Spreading kindness, one country at a time with Felipe Nagata

Edited by Carol Eugene Park

University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union’s openly queer Latino president, the first person from his region to leave the country for higher education, a person whose love for student activism, and a thirst for better education brought him to Toronto, Felipe Nagata’s story started in Castilho, a small city in Brazil. 

“My family is my everything,” Felipe says talking about his roots and his love for Brazil, his home. “Brazil is one of my all-time favorite places, it's home, and it's where I grew up. Family, music, and my community. Three things that I can’t live without.”

His love for activism and helping others goes back to his childhood. “When I was in the American International School in Mozambique, I was part of the Rhino Conservation Program. We sent resolutions to the UN and they replied to us, thanking us for our contributions. There was also the Service Learning Committee, which was a student run community service. We did a lot of work for orphanages, and helped the deaf school project. There was only one school for deaf children in Mozambique, and we helped with the funds. Once my group and I went to a conference that Mandela was addressing. It was a dream come true.”

Felipe moved to Toronto after getting selected into University of Toronto. Currently working on his Political Science degree, Felipe struggled a lot in his first year.

“First of all, I hated the winter. I still am not used to it, like half of the population,” Felipe laughs.

Talking about the different approach to mental health in Brazil, and Toronto, Felipe says that people in Brazil did not understand problem of mental health accurately. “Back in Brazil, mental health is considered as a person not focusing on their life, and partying too much. Back home, it’s like if you are slow, take 15 minutes more on our test. But here, people focus on these things, and you can try Adderall, or yoga, or something that suits you.”

Being a queer, Latino kid, Toronto gave him immense freedom to express his identity. “Brazil is a nice community, it’s my home, but Toronto helped me be proud of who I am. But the problem is that because Pride is often considered a party, a lot of other movements are often sidelined, LGBTQ people of colour sometimes find it hard to figure out a place for themselves, Black Lives Matter is too not generously welcomed. I mean, for sure, party as much as you want. Celebrate who you are, but don’t forget why you are there, and don’t forget the people whose sacrifices allowed this kind of freedom.”

Felipe lived on residence for the first year, and then moved out. Living on his own helped him grow into a mature, and responsible person. But homesickness still troubled him. “Homesickness is something I deal with every day, even today. I listen to carnival music, which is like our main thing. And just go dancing. We have some Brazilian clubs downtown, so that’s something I like to go to with my friends. Speaking Portuguese, my language, also helps.” Felipe smiles, reminiscing his old days when he was figuring his life out, and unsure of how Toronto community would treat him.

For finding the right members for his OneUTM party, Felipe choose people he had already worked with, or people he knew had a lot of experience working with UTMSU. “I choose people that I was close with because we will end up working 50 hours a week sometimes, and I need people who would be prepared to tackle all problems together.”

Describing the goals of OneUTM, Felipe said their focus would be improving the printing services, board game café, and the UTMSU mobile app, which they have planned to achieve before next term starts in Fall 2018. Felipe and his team’s long-term goals include working on cheaper education. “I am an international student, and I know it’s hard for everybody, for people like me especially. Also, the UPass. We have plans to expand it to more cities in the GTA. This was also the plan of many previous presidents, and my team and I will be picking up the discussions where the last student union left and go on from that.”

Felipe understands the responsibilities he will have, the innumerable crisis situations he will eventually tackle, and the conflicts he will have to resolve. “With my job, there will be people hating me, for sure, that’s the part of it. But I will try to ignore the hate. And I will try to focus more on the people who bring some positivity, and constructive criticism into my life, and to the Union. I will be spokesperson, I will be taking all the heat for everything gone wrong. And maybe I’ll cry in the shower.” Felipe laughed. “But I will be fine because I have a team of brilliant people who will never let me down.”

Felipe wants to continue working for the people, leaving marks of kindness all over the world. “Kindness is nice,” he says with a smile. “I definitely want to keep working as an activist. I don’t know if it will be here, in Canada. I feel like I will go back to Brazil for some time, just to relax with my family, and then see how it goes for me. Should I come back to work in Canada, or go someplace else? I’ll see. I just want to spread kindness, and do things that make me happy, and make people happy too.”