AAPI Heritage Month: Gratitude, perseverance & perspective: How Peyton Omania is influenced by his Filipino heritage
by Ellen Paddock, USA Wrestling
Photo by Kadir Caliskan, UWW
Peyton Omania didn’t know the full story detailing his great grandparent’s move to the United States from the Philippines until recent years when he read a book published by his uncle that unveiled the incredible journey.
Omania, an NCAA qualifier for Michigan State, a two-time U23 National champion and 2019 Junior World bronze medalist, always took pride in his heritage, but that pride intensified as he learned more about his family history. As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Omania shares this story.
“It was during World War II, the U.S. was recruiting in the Philippines, and my great grandpa was engaged to my great grandma, Fausta Ramil, who I call “Lola,” Omania said.
Omania’s Great Grandfather Quintin Ramil Sr. learned of opportunities to enlist in the U.S. Navy. So, he took a chance on what could be a better life for his family. The journey to America, though, was not typical.
“He got a water buffalo, and he rode it from his village to Manila, the big city where he was going to get on an airplane or a boat. He was going to join the Navy in Chicago,” Omania said.
The journey from Omania’s great grandfather’s village of Paniqui to Manila is nearly 88 miles long. Today, you can visit a statue of a water buffalo in the city of Manila. Omania’s family isn’t sure if the statue depicts the same water buffalo that Great Grandfather Ramil rode but has a reason to speculate that it does.
“When he got to Manilla, he just released the water buffalo into the wild and people were like, ‘What is this water buffalo just doing out here?’ And it became this iconic thing and now when you go back, there's a statue of a water buffalo and we think that it's his,” Omania said.
After Great Grandfather Ramil enlisted in the Navy, he was later stationed back in the Philippines, so he and Omania’s Great Grandmother Fausta, moved to Manila from America. As World War II ensued, life in the Philippines grew more dangerous.
“The day that Pearl Harbor happened, they also were bombing in the Philippines,” Omania said. “That day Great Grandpa Ramil coincidentally went on his boat, and when he saw the bombs dropping, he assumed his whole family died, so he drove the boat to Australia. He tried to get in contact with them to see if they survived, but he couldn't.”
Fortunately, Omania’s Great Grandma Fausta and the children survived the attack and moved back to their home village. At that time, she too thought that Great Grandpa Ramil did not make it.
“They also assumed that he (Great Grandpa Ramil) had died for years,” Omania said.
However, after a few years, Omania’s grandparents were miraculously reunited in California, where they ended up building a life with their eight children. Omania’s Great Grandma Fausta, or “Lola,” lived until 100 years old and passed away when he was around 10 years old. Although Omania remembers hearing stories growing up, learning more about his Filipino heritage recently has made him even more grateful for his family.
“My family is a huge part of my life and I want people to know this story,” Omania said. “It just makes me really thankful to have a big, loving family. Things happen for a reason, and we are just lucky to be here,” Omania said.
For Omania, this mindset of gratitude translates into wrestling and helps him keep wins and losses in perspective.
“It's a reminder that wrestling is not the most important thing in the grand scheme of things,” Omania said.
Omania says his grandmother, who is currently back home in California, loves watching him wrestle and is the first to yell and scream to cheer him on. He recalls one lesson she taught him when he was about 12 years old that he applies to wrestling and life.
“I remember my grandma told me to put this giant, I'm telling you, it was a giant queen or king size air bed into this little twin size air bed bag,” Omania said. “I said, ‘Grandma, it’s not going to work,” and that I couldn’t do anymore.”
Omania’s grandma proceeded to sit for 20 minutes “tucking and stuffing” the air mattress into the bag.
“I kept trying to help, like, ‘Grandma, let me get the rest,’ but she said, ‘No, I’ll finish it,’” Omania said. “And then, she did it and looked at me, she’s like four foot nine on a good day, and she says, ‘What does this show you? If there is a will, there is a way.’ Anytime she told me to do something ever since then, I made sure to make it happen.”
Additionally, Omania says his family has instilled the values of loyalty, integrity and perseverance in him.
“One of the biggest things that I learned from my family is loyalty—really buying into those around you and those who believe in you. When you're going to do something, you buy in, you stick to the plan, you stick to the process, and you don’t waver when things go don't go your way,” Omania said.
Omania is going to be a junior at Michigan State University. He will be training and running clinics in Michigan over the summer. The move to the Midwest, though, has him missing the flavors of home in Concord, Calif.
“I miss anything that my grandma makes or anything that's in my grandma's house,” Omania said. “Like waking up and having fried rice, chicken musubi, chicken adobo and loco moco. And lumpia, it’s like a Filipino spring roll.”
Omania’s family regularly visits the Philippines, and when he graduates from Michigan State, Omania plans to visit for the first time with his grandpa. He says he looks up to Manny Pacquiao, a professional boxer who is currently a senator in the Philippines.
“(He’s) so selfless. Everything's for the people. He’s really trying to change the Philippines and make the Philippines a better place politically. So, I really look up to him.”
Today, Omania and his family members are extremely close and celebrate their heritage by spending quality time together.
“There's just so many of us and nobody ever shows up by themselves. It's just a party and we're really loud and we're always laughing. It's just a real big, good time. Everybody’s best friends and it's just really special. My family is definitely a special family,” Omania said.
Up next for Omania is a much needed break this summer. The accomplished Greco-Roman wrestler plans to focus all his energy on Folkstyle with his goal of becoming an All-American for Michigan State in mind.