Connections that help us answer: Who am I?

Meet the alumnus who illustrated this issue of the Waterloo Magazine

biancaAt the height of last year’s isolation, I became inseparable from home – its physical boundaries, the echoes of family homes past and the memories and interactions that our homes filter.

I became fixated on the family roots that formed my foundations, and the connections that those roots transmit to the outside world. Connections are what got my parents through the first, relentlessly hard years of our immigration arc.

For a time after we moved in 2000, our only “connection” was a sole Filipino buddy at church: an unlikely fourth cousin; a friend of a friend of a friend in a foreign place.

Uprooting our entire lives in Indonesia and forging new connections in Canada meant survival. Now, this is part of my disposition: I learned to find the lowest common denominator, listen to a life story, be a caring friend. I understood that if I remained open enough, anyone could offer common ground for connections to propagate.

I sometimes wonder if some of those early family friends enmeshed in our lives weren’t just circumstantial contacts of convenience. There is a certain kindness in that convenience.

What people don’t often tell you about not belonging to one place, is the ease of movement that you get in return. I have made friends in unexpected places, at the crossings of coincidence – where four languages met in a Venn diagram of chance. In 2017, I met my soon-to-be best friend sitting in the same classroom on exchange in Prague. We worked in Mexico City together a couple of years later. While interning in Manhattan, I matched with someone on a dating app, who wound up later sharing a platonic pasta dinner with me when I studied abroad in Rome.

The loss of my global “network”

One of the strangest paradigm shifts I faced, at the onset of the pandemic, was the loss of this global “network” that encompasses family, family friends, friends from co-op terms, parties and the internet.

I always knew that this matrix of connections was intangible, but the isolation defining 2020 cast a layer of incredulity over the thought of ever re-enacting the magic of these encounters.

I began looking inward to the domestic, to family and to the question: Who am I?

I was also just beginning to root myself in Toronto, having just completed my undergrad. I was growing up and only beginning to learn what things like “sustainable” and “long-term” meant, finding myself, after five peripatetic years, grounded in an apartment on Dufferin Street and St. Clair Avenue.

Time passed and I stayed in place, at home. The friendships I did have locally became stronger and more intimate. I began looking inward to the domestic, to family and to the question: Who am I?

I started work on a research project about my dad’s ancestral house in provincial Philippines. This revealed a rich family history, and opened up new avenues for me to share a story which has deepened my connection to “home” in its many diasporic forms.

I regret that some of the undiscerning naïveté of my childhood connections has faded – but to create work that offers a moment to contemplate our very particular and personal synchronicities ­­– has always been a dream of mine. 

bianca illustrated

Bianca Weeko Martin created the illustrations for this issue of the Waterloo Magazine. She is a designer, writer, and passionate practitioner of the arts and the internet. She studied architecture at the University of Waterloo, and is an inaugural Art Gallery of Ontario Emerging Artist Researcher. Her research is focused on immigration, family, domestic space and urban life.