An extended Bio: Desmond Amani Cabanilla

A feeble attempt at self-expression

Photo by Colton Duke on Unsplash

My life has been built by the perceptions gifted to me by my mom, who I love very deeply as if she were an extension of myself. My name, Desmond, is after the late Desmond Tutu, who fought against the injustices of Apartheid in Africa, not by violence or spite, but through love and humanity. My middle name, Amani — meaning peace in Swahili — is an extension of my first name and the significance of that great figure.

It’s in my name where I find much of my pride, and where the expectations of myself have been tied. One that upon first hearing probably elicits an image that does not match my own appearance but one that I wear with pride. A responsibility ascribed at birth that must be lived up to.

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Born in Berkeley to Rachel Cabanilla, a woman whose respect outnumbers anyone else that I have met, I have always felt as though I must live up not only to her legacy but to my namesake as well. Being a single, 19-year-old mother just recently thrust into a vast world that had not yet been realized, I cannot imagine the fears and doubts that clouded her mind.

At the same age that I am now, the gift of life was thrust upon an unprepared host. A task that must have seemed insurmountable, the fortitude and determination continually displayed by my mother has never ceased to amaze me.

Coming from a family of Filipino migrants, who began as farmworkers in the Imperial Valley (Niland), and worked their way into university, she hardly had the tools to thrive in the complex nature of greater society, and yet she did. I used to wonder why she had not undertaken an abortion, seeing it as a far easier alternative, but I realize now the strength and courage necessary to do what she had done. Not only graduating from Berkeley with a child and a job but continuing on to earn her master’s degree, landing a professional job serving the broken and damaged children of our American school system, her life has been dedicated to healing and persevering.

The Cabanilla way has been impressed upon generations; one of perseverance, hard work, and compassion. Growing up, I felt as if I lived under the looming shadow of my elder relatives, one that I could never grow to fill and supersede. To speak on their achievements and their many talents misses the greater remarkability of my family’s successes and their failures.

In each of the members of my family, you can see a deep history telling of trials and tribulations. Failure marks each step, only to be met by an invigorated response. I feel fortunate not to have been subjected to the same experiences as they had, but feel immensely grateful for the wisdom and knowledge that they have imparted to me.

Photo by Brady Cook on Unsplash

The pages of my life read of someone a lot older than myself. Perhaps it explains why people typically assume that I am much older than I am. While the pages have been filled with many stories of triumph and hardship, my struggle has been in finding constancy.

A wanderer at birth, the question “Where are you from?” always catches me off-guard. Maybe its because I don't know where to start, or maybe its because I don't have an answer myself. I was born in one place, but moved early on, never settling for more than a few years until I landed here in San Diego.

It is here in San Diego that I think I have found my home, and more importantly, have begun to find myself. I learned my love of surfing, my political agitation, my passion for nature, and my passion for life.

To let my roots take hold is where I feel most drawn. No longer a refugee of a greater world, I am now allowed to think about what I want. I may have done a lot, and still have a lot left to do, but I do know that I am tired of restarting my life every few years. To have a place to settle, where I can discover who I am in my emerging adulthood draws me deeper into my love of San Diego.

People close to me who I love very deeply remind me frequently that I am indeed still a very young person with a lot of life to live. I find myself panicking about my future and how I am spending my present as if my mid-life crises had already passed without my recognition.

Perhaps, I am a chronic overthinker with no ability to slow down — which I certainly am — but I am coming to grips with the fact that it is okay to not know what I want to do with my life at 19


I know what my values are, I know what I stand for.

  • To live each day as its own
  • To fall asleep each night knowing that I spent my day in a way that I wanted it to
  • To fill those days with people that I love, and those who love me
  • To spend that time doing things that fulfil me or make those around me happy
  • To chase my voracious love of knowledge
  • To find a way to make myself better in some way, even if that's just brushing my teeth
  • and most importantly, to leave an impact on this Earth that is both lasting and positive

Those who know me personally will probably read this list and roll their eyes.

Yeah, you’re right, I am full of sh*t.

Now I might not live my ideals exactly as I wish I would but cut me some slack, I am a 19-year-old refugee who’s trying damn hard to do so.

Here are some of my interests:

  • Writing/Reading
  • Music
  • Surfing
  • Beach days (put me in the sand and I’ll love you forever)
  • Driving (Sunday cruises and otherwise…)
  • Sunsets
  • Competition (don’t let me get too into it)
  • Cafes and drinking coffee
  • Drawing attention to myself
  • Nature
  • Learning and debating unsuspecting victims
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The past few months have been weird for me, the whole year really. It is incredible how much I have grown and learned in such a short amount of time. It is nice being a little more sure of myself and my place in it, I feel as though I am verging on making the life that I want to be living.

Just as it always were, it seems as though the only person standing in the way is me.

I really hate to end it on such a lame cliche so let me end it with something that my angsty teenage self would appreciate more.

We are born into this life utterly alone and are condemned to leave it just as we came. The contents of your life are defined by the companions you develop and the impacts that you leave on them.

So the next time you think about hurling an insult at the old lady crossing the street, remember that she is the same desolate soul that you are.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together”

-Desmond Tutu



Just chillin out

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