This year at RDH Under One Roof, I attended the keynote address on the second day of the conference. At the beginning of the keynote, the speaker opened introducing the winners of the Sunstar Award of Distinction. The Sunstar Award of Distinction is an award given to dental hygienists who are making a difference in their community. There was a common theme that was being said in each of the winner’s introduction and that was passion. Each of these women have amazing stories, but there was one who stood out to me the most. When the speaker came around to this woman, she said this recipient thanks her parents first for her success. The speaker named her parents, I’m looking at the recipient’s photograph, and I’m asking myself one question, “Is she Filipino?” The speaker continued this Filipino woman’s story about her family, her credentials, her career, and more notably her involvement in forensic dentistry particularly identifying victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida in 2016 and helping the family members of the victims find closure. This is Rhoda. A well-seasoned dental hygienist, influencer in her community, and Filipino.
Before I deep dive into the rest of my writing, I want to preface that I’m speaking from my perspective and what it meant to me the moment I met Rhoda. Like Rhoda, my parents are also from the Philippines and they came to the United States in hopes to provide a better life for a family that they will one day have. Growing up, I had a hard time fitting in. I went to school in the Philippines and didn’t have many friends because I was American. I came back to the United States and still didn’t have many friends because I came back from living in another country. My parents moved me to a school, predominantly Caucasian, and I was afraid to make friends because I was always the minority. I tried being friends with Filipinos and because I spent a lot of time with my Caucasian friends, I was considered “white-washed” by my Filipino friends. This is who I am and I’m not ashamed of it, but I never forget how my parents raised me despite what I choose to be in my life.
I’ve been a dental hygienist for six years and in my career especially when I was in school, those who were leaders were mostly Caucasian women. While they are very inspiring, when I see leaders in the dental hygiene field of a different race or ethnicity it’s even more inspiring because the field of dental hygiene is diversifying and it’s changing. This is important to me because it’s telling me “yes, you can.” In my formative years being unable to fit in with the right group of people, it was setting the stage for my self-esteem. I was always telling myself I can’t be like those leading women because I was afraid and I got tired of it when I saw I was losing opportunities. Representation matters because in the small amount of time I heard Rhoda’s story, it made an impact on me as I’m on my own journey to success as a dental hygienist and a person of color. Rhoda’s story has given me confirmation to not be afraid and keep following my path.
I met Rhoda in a brief minute, unplanned, and I seized the opportunity to congratulate her on her award of distinction, continued on to tell her about me, and thanked her for representing someone like me. A woman raised by Filipino parents who wanted nothing but a good education, opportunities, and a better life for their children. This is what they worked for so that my brothers and I are set on the right path to be successful. If it meant missing games and school events to work, then this is what they did. It was hard to understand at first as a child, but as an adult, I can see it all pay off. I’m sure at one point in time we’ve all heard the saying “be the best version of yourself” and it’s true. By being the best version of yourself no matter what you do with your life or professional career, you may have people just like you who are in similar situations that need someone to look up to so then they can have the “I can do it” moments.