By Geraldine Alcid. Posted September 14, 2023.
BAYANIHAN (Town, nation, or community) is the spirit of communal unity and cooperation.
KAPWA (Kindred) means embracing our shared identity and caring for one another.
MAKIBAKA (Struggle) is the term used to refer to people coming together for change through struggle.
These three Tagalog words embody the spirit and values that have guided Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ) since its inception in 1973. As it reaches its 50th anniversary, the focus remains on building and sustaining an empowered Filipino American community. Through the years, FAJ has navigated numerous social and political landscapes and emerged stronger in its mission of organizing its constituents, providing service, and advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice and equity for all.
The 1965 Immigration Act equalized immigration quotas and ushered a time of rapid growth in the Filipino community despite their long history in the US. The 70s were also a period of upheaval in the Philippines. With the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, thousands of Filipinos sought to escape the Marcos regime. Political asylum seekers and exiles joined the ranks of Filipino Americans feeling the impact of the injustices that befell people of color in the US. Originally incorporated in 1973 as Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA) – grown from the Filipino Immigrant Services project sponsored by the International Institute of the East Bay – it was a means of setting up services like youth development, employment assistance and immigration services. The growing anti-immigrant attacks and intensifying need to defend affirmative action prompted students and leaders to come together and organize to protect and advance rights of the growing Filipino immigrant population.
Each decade we have witnessed the urgency to fight for democracy, to protect and incrementally advance rights, needing to do more for the community beyond providing services to impact and change our material conditions. This was manifested by the passing of the 1978 Prop 13 which resulted in the slashing of financial resources to the newly formed immigrant centered service organizations; the movement for immigration reform and then implementation of the Immigrations Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986; Prop 187 (1994) which sought to deny public services to undocumented immigrants (part of which were overturned by the courts); Prop 209 (1996) to ban affirmative action in CA; and Prop 227 (1998) or the “English Only” measure (which was defeated). “I learned pretty early on that the Filipino community, because it was growing so fast, needed an institution that would serve the needs of that population, not only at that moment, which was immigrant services and programs for young people, but long term,” said Lilian Galedo, FAA/FAJ’s executive director, 1980 – 2017.
Lilian Galedo speaks at press conference in the 1980s.
FAJ has had to expand to meet the emerging needs of the community it serves, branching out from direct services into grassroots organizing and advocacy. FAJ has provided direct services to thousands and activated hundreds of leaders who built their awareness and capacity through campaigns such as fighting for Filipino WWII veterans denied their dignity and service; securing $500,000 allocation towards violence prevention services for Union City youth in the 90’s; and organizing to change the name of Alvarado Middle School to Itliong/Vera Cruz Middle School, in honor of the Filipino farmworker heroes.
In response to post-9/11 scapegoating of immigrant workers, FAA founded PAWIS (Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants) in 2002 to serve and advocate for fired airport screeners and then for the growing numbers of domestic workers in the SF Bay Area. FAJ also helped found the California Domestic Workers Coalition in 2013 which began advocating for greater labor protections for domestic /caregiver workers with the state’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. It expanded to assist with wage theft cases and set up education and outreach efforts.
The affordable housing crises affected FAJ’s youth leaders and elder caregivers both in Union City and Alameda where they were being priced out. In Union City, FAJ helped the successful effort to win a just cause eviction policy. In Alameda, FAJ helped protect the Bay View Apartment tenants from eviction; then helped win a just cause eviction policy in 2017 and rent control in 2019.
In the 2000s, FAJ recognized its position and responsibility in the social justice movement ecosystem, and that it needed to develop leadership internally while externally exploring other vehicles to build power naming a shift into integrated civic engagement and electoral organizing through broader coalitions. FAJ’s greatest legacy is nurturing resilient leaders who use their voice to change conditions for themselves and their communities. Realizing that participants in its programs held inter-sectional identities —as youth, immigrants, tenants, low-wage workers, domestic / care workers, elders, and/or queer people—Filipinos for Affirmative Action changed its name to Filipino Advocates for Justice in 2010 to reflect its broader mission and vision.
What’s at stake today?
