We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalie “Noodle” Ricasa Bagaporo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natalie “Noodle”, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I recently came across a quoted tweet response to the question “What is your Dream Job?” The person explained that they do not dream to work, and this resonated with me on a deep level. I’ve heard this sentiment before in conversations with mentors, friends, and siblings – we don’t live to work. While we all put in work to live, many of us live with the privilege to choose work that aligns with personal interest, passion, and preference.
My mentor, Christy Quiogue, once asked me, “In life, there are your j-o-b’s, but are they your j-o-y’s?” It took me a minute to collect myself. This was the first time I was asked to sit down and reflect on how my career felt to me. There was no talk about “logical” progression of positions or the development I felt I might have needed. She was helping me get to the “why” of my career, and while reflecting is something that I enjoy, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by it. Was I ready to understand myself in that regard? And what would that mean for the current make up of my life choices?
I graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2018 with a double Bachelor of Arts in Asian American Studies and Human Biology, Society, and Genetics. The quarter system is comprised of a 10-week instructional period and 1-week finals period. On top of school, students often picked up part-time work, internships, research, extra- and co-curricular, relationships, and more. I was one of those students, and needless to say, UCLA taught me how to fall in line with unhealthy habits of productivity and work output. When I returned home to San Diego, California, I continued to use those systems of operating, and I threw myself into countless local and national non-profit organizing spaces. I even found myself joining Strength In Numbers (SIN), a new dance team in the San Diego scene, and securing a full-time role at San Diego State University (SDSU)! I had a lot of fun, but there are only 24 hours in a day, and I had a finite energy level to work with.
The path I created for myself led me to burnout: emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. For a long time (pre-COVID times), I found myself on autopilot, or sick, or exhausted. But still moving as fast as I could. My friend and kuya (older brother), Jerry Gonzalez, called me in and said, “You operate at an 8/10. You have since you were in undergrad. But most people are moving at a 4/10. And that’s okay.” It was a sobering and humbling experience. I knew that there had to be a change. Lack of balance meant lack of presence, and at the end of the day, if I was unable to experience my family, friends, community, and more, what was the point?
I had a wake up call in fall 2019. I was falling asleep on the drive home from SIN practice, swerving at 80 mph on the 5-S. I opened my eyes to see red and blue lights behind me. Adrenaline brought me back to consciousness as I pulled off and parked along the road. The officers asked me if I had anything to drink, but my answer was, “Honestly, I think I’m just too tired.” I’ve heard tons of stories of people who are seriously injured or even lose their lives in driving accidents. The Universe had given me many signs to stop, but this may have been the most apparent one. I crossed a personal boundary that I also didn’t respect, and it almost cost me a lot.
When COVID-19 hit, it was a huge affirmation and wake up call for me. Everything that I was doing prior to the world shutting down had come to a halt. People were not perceiving me on a daily basis anymore, and the work I did with community and career slowed down. And while this time has been seriously difficult, it forced me to sit down and reflect on my values, what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to balance my life. The idea of balance, in my opinion, has been shaped to encompass perfect harmony, consistency, and equal distribution. Artist and activist Chella Man said, “We do not exist on a spectrum. This implies a binary. We exist on a continuum.” I think of Chella’s words when I think about balance. To me, its flexible, dynamic, ever-changing, and on a continuum. What we need now may be different from yesterday and tomorrow, and we certainly cannot speak to the balance of others when thinking of how to craft our own.
I’ve spent this past year finding and creating the things that bring me joy in life, that fulfill and energize me. In my education, my career, my community, my friends, and my family, I try to understand my values, my needs, my priorities, and my capacity. Mindfulness is something that I need to continue to work on. Its a wonderful skill that’s helped me create and re-shape my understanding of my personal balance. At the ripe age of 24 going on 25, I think about how much things will continue to change. Change is one of the only constants in life, but I’m not worried because I know that the other constant is love. As long as I can center love for myself, love for community, and love for life, that balance will come.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
UCLA taught me many things: I learned that I didn’t want to be a doctor in my first quarter. I learned that there was an entire industry dedicated to learning about my people’s history. I learned that the power of my community extended across both space and time in ways that I couldn’t always see, but could absolutely feel. And I learned that I wanted to work in higher education.
I work at SDSU now, but it took some time and some release for me to arrive here. I’ve had to work through and let go of many past experiences that I lived through as a student, and I’ve had to accept that my role and positionality as a professional staff is different. I had a lot of competing voices and thoughts: Was I good enough? Did I want to stay in higher education because of my involvement in undergrad? What work could I do given the work I did at school? Why do I want to be here?
I passed my 2 year mark in my current full-time position, and I’ve been riding a non-stop rollercoaster with a tremendous learning curve. Not only in the responsibilities of my role, but in the way that I show up in my workplace. One of my most recent breakthroughs came to me in a therapy session. I was talking to my therapist about my communication and relation style, and I described how I’ve seen many different approaches from colleagues all around campus. What I realized was that the imposterism of recently graduating coupled with micro aggressions related to my race and my age fed the self-doubt in my heart. Only recently have I truly understood the systems that be that perpetuate imposterism and how to consistently affirm and center my value. Confidence is part of the expansion I seek in 2021. I’m here to affirm that if this young, queer pinay can do it, you can, too.
