Kalaya’an Mendoza: The face of a Filipino Antifa

‘If you are against fascism, you’re Antifa.’

By Cristina DC Pastor

Kalaya’an Mendoza is the co-founder of Across Frontlines, an organization that works alongside human rights activists to keep them safe during mass actions.  He has been engaged in nonviolent civil resistance for the past two decades, including the years he spent as a grassroots organizer and field director for Amnesty International USA.

He was born in Manila and immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 2 years old. As a young teen, he had witnessed appalling racial profiling in his school campus in California. “I have been anti-fascist since I was 14 years old fighting to have the San Jose Police Department taken off of my high school campus for racially profiling Filipino, Vietnamese and Mexican youth.”

He has been engaged in “a lifetime of social justice work” that opened his eyes to other forms of injustices focusing on, among other issues, LGBT rights and Black Lives Matter. The anti-fascist movement called Antifa is very much a part of what he stands for. “I’m 41 now, so I guess you can say I have been anti-fascist most of my life,” he said when interviewed by The FilAm.

The FilAm (TF): For the benefit of some in our community who fear Antifa is a terror organization, what is it and what is it not?

Kalaya’an Mendoza (KM): Simply put Antifa = Antifascists. If you are against fascism, you’re Antifa. Fascists are the hateful, violent insurrectionists we all saw attacking our nation’s Capitol building on January 6. They spawned out of Franco’s regime in Spain and Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany. They are the manifestation of intolerance, hate and domination. Antifa or Antifascists are people who care about social justice and keeping our communities safe from the brutality of  fascists both in and out of uniform. We oppose, decry and protect our communities against fascist violence from the state and non-state actors. 

TF: The word Antifa has been around for a long time but why is it only now gaining traction during the Trump regime?

KM: The now twice impeached occupant of the White House has been creating an environment of fear based in lies for the last four years. He has painted Black Lives Matter Activists, Indigenous Water Protectors and Antifa(schists) with a liars’ brush. He has done this as a smoke screen and red herring to cover up the negligence, incompetence and genocide of his administration. By creating a climate of fear he sought to use us to distract the country and the world from his fascist policies. From the caging of immigrants, to the demonization of Black activists to utterly failing in his COVID response, he wanted to use us as a scapegoat to his arrogant failings as a president. 

TF: Antifa has been discredited as thugs and troublemakers. How has that hurt your movement?

KM: Fascists always call Antifascists “thugs and troublemakers.” That only means that what we are doing is working. We are doing the work that this settler colonial government won’t. I live in Jackson Heights, Queens, the epicenter of the epicenter at the start of the COVID pandemic. The government left us to die alone in body bags inside refrigeration trucks. We stepped up to ensuring that our elderly and immunocompromised neighbors were able to get their medication delivered, we leaned on our networks to find and pass out PPE to both our community and frontline healthcare workers, we did what this government refused to do; we kept us safe. 

TF: What are some of your tactics? I read somewhere that you are essentially non-violent but can be when confronted with force by white supremacists.

KM: Mutual aid, mutual protection, direct action, and community safety are our tactics. We do what we need to in order to protect our communities from white supremacists. 

TF: What was Antifa doing during the Capitol riots? Some are blaming you for it.

KM: We were at home watching the exercise in white power and violence on our screens just like you. Personally, I was in the middle of preparing a Community Safety and Preparedness training for communities of color during the riots. Many others were supporting their communities knowing the threat of white supremacist violence was on the horizon. The FBI has found NO evidence of Antifa being at the Capitol, so this is just a laughable accusation.

Kalaya’an with Across Frontlines Training Facilitator Bradley Tangonan. Photo:  Cindy Trinh

TF: Tell us about Across Frontlines. What can you do, have you done when protests turn violent?

KM: Across Frontlines is a collective that works in solidarity alongside human rights defenders to keep their communities safe from state and non-state actor violence. We train activists and community members to protect themselves from violence using strategies and frameworks we learned from and co-built with human rights defenders from Myanmar to Thailand to Aotearoa (colonially known as New Zealand).

TF: Have you ever been hurt? How do you protect yourself?

KM: At protests both here and abroad I have been pepper-sprayed, tear gassed, put in stress positions, waterboarded, beaten, had my foot broken and a host of other injuries by the fascists both in and out of uniform. Due to the escalation of violence by white supremacists I have had to purchase body armor in order to be able to keep my community safe on the frontlines from violence. But what really keeps me safe is the solidarity, protection and care I receive from my community. Our friendships were forged in the fires of the uprisings this summer. Two comrades and dear friends, Rice and River not only support my physical safety and security but my emotional as well.

TF: How does your family feel about the work that you do?

KM: My parents are supportive, kind and patient beyond that which I deserve. They saw me grow up from a shy sensitive, young gay kid that cared fiercely about the world into who I am now. And have always loved and supported me, even if they were deeply worried for my well-being. 

© The FilAm 2021

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