FAJ’s programs and services are offered at no-cost and are culturally affirming spaces where communities beyond Filipinos are engaged in its wellness workshops and support groups including TAYO, Queer Chisme and Kapwa Ko Wellness, mental health counseling, mutual aid distribution, workforce development trainings (CPR, First Aid) and skills-training on outreach and canvassing. It runs youth in-school risk reduction and prevention education programs in Union City and Fremont; multiple after-school youth leadership development groups in Union City and Oakland; and a 7-week summer leadership development training series.
Summer Leadership Development in action.
For over a decade FAJ has been part of a growing network of organizations building the political power of communities of color in CA joining the steering committees of PowerCA (formerly Mobilize the Immigrant Vote), AAPI’s for Civic Empowerment and Bay Rising. FAJ is DOJ-accredited and helps immigrants apply for citizenship and seeks to engage the 800,000 Filipinos in California eligible to register to vote.
2020 cleared the deck, FAJ’s model of “services to organizing” felt insufficient to the changing conditions. They were facing a pandemic, anti-Asian violence, economic, housing and environmental collapse, and a hostile political landscape with the Trump administration. Despite this, FAJ raised and distributed $200,000 in direct cash assistance for COVID relief. At the height of the pandemic, FAJ leaders created a strategic compass, a roadmap to building long-term power in the Filipino community. They emerged with eyes set on becoming a visible anchor for thriving Filipino communities, one that centers transformative change (individual and collective) by championing working-class and cross-racial solidarity, intergenerational wellness and healing, and the liberation and self-determination for all BIPOC communities.
In 2021 through virtual phone banking, FAJ reached over 37,000 community members and voters statewide around COVID vaccination and to advocate for fair tax reform, housing legislation and equitable redistricting. In 2022 FAJ started FAJ Action Fund, it’s 501c4 sibling organization, another vehicle for long-term power-building they will continue to develop.
Today, the rising cost of living and widening wealth gap in the Bay Area continue to impact the health of community members. Families are moving further away from where they work. We have not yet recovered from the pandemic further compounding mental health. From youth to elders, there has been an unprecedented need to address trauma, stress, anxiety, depression exacerbated by difficulties in meeting basic needs (i.e., housing, healthcare, food). “Our movement is only as strong as our people. How will we defend or build power while avoiding burn-out and sustaining ourselves? Entering the 2024 election season, we’re facing new challenges and uncertainty, I hope FAJ continues to evolve to match the needs and dreams of our communities,” Geraldine Alcid, FAJ executive director, said.
SLDP group portrait, Summer 2023.
So much social movement work is done at the cost of the health and wholeness of the people on the frontline. As FAJ’s staff was facing unprecedented amounts of stress and grief while serving a community with extreme needs, FAJ leadership recognized the need for a radical shift that centers mental health and healing in how their staff approaches their work.
The pandemic taught us quite literally that one’s health is tied to the health of others. Similarly, our healing and well-being are intertwined to how we organize moving forward. The Deep Wellness project was borne out of urgency to address the wellness deficits in our staff and community and provides wellness support to staff and free community events. Long-term FAJ seeks to build a powerful social justice movement to end racism and make democracy a reality for all where Filipinos are active participants in social and political transformation.
On October 14th in San Leandro in honor of Filipino American History Month, FAJ celebrates 50 years with its first in-person gathering, a much-anticipated event called Pamana: 50 Years of Service, Love and Justice. Pamana is a Tagalog word that means legacy, inheritance, and something that is passed on to future generations. FAJ’s Pamana to the community is rooted in KAPWA, BAYANIHAN AND MAKIBAKA.
Geraldine Alcid is Executive Director of Filipino Advocates for Justice, formerly Filipinos for Affirmative Action. Established in 1973 in response to the discrimination and alienation faced by the influx of Filipino immigrant newcomers, FAJ’s mission is to build a strong and empowered Filipino community by organizing constituents, developing leaders, providing services, and advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice and equity. Geraldine was born in Makati, Philippines, grew up in Chicago, IL. She graduated from UC Berkeley and the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. She lives in Oakland with her partner and children.
Canvassing with AAPI-FORCE.
All photos courtesy of Filipino Advocates for Justice.