CJBy Brenda Velasquez, Asian Avenue magazine

Travel opens minds. For 21-year-old C.J. de Dios, one unforgettable visit to his family’s homeland in the summer of 2010 broadened his cultural identity and inspired him to cultivate his roots.

A University of Denver senior studying International Business with a minor in Japanese and a knack for marketing and social media, de Dios has demonstrated his proactive nature by fulfilling three internships—for multinational food conglomerate Mondelēz, the International Music Festival Conference and currently, Northwestern Mutual—and taking on leadership roles such as President of the DU Asian Student Alliance.

“Ever since freshman year, I’ve been a part of the ASA officer team,” recounts de Dios. “I was put to work immediately marketing events on social media, reserving spaces, contracting performers, and even facilitating discussions on my own. Being a part of ASA has greatly defined my college career; I owe a lot of gratitude to the organization.”

“The members and I want to put 110% effort into our events, our community service, and our advocacy for social justice and equality in the Asian-American community.”

After studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan last fall, de Dios boarded a direct flight to the homeland, an endearing term he uses to describe his parents’ home province of Pampanga, Philippines.

His parents arrived in the U.S. over 25 years ago, though de Dios’ earliest relatives have resided in Denver since the 70s. A native of Denver himself, de Dios grew up in a predominantly Caucasian and African-American community, lacking strong connection to his Filipino roots.

“My heritage as a Filipino American is everything to me but it was something I didn’t fully acknowledge until I graduated from high school and took my third trip to the Philippines,” shares de Dios, who had only previously visited Pampanga as a small child. While this was not his first visit, it was his first time visiting alone.

“Ever since this trip, I’ve embraced my heritage like no other. I’ll take any opportunity to express my love for being Filipino. I want nothing but to learn more and more about the place my family comes from.”

The trip not only catalyzed de Dios’ burning Filipino pride but also opened his eyes to the struggles his family, and others like them, have endured.

“I definitely look up to my family members,” says de Dios. “Both my mom and my dad, along with my uncles, aunts, and grandparents lived through war and dictatorships but they persevered through it all and worked their tails off to give the next generation a better life.”

de Dios with his family in Pampanga, Philippines
de Dios with his family in Pampanga, Philippines

As the only child in the household, which includes his parents and uncle, de Dios looks toward the future with a deep sense of familial duty.

“My family came to America with the intent of supporting my family back home; my parents send a good chunk of their yearly income to my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other people who need help, just so they can at least get the resources they need.”

“I will have to assume the role my parents have once I become older, but how am I supposed to provide for my family if I don’t even know them? This is why I need to catch up with my heritage. I need to assimilate myself into the culture; I need to know my family’s needs.”

While cultivating his emergent cultural pride, de Dios remains humble in his naivety, open to life’s possibilities and seeking new experiences to broaden his perception.

“I’m still learning about the world around me and what it has to offer. But from now on, I am no longer just an American. I want to be able to say I am a true Asian-American: one that can achieve anything in this society while still being in touch with his heritage back home, one that can represent more than just one flag in his life.”

Rising Star: C.J. de Dios

School: University of Denver
Hometown: Denver, CO
Involvements: President of ASA, DU Latin Dance Club, Marketing Intern for Northwestern Mutual, Excelling Leaders Institute Peer Leader
Quote you live by: “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it, and live the phrase ‘sky’s the limit’.” -The Notorious B.I.G.
C.J. in three words: Positive, Dedicated, Human
Hobbies/interests: Hip-Hop Music, Food, Sports, Latin Dancing, Photography
Dream job: Food critic that travels the world or owner of a sports team