Meet Lilian Ongelungel

Jun 28, 2022

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Taken at one of her art workshops at the Wing Luke Museum.

Lilian Ongelungel knows that fighting for radical change can be an intimidating task, but they refuse to let this deactivate their passion for equity. Her approach to her work as a communicator can be summed up in a quote by activist and author Toni Cade Bambara: “As a cultural worker who belongs to an oppressed people my job is to make revolution irresistible.”

Lilian got her start in nonprofit communications after earning a degree in organizational communication and serving in as a transportation officer in the United States Army. They were drawn to how the missions and values of many nonprofits aligned with their own personal stance on various issues. Their career in communications has connected them to many different communities, including working in education with first-generation college students—work they are particularly passionate about.

“I think that there’s a lot of times where adults can kind of overlook the needs and unique perspectives of youth.” From understanding microaggressions to intersectionality, Lilian admires how students today have more language to identify with, helping them navigate their own experiences.

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon as the daughter of Palauan immigrants, Lilian’s formative years were greatly impacted by a transition from a public school that was mostly people of color to a predominantly white private school. “I feel like that was really the first thing that gave me perspective of oh…OK, there’s lots of different categories of class and race and how they intertwine and intersect,” Lilian reflects.

Lilian’s deep understanding of class and race makes her a natural addition to GHF. When she first learned about the foundation, Lilian was particularly attracted to the foundation’s approach to connecting with communities. She says that she appreciates how the foundation is “really leaving it up to communities to determine what is or what isn’t working.” She also appreciates the “person first” culture within the organization and believes that it’s important to develop deeper relationships to be in order to achieve systems change.

As communications associate, Lilian will be assisting various communications efforts across the foundation and is eager to build ongoing relationships with grantees to ensure that the stories shared truly represent their community. “Being part of nonprofit communications for some years now, I think ethical storytelling is super, super critical to this work.”

A resident of Vancouver, Lilian is also looking forward to expanding her own community of support as a queer woman of color in Washington. “Learning about specifically queer and trans communities of color who are doing really incredible work in the community is something that I really care about.”

Lilian also communicates through art. As an interdisciplinary artist, she works in various mediums, including painting and illustration. She says that art has been where she goes to get a sense of peace. She has also been experimenting with filmmaking and creative writing, staying true to their storyteller roots. Recently, one of their poems was published as part of a literary anthology.

“Being a Pacific Islander, oral tradition is super central to our cultures,” she says. “I think I gravitate to storytelling, because that’s pretty much it. It’s very much a cultural practice.” Karaoke and food also bring Lilian joy and she is always up for trying new food and says one of her favorite ways of expressing her love and care is by asking, “Have you eaten?”

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