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Empowerment (Part II)
Empowerment III


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


by Mark Pulido

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

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II. SUGGESTED ORGANIZING STRATEGIES

The following strategies for community and campus organizing are a few propositions that I have to present from my observations, countless discussions with community activists, and personal reflection on the events of this past summer, in particular, and my involvement over the past several years in general. The ideas presented herein are by all means transferable (not necessarily limited to a particular community) as well as worthy of serious critique. Although this may very well be a case of "easier said than done," I believe that it is more important to at least share the ideas however simple or complex; feasible or unattainable that they may seem. The dialogue is critical; the documentation is key. Finally, in no way do I retain ownership of these ideas, but rather I openly share to actively provoke critical thought on the state of Filipino America.

WASHINGTON DC

*National Leadership Network. Serve as the catalyst and conduit through which national links can be established between Filipino American elected public officials (HI, CA, WA, IL, MD, etc.), appointed public officials (federal government, states, and city departments/commissions) with community leaders to facilitate a national political dialogue (e.g. Congressional Black Caucus, CAPACI, National Association of Latino Elected Officials). This could contribute to the development of a national Filipino American agenda on policies and issues affecting our community. Further, it could provide support for elected leaders, develop leadership, train candidates for elective office and offer technical assistance to political campaigns.

*Connect Campus and Community. Formalize links between the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND) and community-based organizations throughout the East Coast (i.e. FilCRA, PAHF, FANHS, FAHSI). This can provide a direct line of continuity from college to community and provide these organizations with needed people power (read: volunteers, future staff) and a pipeline of renewed energy. Further, it may be more feasible to establish direct relations between individual campus organizations and community groups within the same area.

*Political Empowerment and Leadership Training. Establish national program that offers summer internship opportunities in Washington DC for young Filipino Americans. Students from across the nation can work for community organizations and also be placed in governmental departments, agencies, or congressional offices to experience both grass-roots and mainstream arenas. Students can be matched up with mentors who could be Filipino Americans serving as federal appointees, congressional staffers, or representatives in labor unions, political organizations, etc. Following the lead of the Los Angeles-based SPEL Program (through Search to Involve Pilipino Americans) and CAPACI_s Washington DC summer internships.

*Civil Rights Advocacy. Litigate cases of injustice and discrimination faced by Filipino Americans as a means of civil rights advocacy. Possible issues include: the denial of benefits to Filipino World War II Veterans, affirmative action in higher education and in the workplace, language rights, harassment, hate crimes, etc. Consider the examples of NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

*Political Lobbying Efforts. Coordinate or consolidate existing political action groups into a national Filipino American PAC (Political Action Committee) to lobby and influence policy that affect our community and U.S. relations with the Philippines. Consider the example of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which is one of the most powerful and effective lobbying groups in America today that works to advance the US-Israel relationship.

*Maximize and Mobilize the Filipino American Electorate. Continue the voter registration and education project conducted by FilCRA during the 1996 elections. Expand the effort to other East coast communities like New Jersey and New York. Coordinate efforts with other Filipino American voter involvement projects, like Los Angeles-based FILVOTE, to establish an on-going National Filipino American Voter Participation and Education Project. Consider the model of the highly successful Latino effort, Southwest Voter Registration Project.


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CHICAGO

*Support Filipino High School Youth. Revitalize the Filipino Youth Council (FYC) through currently existing high school Filipino Clubs throughout Chicago. Expand on the original Council to involve Filipino youth from the suburbs (Downers Grove, Glendale Heights, etc.).

*Build Bridges throughout the Midwest. Support and strengthen the new collegiate network Midwestern Association of Filipino Americans (MAFA) and consider establishing regions or clusters of schools (similar to FIND districts) to facilitate localized interaction, support, and activism. This could alleviate the difficulties presented by the great distances over which the Midwestern schools and communities are dispersed (i.e. IL, MI, WI, OH).

*Address the Community's Denial of Youth Problems. Incorporate the offering of Filipino Youth Social Services and programs into the current human services (primarily elderly) offered at the Rizal Center on the Northside. Regardless of socio-economic background, Filipino American youth are not immune to the realities of the urban environment . Even those that reside in Chicago's suburbs are affected by the existence of gang activity, substance abuse, STDs/HIV/AIDS and delinquency. (See examples: SIPA, Los Angeles, CA; Project PEACE, San Jose, CA).


