On NaFFAA’s 20th year, honoring its past and recognizing its legacy

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Founder Alex Esclamado in 1997; current National Chairman Brendan Flores

Founder Alex Esclamado in 1997; current National Chairman Brendan Flores

This October, several events are being planned to celebrate this milestone, which coincides with the national observance of Filipino American History Month. They will culminate with NaFFAA’s 20th Anniversary Gala, to be held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 21, 2017.

“Our 20th anniversary is an exciting occasion to reflect on our accomplishments and to reaffirm our mission as we move forward into the future,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Brendan Flores. “We will also honor our Filipino World War II veterans, whose cause we have championed since our founding; recognize the movers and shakers who embody the spirit of leadership and civic engagement; and thank NaFFAA’s founders who blazed the trail for unification and community empowerment.”

With its theme “NaFFAA 2.0: One Voice, Four Million Strong,” NaFFAA will recognize the legacy and accomplishments of the organization over the past 20 years, and highlight its comprehensive vision to unite and amplify the voices of the four million Filipinos living in the United States. “NaFFAA 2.0” represents how NaFFAA is honoring its past while forging a new forward-thinking and balanced approach in uniting, engaging, and empowering diverse Filipino American individuals and community organizations through leadership development, civic engagement, and advocacy.

At the founding conference in Washington, DC in August 1997, more than a thousand community leaders, students, young professionals, senior citizens, veterans, elected officials, entrepreneurs, and business owners traveled from different parts of the country. They responded to a national call to assert their presence as a growing ethnic population and to have a national voice in advocating for the interests of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the United States.

NaFFAA, led by former Executive Director Joe Montano, joins coalition partners in the Asian American community to rally for comprehensive immigration reform in the nation's capital.

NaFFAA, led by former Executive Director Joe Montano, joins coalition partners in the Asian American community to rally for comprehensive immigration reform in the nation’s capital.

Initiating the call were leaders of the West Coast-based National Filipino American Council (NFAC), led by Alex Esclamado, Lupo Carlotta, Rodel Rodis, and Greg Macabenta; East Coast leaders Loida Nicolas Lewis and Michael Dadap; and the Washington, D.C.-based Philippine American Heritage Federation (PAHF) led by Gloria T. Caoile and Jon Melegrito.

For three days, they discussed and debated critical issues affecting Filipinos and Filipino Americans, who numbered nearly 2 million at the time (compared to almost 4 million today). They included equity and justice for Filipino World War II veterans, immigration reform, health and wellness, women’s rights, voting rights, business opportunities, electoral challenges, youth, seniors, and affordable education. Participants passed resolutions and formed working committees to begin the process of building the organization’s infrastructure.

‘Panahon Na!’
Reflecting the urgency of the issues facing Filipino Americans, the gathered community leaders embraced the mantra of “Panahon Na!” or, “The Time Is Now!” This slogan embodied the spirit of the delegation, and was chanted by attendees at workshops, plenary sessions, receptions, and demonstrations.

On the first day of the conference, they marched to the White House to call attention to the plight of Filipino World War II veterans whose demand for equity and justice had been ignored by the U.S. government for decades. More than a dozen veterans chained themselves to the White House fence in protest, and were arrested in the aftermath. Advocating for veterans’ rights and benefits has been NaFFAA’s major advocacy initiative ever since.

“Our aspiration for empowerment was tied to the struggle of our Filipino veterans,” recalled Loida Nicolas Lewis, one of NaFFAA’s founders. “We have to raise our voices and fight for them in the halls of Congress if we want Washington’s policymakers to take us seriously as a political force.”

The strength of the community was evident in the assembling of community members from different sectors of society.

FilAmVote has been NaFFAA's primary vehicle for civic engagement.

FilAmVote has been NaFFAA’s primary vehicle for civic engagement.

“Our strength as a community is due in large part to the contributions of women, men, young people, and seniors who draw upon one another’s energies and resources,” said Gloria T. Caoile, also a NaFFAA founder. “We’ve become a better organization because of their selfless leadership.”

Added Gus Mercado, who led a delegation from Dallas, Texas and served as a founding regional chair, “When we gathered in Washington, DC, to give birth to the federation a generation ago, we were there bright-eyed and full of idealism, but not exactly knowing what to expect. The Filipino problems in America were immense and insurmountable, we thought. But the enthusiasm, bombast and fire in the belly of the visionaries led by the venerable Alex Esclamado were infectious, and we were hooked. I was convinced that the Filipinos in America badly needed this – to have one united vehicle to voice their collective aspirations, sentiments and yes, grievances.”

New generation
Alex Esclamado was elected as National Chairman of the organization, with Gloria T. Caoile as National Vice Chair and Klaus Buntua as Treasurer. They were officially elected to a two-year term the following year after NaFFAA’s Constitution and By-Laws were ratified at the 1998 Empowerment Conference. Reappointed as executive officers were Executive Director Jon Melegrito and Public Relations Officer Greg Macabenta.

Following this historic event, empowerment conferences were held every year until 2000, and every two years subsequently. Esclamado’s successors were Loida Nicolas Lewis, Alma Kern, Greg Macabenta, Ed Navarra, JT Mallonga, and Brendan Flores, the organization’s youngest and first-ever millennial National Chairman. — National Federation of Filipino American Associations

© 2017 The FilAm

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