that they would disown me, but yet, all the more desperate. It’s more like losing a rosetta stone capable of taking my efforts to repay unquantifiable sacrifices and my hopes to make them proud, and translating them into stock complete with ratings and an ISDA agreement from JP Morgan.

I have read How to Win Friends and Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I know the doctrines of Carnegie and Covey and Sinek like scripture and yet, I cannot emancipate myself from this reward system that runs on a slash-and-burn business model, leaving nothing but smouldering expectations and volatility in its wake. As a player in this game, I can faintly see the sidelines I’m operating between, but the resolution in sight just doesn’t seem believable. I write this on a window sill in the Latin Quarter, plotting like every other student for a success-filled and (hopefully) meaningful career at this government agency or this IO, trying to convince myself that this, too, is what I want. I write this as reminders to submit papers to colloquiums whose names cannot fit in the window pop up. I write this as my back continues to ache and my tongue thirsts for the lyricism of poetry but has broken to elevator pitch:

“My name is Jillian Montilla and I am a first generation Filipino-American proudly pursuing a MA in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at the Paris School of International Affairs. My passions and interests in women’s rights, economic theory, and sustainable peace building intersect and synergize to create a candidate ready to join and grow as a part of your team.” 

The game continues and on I play.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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