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Empowerment (Part II)
Empowerment III


Community Organizing and Political Empowerment
in the Filipino American Community (Part II)


by Mark Pulido

A Personal Investigation into the Filipino American Communities
of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington DC

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CHICAGO

PROFILE. The greater Chicagoland area is home to one of the oldest, yet often overlooked, Filipino American communities in America. When some of the earliest Filipinos came to America during the first decades of this century, many came as students (pensionados) to eventually return to positions in government and business back in the Philippines. Many of these pioneers made their way back home but others stayed, whether out of choice or due to unfulfilled dreams, and established the beginnings of what is today the Filipino American community of Chicago.

After U.S. immigration policies were relaxed in 1965, strong preferences were given to certain professions. Chicago saw a need for trained nurses and other medical professionals, consequently the Filipino American community today is predominantly middle class and quite professionally focused, a direct result of the pattern of student and professional migration to the Midwest from the Philippines.


The Filipino community is primarily situated on the Northside of the City of Chicago with enclaves throughout the surrounding suburbs such as Downers Grove, Glendale Heights, Schaumburg, Skokie, and Lincolnwood. The community on the Northside includes many of the local restaurants, small businesses, and the Rizal Center--a focal point for the community.

OBSERVATIONS. My observations of the Filipino American community in the Chicagoland area focus primarily on four particular organizations: Filipino Civil Rights Advocates (FilCRA), Chicago Chapter; Filipino Youth Council (FYC); the Midwestern Association of Filipino Americans (MAFA); the Society of Filipino American Young Professionals (SFAYP).


Other observations include the Democratic National Convention and activities related to Election '96.

*Laying the Foundation. The Chicago chapter of the national civil rights organization FilCRA is in its early development stage and promises to be a focusing element for some of the more progressive community activists in the Chicago metropolitan area. Jerry Clarito, representative to the Interim National Council (INC), and his wife, Flor Clarito have both made strides in the community to give the youth of the Filipino American community a voice and vehicle to address their issues and concerns. The Filipino Youth Council (FYC) is a council of high school student leaders that represent Filipino and Asian American high school organizations throughout Chicago. Another FilCRA member Theresa Castillo, a recent graduate from The University of Chicago who works as a crisis intervention counselor at a social service agency, is currently coordinating a project through Imagine Chicago for Filipino youth--The First Annual Filipino Youth Celebration, a day long conference by and for high school students. The hope is that this effort will bring attention to youth issues and the need for leadership development among Filipino youth and to lay the foundation for the formation of a formal Filipino American youth social services agency.

*Uniting the Midwest. The Midwestern Association of Filipino Americans (MAFA), a network of collegiate Filipino organizations, brought close to two hundred students from several Midwestern states to their second annual conference at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. I had the opportunity to present a workshop on student activism on campus and organizing in the community to introduce to young Filipinos in the Midwest the opportunities that already exist in the Chicago area, as well as share ideas from other parts of the nation. The level of interest and energy was very promising and indicates the potential for MAFA to continue to unite and inspire Filipinos throughout the Midwest to action.


*Bridging the Generation Gap. The Society of Filipino American Young Professionals (SFAYP) was created a year ago to establish a united and influential constituency group that will support community activities, enterprises and organizations committed to the betterment of Filipino Americans, Asian Americans and the greater community at large. The Society hopes to serve as a resource of opportunities and provide role models for the future generation of Filipino Americans. Arnez Nisperos, Co-chair of the Student Relations Committee of the Society, presented a workshop with me at the MAFA conference to discuss options for college students after graduation to serve the community. Further, the Society made a significant contribution to developing the political awareness and involvement of Filipino Americans during the convention and election. Roxanne Volkmann, Vice President of the Society, and members Mary Joy Tapalla and Gerry Granada coordinated a community forum on political issues facing the community, which featured a panel of political leaders from the community. The actions of the Society help to bridge the immigrant generation with the American-born generation in the high schools and colleges. The Society adds a unique dimension to community organizing efforts in Chicago.


*Entering the National Political Scene. The 1996 U.S. Presidential Election proved to be a key opportunity for Filipino Americans across the nation to engage in the political process. Whether long-time political activists or newcomers to politics in general, the '96 election gave Filipino Americans the chance to learn important lessons from the experience. In Chicago, the Democratic National Convention brought an extra dimension to the election season. For one week in August, the nation_s Democratic leadership converged on the windy city. Two caucus meetings were convened to bring together the Filipinos Americans in attendance at the DNC. A cross-section of the Filipino American community (across generation and geographic region) was present and contributed to the dialogue. Paula Bagasao, a long-time advocate for the Filipino American community and an appointee in the State Department, helped call together convention delegates, federal appointees, community leaders, young professionals, college and high school students. The dialogue was encouraging to the local Chicago community because it confirmed that leaders from across the nation can act on a national scope.


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LOS ANGELES

PROFILE. The largest concentration of Filipinos outside of the Philippines resides in Los Angeles County. Despite its large presence, the Filipino American community continues to remain an invisible population. This is largely attributed to the diversity and geographic dispersion of the community. The Filipino American community can be found in almost every part of the county, however, distinct community enclaves exist in the following cities and surrounding areas: Downtown LA (Filipinotown), South Bay (Carson, San Pedro, Harbor City, Torrance, Gardena), Southeast LA (Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, Bellflower, Long Beach), San Gabriel Valley (West Covina, Walnut, Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights).

OBSERVATIONS. The brief period I was back in Los Angeles before election day gave me the opportunity to register voters, speak out against Proposition 209, and attend various community events. Here are some of my observations during that period of tremendous activity in the community.

*Voter Involvement Project. FILVOTE-the Filipino American voter involvement project, sponsored through the Filipino American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI), with the consultation of Royal Morales and Susan Maquindang, was successful in registering thousands of new Filipino voters. The strategy to target newly naturalized citizens at the mass-swearing-in ceremonies at the Los Angeles Convention Center proved to be highly successful. Peping Baclig of the Filipino Veterans was instrumental in conducting this feat. My contribution to the effort was to help register voters in my hometown area of Cerritos. In addition to registering voters in my own neighborhoods, I took the opportunity to apply the same tactics that FilCRA, Washington DC used by attending community functions to educate the community about the critical campaign issues. The highlights of getting the word out included the annual Festival of Philippines Arts and Cultures which brought out thousands over an entire weekend in September and speaking on the air with 92.3 "The Beat" FM's popular Street Science show.


*Proposition Mania. With back to back anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative action proposition on the books in California, Filipino Americans are becoming more aware of the anti-people of color sentiment that must be challenged in California and America today. Filipinos are realizing that they can no longer remain ignorant and passive. I had the opportunity to speak with student organizations on the ills of Proposition 209 at UCLA's Pilipino Welcome Reception, California State Long Beach Pilipino American Coalition's first meeting, and California State Northridge Filipino American Student Association's meetings this summer before election day. High School students from Kababayan Alliance also called a special workshop on the critical topic.

*Propagation of Pride. Filipino American clothing lines that cater to the fashion tastes of young Filipino Americans are making an impact in terms of signifying one's pride in their heritage and keeping Filipino dollars in the community. Clothing companies such as Tribal Pinoy and downright pinoy!, took the opportunity to educate their clientele on current issues and Filipino history. Disseminating information along with their products, these efforts are combining entrepreneurship and activism.

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