From hate to love: How The Filipino School founder Tony Olaes found his pride in being Pinoy

The Filipino School founder Tony Olaes shares his journey from hating his Filipino heritage to embracing it, revealing how one transformative visit to the Philippines changed everything.

When you hear about The Filipino School in San Diego, California, you might picture a proud Pinoy waving the flag high. But the founder, Tony Olaes, admits he hasn’t always felt that way. In fact, he once wanted to claim he was from Hawaii.

“I really didn’t like being Filipino. I wasn’t proud to be Filipino. I didn’t have a reason to be proud. I wanted to be Hawaiian because everybody loved Hawaii,” said Tony in a video posted by the “The Filipino Story” on Instagram.

“They didn’t talk about the Philippines. When they did talk about the Philippines, it wasn’t good. Kidnapping, poverty, corruption. Why would I want to be a part of that?” he added.

But everything changed after a life-altering trip to the Philippines. Tony described a paradigm shift within himself as he walked through the slums in the country, feeling the pain and joy of the people.

“I’m the guy who walks in there, who has everything. And I walked out with something more. Instead of me giving them something, they gave me something back. I felt something in my heart. I felt the connection. And it was pure. I felt them. They felt me,” he recalled.

In the end, Tony said he wanted nothing more than to embrace his Filipino roots more than his being an American.

“I went on that trip in the Philippines as an American. I came back as a Filipino. That was the biggest gift that I could ever have. I fell in love with the people. I fell in love with a country that I never knew,” he said.

In 2015, Tony opened The Filipino School to teach Filipino culture, history, and language to second- and third-generation Filipino-Americans, aiming to reconnect them to their heritage.