There’s a famous quote from American activist Marian Wright Edelman that goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” That was certainly true for Abby Albino when she was younger.
Before she became the founder of Rise Tribe, a non-profit focused on empowering the next generation of Filipino-Canadian youth, Albino dreamed of working in sports. “Growing up, especially in the Filipino community, sports was such a big part of how we, as a culture, stuck together,” said the Mississauga, Ont. native. “My brother played sports, so I always looked up to him and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Albino only started to re-think her plans to work in sports after completing a high school project that required researching people who had her dream job. “After I did the project, it was very clear that only white men worked in sports, so I removed myself from ever thinking that that was something I could accomplish,” she explained. “If I had just seen [Filipino-Canadian sportscaster] Hazel Mae when I was 14 years old, I think that would have made all the difference.”
Despite the gender disparities and lack of diversity in sports, Albino didn’t give up on her dream. In her late 20s, she finally landed her dream role at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) in Toronto. She then channeled her experiences into the creation of Rise Tribe with the goal of reconstructing a more positive image of what it means to be Filipino in Canada.
Throughout her career, Albino has broken stereotypes of what it means to be a Filipino woman. On top of working in the sports industry, she also co-founded Makeway, a Toronto sneaker and streetwear boutique created for women, by women.
Below, Albino speaks to The RepresentASIAN Project about how her mom inspired her unconventional career and how Rise Tribe is redefining what it means to be Filipino-Canadian.
On choosing a non-stereotypical career
[My brother] was my first inspiration for why I wanted to play sports, but also my mom. My mom is a massive sports fan. You would never expect a small, Asian woman to be into sports, but I remember she would often go to Blue Jays games back when they were at [the Canadian National Exhibition Stadium]. She would also always clip newspapers any time a big sports thing happened. I still have the Vinsanity Toronto Star cover. Obviously with my brother playing sports, that was a big thing for me, but lowkey my mom was the one who was really driving the female in sports storyline that I didn’t recognize until later. Collectively, the two of them really hit home for me that sports was always going to be part of my life.
On dealing with imposter syndrome in a majority white, male-dominated field
I’m not at MLSE anymore, but that was a huge part of my life. Working in sports as a Filipino woman was difficult. At first, I had a hard time feeling like I fit in. Imposter syndrome was something I really felt wholeheartedly even though I didn’t know the word for it. I just didn’t feel like I belonged. I’d say 90 per cent of the people around me were white males and I had to go with their flow versus them going with my flow.
The first year or two is when I really had that imposter syndrome, but the more I spoke up, the more I realized that my voice was very different from everyone else’s and my lived experiences and how I perceived things were so diverse. I was a child of immigrant parents and I played basketball in a rec league of mostly all children of immigrants or immigrants. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and it was very scrappy. So my experiences with sports were very, very different [from my colleagues].
My lived experiences really tapped into the majority of the Raptors fan base, which are majority children of immigrants or visible minorities. I found the more I leaned into that, the more people started taking me seriously. When I would bring things up in meetings, the response was, “I would never have thought of that” or “I would never think of it that way.” That’s why I think diversity and inclusion is such an important piece of corporations [and] I think that’s what really ended up helping me.
“The first year or two [of working at MLSE] is when I really had that imposter syndrome, but the more I spoke up, the more I realized that my voice was very different from everyone else’s and my lived experiences and how I perceived things were so diverse.”
On redefining what it means to be Filipino-Canadian
For me, being Filipino-Canadian is still something that’s evolving. For example, being Filipino and being Canadian, you’re almost fighting between two worlds because you’re not Filipino enough and you’re not Canadian enough. I’m sure that’s very similar to many children of immigrants or anybody in the diaspora. So I think for me, being Filipino-Canadian is to be evolving and to still be learning.
With Rise Tribe, I’m just trying to portray that [Filipino-Canadian youth] don’t need to do the traditional roles found in Filipino culture. There’s nothing wrong with being a nurse or a caregiver, but there’s so many other lanes we can go into that we really haven’t opened up to yet.
I feel so fortunate to be in the role I’m in and to have had three of my dream jobs — [working for MLSE, working with Nike as a client, and opening up a sneaker store for women]. I would love for the younger generation to feel like they’re living in the path that they always wanted, too.
“For me, being Filipino-Canadian is still something that’s evolving. For example, being Filipino and being Canadian, you’re almost fighting between two worlds because you’re not Filipino enough and you’re not Canadian enough. I’m sure that’s very similar to many children of immigrants or anybody in the diaspora. So I think for me, being Filipino-Canadian is to be evolving and to still be learning.”
On the impact Rise Tribe has had on the Filipino community in Canada
There’s so much that I’m proud of. I’m proud of the partnerships we’ve been able to build with organizations like MLSE. With them, we were able to bring back a Filipino Heritage Game to the Toronto Raptors [in 2017] and it was an incredible celebration of our community and how much we love the game. We sold out of our tickets and were able to host an after-event with Jordan Clarkson, who is a half-Filipino player. A bunch of people have wanted to partner with us — like Starbucks, Spotify Canada, Beetroot — because we provide really great representation for Filipinos in Canada and want to push that narrative forward that there are so many amazing Filipinos in this country. We really just want to celebrate them.
The second [thing I’m proudest of] is just being able to actually give people jobs. Through networking, some Filipino-Canadians now have their dream jobs and that’s just on the strength of us being able to connect them with other Filipino-Canadians in the industries they want to work in. And this past year we actually had our first Rise Tribe Academy where we [got a federal government grant] that allowed us to hire four Filipino-Canadians. So we got four people paid work in the pandemic. That was huge for our community.
On learning to celebrate her Filipino culture
I wasn’t always proud to be Filipino. I think that came much later in life. I remember being younger and I didn’t know what being Filipino was. I was maybe in Grade 1 and in my head I thought the Philippines was just another city in Toronto.
For a long time, it didn’t click that I was a different race. I just knew I was different and I didn’t know if I wanted to be different. I remember really wanting my name to be changed. I didn’t know any other Abigails and I knew I looked different from all of my friends, so I thought, “Abigail must be a different name.” I knew this one white girl named Amanda and I was like, “Maybe I’ll just change my name to Amanda,” as if that was going to help me be more like them, which is actually hilarious now that I think about it.
Today, I’m so proud to be Filipino-Canadian. There’s so much I’m still learning, like the fact that we have our own characters. At one point, it wasn’t A, B, C, D, E, F, G; we had characters with different sounds. I’m also learning that there are some words in Tagalog that just don’t exist in English. There’s so much learning that I’m going through, especially when meeting so many other Filipino-Canadians. So much of the storytelling just needs to get passed down and if we don’t talk about our culture, we lose a lot of it and we miss a lot of really cool pieces of it.
On advice for Filipino youth wanting to choose unconventional careers
My parents travelled across the world to be here [in Canada]. They came to a country where they didn’t really have anything lined up for them and they had to start from scratch. So they wanted me to do something risk averse because they risked so much to be here.
Most Asian parents have travelled across the world and there’s this guilt associated with doing things your parents don’t agree with. But what I always say to younger kids who might be dealing with the same challenge is: your parents didn’t come all the way over here for you to not be yourself and for you to not live your passions or explore a world that they didn’t have the opportunity to explore. So don’t let that guilt get to you because they’re happy if you’re happy. You might not feel like that, but they definitely are.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.