But if there’s anything that I want to be remembered for, if there’s any “legacy” that I could leave, it’s that everything I do is for the people and born out of love. I took a Labor & Workplace Studies course at UCLA entitled “Spirituality and Mindfulness in Social Justice and Activism”. This course affirmed my outlook on love and expanded my understanding of how we could integrate it in everything that we do. I believe that love is a strength, and for me, a fundamental value in my “why”, “what” and “how” of life. And I believe that what I contribute to this world, to higher education and in general, must be done to uplift minoritized communities. I know that I am not the only one who feels this calling.
An integral part of my identity is my family’s legacy and the intergenerational resistance capital that they gifted me. Tara J. Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth Model describes six kinds of capital that minoritized individuals have that help them navigate this world. Resistance capital can be described as the inherited history, experience, and tools from previous generations that better position us to act in our time. My parents, Arlie Ricasa and Ed Bagaporo, have community organizing ties to San Diego and to UCLA. At UCLA, SP was the organization that they met in, that they served as Presidents in, and that they found their forever friends in. I joined the same organization, served as President, and had access to community across generations. In San Diego, the Ricasa family’s community organization legacy spans back to my Lola Tonia and my Lolo Siso. Their children of ten took from them the lessons of faith, family, and education, and gifted them to my generation. I’m fueled my this legacy of intergenerational community and love to continue paying it forward.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I was born and raised in South County! Bonita is my hometown, and I’m currently located south-west by San Ysidro. I will never live down my San Diego Pride. 619 ’til the end of time! So if you’re ever in America’s Finest City, you’ll have to visit some of these places:
Let’s talk food. My must-go, first time places are Tacos El Gordo (for their Campechana Fries), The Friendly (for their Dirty Flat Top Cheeseburger), and Zarlito’s in National City (who doesn’t love Filipino breakfast?). There is no end to the food that you’ll find in San Diego, but these are some that I would recommend. And to my coffee lovers, there’s Mixed Grounds in Barrio Logan and Mostra in Mira Mesa! Support business owners of color!
Another thing that I love about San Diego is that there are many places you can experience that are also free of charge! If you enjoy walking and taking in the scenery, you’ll definitely enjoy checking out Seaport Village, Balboa Park, Coronado Island, and Barrio Logan. I encourage that you go deeper and learn the history of each location because the history in the city is rich.
Fun fact: There are a ton of parks in San Diego perfect for picnics and outings! Kate Sessions Park is absolutely beautiful! But I promise, there’s no end to places that you can hangout and enjoy nature and the company of loved ones. And if you’re looking for a more entertaining park, I highly recommend the San Diego Zoo. Our zoo is nationally recognized and has been a personal favorite of mine since I was young.
It’s hard not to fall in love with San Diego. There’s just about anything 20-30 minutes from any given location! Beaches, mountains, deserts, hiking, events, and more. Not to mention our Padres and the stadium in downtown. Show us some love!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I love this question. After presenting at the Association for Asian American Studies 2021 Virtual Conference, my dear friend, Reuben Deleon, gifted me with the phrase, “Give flowers where flowers are due.” Gratitude and acknowledgment are practices that come to me with ease. Everything that I am is because of the love, energy, and investment of the people and spaces I have in my life. Living this truth requires uplifting those who have helped me and those who will come after me.
There is a traditional Filipino value that embodies my feelings around mentorship, support, love, and encouragement. It’s called “Kapwa” which loosely translates to “I am because You are.” This value discusses the importance of recognizing the connection of divine humanity that we all share, and the responsibility we have in supporting others. I was introduced to this value during my time with Samahang Pilipino (SP) at UCLA, and my first flowers go to my undergrad Pilipinx American community. As a freshman, I was hesitant to join the organization because I felt distanced from my cultural identity. By the end of my time at UCLA, I had gained lifelong best friends, mentors, and my current partner. My leadership experience has become my foundation for showing up in the workplace, in the San Diego community, and in my personal relationships.
The second group receiving flowers is UniPro San Diego, a national non-profit with several local chapters across the country dedicated to the empowerment and development of young Fil-Ams across the country. UniPro San Diego was the first community organization that I joined out of undergrad, and I’ve been an active member since 2018. I was able to unlearn a lot of my organizing trauma by just being in UniPro and learning that there could be a different way to organize. I now have the huge privilege of serving as the President and Internship Director for UniPro San Diego.
My journey in UniPro San Diego and in-post grad in general required a lot of healing. I want to give flowers to RISE San Diego for throwing me into an eye-opening and transformative experience. I served as a 2019 Fellow, and I spent a year doing the “inner work” in order to mindful of how I show up in the communities that I serve. RISE is a beautiful combination of leadership and spirituality education in action. Above all, it was done with love for the people.
I’ve taken these experiences with me to SDSU as a full-time employee and a second year in the Post-secondary Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Student Affairs Master of Arts program. I have to give flowers to my cohort mates who have created such a welcoming and supportive environment in the world of online graduate school. They have embraced and encouraged me to share my voice and the lessons I’ve learned during my time in community, and I am so grateful that they demand my most authentic self.
Lastly, I have to give flowers to my family, both blood and chosen, for seeing me through all of my life happenings and loving me no matter the outcome. My gratitude for them extends beyond words; everything I do is also for them.