On a rainy weekday night in downtown Chicago, General Consulate Leo Herrera-Lim was entertaining a small audience of young Filipino-Americans. Attending were members of the Filipino American Network (FAN), Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE), Filipino American Civic Engagement (FACE), and more – quite the progressive group. We had all gathered to hear about a project organized by the Consulate – the Filipino American Youth Leadership Program (FAYLP). While the program may not be recognizable by name, their first callout generated quite a bit of buzz: earlier this year a contest was held to send ten Filipino-Americans to the Philippines to meet with policymakers and business influencers.
The group chosen was highly diverse for people who had to meet the criteria of being a young Filipino-American. Exactly half of the group was men, the other women. Some people had never been to the Philippines, while some had just moved to America recently. The “young” label was elastic too, with some participants in their early 20s and others in their mid-30s. There were lawyers, journalists, and musical artists involved. The group also roughly reflected the demographics of Filipino American geography; four of the participants were from California, but there was only one each for Hawaii and the Midwest.
The Midwest representative, Louella Cabalona of the band SamaSama Project, shared her experiences with the group in pictures and words (much of their official agenda, which involved meeting President Aquino can be read about here). Lou took away four important points from the trip, despite the fact she was born and raised in the Philippines. She found the Philippines to be more progressive, shedding some of its ultra-conservative ways. She said it was more hopeful, as there are more opportunities for Filipinos to rise out of poverty and become self-made. She found it more connected to the United States, in that there is more discussion of Philippine issues being held stateside, and that the point of the whole trip was to form young ambassadors. Finally, the Philippines is more than its 7107 islands and 94 million people – there’s a spirit and movement building.
However the selection process was conducted, they created a strong group of charter members who are already contributing back to their communities. JR Calanoc will be hosting an extreme sports show on TFC to promote tourism to the Philippines. Francine Manigue has created a master class at the University of the Philippines called “Arts as Effective Tools of Community Service and Ministry.” Alex De Ocampo is running for Filipino Town District Councilor in Los Angeles. Greg Cendana is a member of the National Democratic Party. Steve Raga founded Filipino American Civic Engagement and became Executive Director of NaFFAA Region 1. Michael Vea and Angela Lagdameo, inspired by programs like Teach for America, have created Teach For the Philippines. As for Lou herself, her band SamaSama Project is touring the Chicagoland area for Filipino American Heritage Month to raise awareness about Fil-Am issues.
There’s a lot to be excited about regarding this energetic first class. Perhaps more exciting: General Consulate Lim wanted to know if they should consider continuing the FAYLP program for next year. Lou’s answer was a definite yes, which may mean we’ll get to see even more progress in years to come.