*Combine Efforts with Existing Networks. Approach the organized Filipino sports leagues (basketball, softball, tennis) to conduct voter registration drives (similar to FilCRA strategy in Maryland) as a start. If possible, sponsor youth divisions for high school youth to provide positive outlets and alternatives to delinquency and gang activity.

*Ethnic Studies Now! Support the efforts of students at Northwestern University, University of Illinois, Chicago and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to establish Asian American Studies programs and student centers. The establishment of programs that legitimize the research and teaching of Asian Pacific Americans (including Filipino Americans) at the Academy is fundamental to the overall empowerment of these communities in American society.

Further, ethnic studies potentially compliments community organizing efforts by raising the political consciousness of Filipino American students and encouraging them to give back to their communities. Additionally, support efforts on the East Coast at the University of Maryland, College Park, Columbia University, and at other key institutions that have significant Filipino and Asian American student populations.


However, it is important to emphasize that Filipino Americans must assert their right to representation on equal terms in these new programs and institutions. Filipino Americans must be actively involved in the coordination of the programs (from developing curriculum, hiring faculty, conducting research, and teaching courses, etc.) not just take part in the demonstrations and struggle to create these programs. We need follow-through and institutionalized representation. We can not be just smoke and fire--we must be about substance and results.

*The Missing Link. Develop chapters of Chicago-based SFAYP (Society of Filipino American Young Professionals) throughout the Midwest in neighboring metropolitan cities (Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, etc.) Many young Filipino Americans are working professionals in these areas and they can bridge that gap between the immigrant-parent generation and the American-born youth. Currently, Filipino organizations are practically nonexistent for this age grouping. Further, many of these young professionals may not have had the opportunity to be involved in Filipino organizations back in college, as these associations were less prevalent, than on the West or East coasts, until more recently.


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LOS ANGELES

*The Bayanihan Spirit. Broaden the scope of the concept of "community" and promote a national mindset. Encourage local long-time student and community activists to venture out beyond the Southern California community. Consider sharing experiences, ideas, and resources with Filipino communities out-of-state through leadership exchanges and presenting workshops at conferences (FIND, MAFA, NFAYA, FANHS, FilCRA, etc.) across the nation. Unfortunately, misperceptions persist that the Los Angeles Filipino community conveniently benefits from the large population base and in turn is stingy with resources and support.

*Link College and Youth Networks. Foster supportive (not patronizing) relations between the college student network, Southern California Pilipino American Student Association (SCPASA) and high school youth networks such as Kababayan Alliance in Long Beach/South Bay region and Halo Halo Society in the East San Gabriel Valley area.

*Unite for a National Filipino Youth Movement. Address the potential for a national youth network/dialogue. Communicate with others across the nation about the possibility of pooling resources and energies for a joint event, convention, or congress (to provide for equal representation) with the various student/youth networks such as: the National Filipino American Youth Association (NFAYA), Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND), Midwest Association of Filipino Americans (MAFA), Northern California Pilipino American Student Organization (NCPASO), and Southern California Pilipino American Student Association (SCPASA). A historical example of this type of mobilization is the Filipino Far West Conventions of the 1970s. Consider different locations over two-year intervals among other options to account for student financial concerns. The issue is simple: this type of mass interaction on a national scale is arguably the easiest to do while Filipinos are in college. Student schedules are flexible (without the demands of a career) and they are at a formative stage in their lives. Consciousness raising, exploration of history, culture, identity, and the obligation to community are fundamental to the developmental process of young Filipino Americans today and likewise to the future of the community as well.

*Pilipino Studies Now! Establish a fundraising campaign to create an endowed chair in Pilipino and Pilipino American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. For over a quarter century, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center has pioneered the study of Asians in America and along the way, has developed and expanded the research and teaching on Filipino Americans. The time has come to commit the resources of the community into developing a permanent position and program that will expand the research, scholarship, literature and course offerings on Pilipino Americans and the Pilipino diaspora.

*Is There Life After College? Establish alumni/young professional network for the 20- and 30-something set that can provide continuity after college involvement. The post-college Filipino "burn-out" phenomenon is prevalent and has long gone unaddressed, even the largest and strongest organizations face this challenge. In fact, the perception is that it is "uncool" or even "immature" to remain involved in the community after graduation. This is dangerous and counterproductive thinking. We just need new, creative thinking to establish tangible, meaningful ways that graduates can balance community and the demands of the work world.

