Theresa Ambat is a queer Catholic Filipina American who graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle, in spring 2020 with a degree in computer music and a minor in digital arts and experimental media. She produces music and can be found on her personal website, her Instagram, and all streaming platforms, listed in the PLU and UW participant biography page.
Where are you from?
Home is a place where you are at peace. With yourself. Home consists of other people to share in community with. To laugh, to be yourself, to share. Home isn’t necessarily a physical space, though it can be. Home has more to do with the people that are there and experiences shared.
Warmth is to be loved and seen. An emotional embrace, to be at peace and secure, surrounded by people who love you.
Why did you choose your major?
Creating new things! I’m always thinking about new projects and plans to start. I really like big, creative projects like writing an album, creating a film/YouTube channel, starting a podcast. I love everything about creating a mission and executing it.
A small animal, or a small child. I’m very timid and shy in new situations, but I also have a great love for people even if I don’t know them. Once I’ve broken out of my shell, I’d say I’m a very goofy person who deeply cares for people around her.
Why did you go to college?
SEARCH talk, student testimony, getting to know other queer Catholics. Just any moment where I’ve been able to help others grow closer to God in sharing my testimony about being a queer Catholic. Especially my SEARCH talk, and helping to start growing a queer Catholic community/culture striving for holiness.
Stay close to the Lord. This is not an easy cross to bear, and you will come across resistance from both sides. There will be lots of grief, confusion, and anger, but there’s also incredible joy, realization, and fulfillment. The world cannot satisfy your desires, only God can. Living with conservative parents or loved ones may be difficult, but they don’t determine your identity.
Theresa: See, I put the “Where are you from?” question at the top and as I said, I’m from Seattle, my parents are from the Philippines. I was actually born in Japan, but we moved here a while ago, so I’ve been living in Washington for most of my life.
I felt like that was a good lead into, “What is home?” I don’t think home is, like, a physical place. I think it has more to do with the people and experiences that you have in the home, like home could be a community or a city (which I guess are both places). But I don’t think of home as, like, a house or a building. It’s just a place where you feel like you’re at peace with yourself, and it consists of other people who help you to be more yourself and [help you] feel more confident in yourself. I associate a lot of laughter with home, just because there’s a sense of vulnerability there, but also joy.
Which leads a little bit into warmth. “What is warmth?” I felt that warmth is this idea of being loved and seen and this emotional embrace (if you think of it in the physical context). But just thinking about it emotionally: to be surrounded and embraced by people who love you, and just to be at peace with yourself.
And then I followed that with the major question.
But yeah, I just said, I trust my major, computer music, because I felt that God wasn’t going to let me choose anything else and I just felt this tug toward music, and I just couldn’t say no to it.
So, “Something that gets you excited.” Music! Or I guess I just really like creating new things. I love thinking of new, big projects, and especially projects that kind of have a deeper purpose. One project that came to mind was my most recent—well, my only album that was not very recent. It was released in 2019, but it’s called Midnight in the Chapel. And it took me three years to make that album but a lot of prayer and intentionality and also just having to live life went into that project. And I think I really like big projects that take a lot of time and intentionality and getting to execute those things—like making an album or creating a film. (I’ve started thinking about making a YouTube channel, but I don’t know, we’ll see. It seems really hard.) I just really like having a mission and then creating something to fulfill that mission.
A metaphor for myself. I think of myself very much as, like, a small animal or a child. [Laughs] I’m a very shy and timid person in new situations. But I hold a really great love for people, even if I don’t know them. And sometimes I’m just too shy to kind of express that but I just have a great love for people. And I think once I’ve broken out of my shell, then I’m a lot more, I guess, goofy and kind of . . . more social. I really love people, but I’m just really shy, so I described myself as a small animal.
And then, “Why did I go to college?”
I went to college because I didn’t think there was any other option. I was just like, “This is just the thing you do,” like, what else would I do? You know, I go to college to get an education, to get a job, to make money. And that’s just how it works in America. So, that was why.
And then, “Describe a memory or an event or an image that exemplifies being a queer Filipina Catholic.”
I have a lot of different moments, but I tied them all together. I said one was my SEARCH retreat talk, and [the other was] my student testimony where I explained in both of those talks the experience of being a queer Catholic. But also getting to know other queer Catholics and, you know, getting dinner with them and growing in friendship with them. And I think ultimately just being able to help others and serve other people by sharing my testimony as a queer Catholic. I think, going back to that core value of being a Filipino is, like, community and sharing with one another. And so, getting to share my story with other people has actually been really fruitful. It’s pretty amazing, the way that God has worked in that. And so, I feel like in those moments of my testimonies, or just getting to talk to people who share the same experience, I feel like those really exemplify my identity.
And then, “What advice do you have for any college students who may identify as queer, religious, or Filipino American?”
I think the biggest thing is just staying close to the Lord. So much of me—especially as being somebody who values Church teaching, a lot of me wants to be like, “Make sure you do this and this and this and this,” and kind of being a bit overprotective and kind of overbearing. It’s like, everybody has their own experience and their own journey to live, and I can’t be that person who controls them. That never really helps anyone. And so, I think the biggest thing is to just stay close to the Lord. I think as long as somebody is always trying to strive for the Lord, God is not going to let somebody fall, in whatever way that might mean. Especially with, you know, being Filipino, parents tend to be pretty conservative and they kind of have these prejudices, and that can be really discouraging and that sometimes leads people to not want to be Catholic anymore. But I just really emphasize this idea that the world is not going to satisfy your desires. It just never will. Only God can ultimately fulfill our desires. And to just really rest our identity in Him and not in other things would be my biggest advice—which sounds really general, but just because everybody has their own experience and their own story, I think that just can apply to everyone.
Veronica Anne: Thank you. What was your experience like, thinking about these questions, writing about these questions? Was there anything that surprised you? Anything that you’ve actually been thinking about for a long time?
Theresa: These are really good questions, and I think a lot about my identity as a queer Catholic. That’s something that I reflect on all the time. And so, I think the thing that [the exercise] really made me think more about was my identity as a Filipino American. I felt like I couldn’t really speak much on that as much as I did with being a queer Catholic. But that makes me think a lot about . . . I kind of see these as two identities, two separate identities of “queer Catholic” and “Filipino American.” I haven’t quite figured out how all four of them come together.
Which is something I’d want to think about because, now that I’m thinking about it, I wasn’t super involved in FASA [Filipino American Student Association] at UW, and I always just kind of felt really distant from it. [. . .]
And so, [. . .] now that you ask these questions, I’m really curious to reflect more on how those four aspects of my identity come together rather than just two and two of those things separately. I mean, I always like reflecting and talking about my identity as a queer Catholic, just because they’re seemingly contradictory. And it was always nice to reflect on it, because I feel like this journey has been really beautiful. It’s been hard, but I think—thinking about everything, it’s ultimately been very joyful. And I’m very grateful for that because I know that’s not everybody’s experience.