From Breaking Points To Breakthroughs: A Reflection On Engaging In The Filipino American Agenda 2024

by Joey Badua

Many families in Hawaiʻi are struggling to thrive, and this led me to search for organizations or generally people that focus on advocacy through action. A fellow immigrant once said that we leave our homelands with so many dreams, but often end up being the first to break.

As someone who is part of the Filipino diaspora, I understand the heartbreak of leaving family and the place we were born. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this experience. But many others who are facing the challenges of migration want to do something about it.

The opposite approach would be resignation. That is not an option for me. I come from a family, a community, that has survived despite the odds. I get courage from the many survivors of Lāhāina. As a collective, we cannot stop trying, imagining, and effectuating solutions to build and help rebuild every day.

I think of the lives of those affected by other natural disasters, now and in the past. Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving back home to Oʻahu, I visited remnants of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and surviving landmarks such as the Palace of Fine Arts. I have attended mass at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral which survived both the 1906 and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989.

Also, during my time there, I learned of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) while with the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California.

NAFCON is a 20-year-old alliance of grassroots organizations, non-profit institutions, and small businesses that respond to the concerns of Filipinos in the U.S. and in the Philippines, and had reached out to us to support environmental justice and relief efforts in the Philippines which is frequently hit with typhoons, floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions, and the latest COVID-19.

I was familiar with their mission.

So when I learned that NAFCON was launching its Filipino American Agenda in April 2024, I was curious.

I had heard that NAFCON launched the first iteration of the Filipino American Agenda in 2021, and it was designed for President Joe Biden’s term after the 2020 elections.

Being less than 200 days away from the 2024 U.S. elections, attending the discussions of key issues for the Filipino community felt like a calling.I volunteered to acknowledge the housing crisis in Hawaiʻi, with a case study of the deadly fires in Lāhāina. August 2023 was a time that was important to me.

As I moved back home, I saw the fast-moving flames on television of what was happening in Maui. In a text message contacted a friend living there to see how I could help, and he said all I could do was pray.

The Hawaiʻi Filipino Lawyers Association had let me know that they were seeking folks to provide legal education and to speak Ilocano and Tagalog at a Filipino Resource Fair in the Lāhāina Civic Center in September 2023.

I ended up going twice in response to the devastation of Maui’s community, including a closely-knit Filipino community that comprised 40% of Lāhāina’s population before the fire.

While planning my move back home, I was made aware that the state was already facing a crisis in high cost of living and houselessness more than ever. I saw the desperation in the faces of those at the Lāhāina Civic Center, but they mustered the strength to take on the challenge of getting all the information and support available.

I also knew that this disaster meant there would be an irreversible tear to the fabric of what made Lāhāina the vibrant community it is known to be. The limited housing options being offered to residents included those requiring survivors to leave Lāhāina.

While some folks had already made up their mind to move back to the Philippines or to the continent, others braved the process together. This double diaspora was just too hard to bear, and the Lāhāina community is still picking up the pieces.

At the 2024 NAFCON Filipino American Agenda launch, the hundred-something attendees braved through this presentation, as well as possible action plans like supporting state lawmakers who are advocating for better regulations on short-term rentals that strain Hawaiʻi’s already limited housing options.

This call to action was heard by other advocates who themselves are entrenched with issues such as racial justice and police brutality; families of Filipino victims such as Angelo Quinto, Dennis Carolino, and Toby Diller have yet to see justice served for the killings that occurred in recent years.

Those who spoke of economic justice and workers’ rights highlighted unsafe working conditions and inadequate protections; others have been met with harassment and retaliation in the workplace and weak enforcement of labor laws.

Community groups also reminded us to support two Filipina immigrants, Ligaya Jensen and Alma Bowman who have experienced neglect and inhumane conditions in detention and threats of deportation.

We were reminded also of the voices of the youth, and that the United States is home to the largest population of Filipinos outside their homeland. As of March 2023, only 2,800 Filipino immigrants have participated in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs, accounting for less than one percent of all recipients.

Across the states, there is a trend of defunding education at all levels. Undergraduate student workers came online to discuss major labor actions and why they are using their voices to make an impact on policy. This and many others were discussed in a talk-story forum backed with hard-cold data and statistics.

My reflection led me back to the saying that immigrants end up being the first to break. But in leading with the mind and heart, collectively, I want to imagine that these discussions allow for breakthroughs and alliances to be planted.

I want to put it out in the world that further progress can only be made when we take our broken pieces and look at them together.

If you want to listen in and join the conversation, please email filipinoamericanagenda@gmail.com.

JOEY BADUA currently works at the Hawaiʻi Civil Rights Commission to enforce laws that protect workers, tenants, and the public against discrimination. He also serves Filipino and Filipino-American World War II veterans and their next-of-kin in education and tells anyone willing to hear about his dad’s bravery. Recently, he joined The Legal Clinic’s Advocacy Committee and NAFCON’s Bayanihan Disaster Response to listen and tell stories of the Filipino diaspora and the resiliency of the Filipino people.

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