*We're Do We Go From Here? Warning: Do not neglect the burgeoning communities in neighboring Orange County and Riverside County. The out-migration of Filipinos from Los Angeles County to cities like La Palma, Buena Park, Cypress, Anaheim, Yorba Linda, Corona, Riverside, and Moreno Valley is fact. Filipinos are transitory, if they lack a sense of belonging or ownership in a community. Filipinos will stake a claim, if they are embraced and feel vested in their neighborhood. That is why community development, were Filipinos are at now, is critical to establish the power of place and communal history. If Filipinos are dispersed into the tri-county area, we must find ways to connect, rather than neglect opportunities to organize just because Orange County may be perceived as "too conservative" or "unfriendly" to community activism.

*Decentralize and Diversify. There is no doubt that the historical and emotional heart of the Filipino community in Los Angeles is along Temple Street and Beverly Boulevard just West of Downtown. Likewise, there is no debate in acknowledging that the neediest of our community reside right there in Pilipino Town. That is why there is no confusion as to why the majority of our social services and community development organizations are centered there. What we need to consider now is the needs of the community (nearly a quarter-million Filipinos in Los Angeles County) which is dispersed throughout the Southland for social services and community-building efforts. The Los Angeles Filipino American community should consider the development of community in a decentralized, more localized manner.

Consider focused activism, community-building endeavors, and social service delivery in the various enclaves of Los Angeles such as: the South Bay (Carson, Gardena, Torrance, San Pedro, Wilmington, Long Beach), Southeast LA (Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, Bellflower, Lakewood), and the San Gabriel Valley (West Covina, Walnut, Diamond Bar, Roland Heights). Establishing regional community centers could be a galvanizing point for these distinct communities.

*Citizenship Project. Formalize naturalization efforts into a Filipino American Naturalization Program that educates immigrants about the process, provides assistance in processing necessary forms, and offers classes to prepare for citizenship interviews. Continue to utilize mass swearing-in ceremonies to conduct immediate voter registration for newly naturalized citizens. These practices are reminiscent of the community building efforts of earlier immigrant groups such as the Irish in Boston and Italians in New York.

*Political Research. Conduct exit polls for elections in Filipino American communities (national, state, and local contests) to analyze and understand our community preferences and voter behavior patterns. The more we understand about the process the better we can address our weaknesses and what we lack in terms of participation in the political process.

*Census 2000 and Reapportionment. Educate the community about the importance of participating in the upcoming census. An accurate counting of our numbers in the U.S. and in local districts will affect how we will be represented politically and how we will fare in the determination of our level of need for social benefits, programs, and government resources. Further, active participation in the reapportionment process can determine how Filipino Americans shall be represented in the redefining and redrawing of political districts. A case in point is the Latino community's historic political gain with the redrawing of Los Angeles County's 1st Supervisorial District and subsequent election of Gloria Molina, first Latina to serve in that capacity. Similarly, key concentrations throughout Los Angeles County may realize local electoral power for our community if neighborhoods are not gerrymandered but rather left intact or if areas currently fragmented can be consolidated.


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CONCLUSION

Filipino Americans are truly at a crossroads once again as another century comes to a close. To move forward strategically, it is critical to understand the national or macro-trends of the Filipino American community as much as it is important to know what is going just around the corner in our own neighborhoods. Particularly, by understanding what is going on in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington DC among other large Filipino American communities (such as Honolulu, New York/New Jersey, San Diego, San Francisco/Bay area, Seattle, etc.) is helpful in developing a national picture of the Filipino American community. Further, this independent field research project is by no means exhaustive. I did not intend it to be.


Simply, what started out as a summer of fun in Washington DC turned into a mission of community work and a search for answers and new solutions. Let us continue the search for more research and understanding of our collective condition in America.


In 1998, Filipinos worldwide will celebrate the centennial of Philippine Independence and nationhood. Let us take this opportunity here in America to reflect on the significance of that event and prepare for our future in this society. If 100 years ago, Filipinos could unite in revolution against their colonizer and oppressor, could we as Filipino Americans strategically coordinate and implement a strategy for our next century of independence, strive for "nationhood" and upliftment of the entire race?


Let us show and prove the potential of our people that is evident in our glorious history of struggle, resistance, revolution, and freedom. Makibaka! -- Mark Pulido


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