PFAY: Young Jersey FilAms carve out their own safe space

Lauren Lalicon with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

By Cristina DC Pastor

Lauren Lalicon threw herself into PFAY – or the Professional Filipino American Youth —  in 2017 without much of a plan or a second thought. The following year, she began working for the office of Tammy Murphy, the First Lady of New Jersey, as a policy director.

Then, she got engaged.

She was in the midst of planning her wedding, and organizing meet-ups for PFAY when she joined the campaign to re-elect Governor Phil Murphy.

Finally, Lauren got married in June 2021 months before the November elections. At her parents’ backyard, she and the groom celebrated at a breezy reception with blankets, cushions and flower petals strewn across the lawn.  Looking back at all the large-scale organizing she did while the country was living in fear of a pandemic, those were very good years.

Born, raised, educated

Lauren was born, raised and educated in Spotswood, N.J., a tiny, blink-and-you-miss-it kind of town an hour away from Manhattan by car.

“Not much diversity. I was one of 13 Asians in a school of 200 students,” she said.

PFAY co-founders, from left:  Lauren, Maria Mauricio, Jonie Planillo-Pachay, and Caitlin Torres  
PFAY’s first annual summer potluck

Her father, who hails from Pangasinan, came to the U.S. in 1979. Her mother, who is from Nueva Ecija, followed five years later when her dad was nicely settled in. They were childhood sweethearts who met in grade school!

The yearning to become part of an Asian American and FilAm community ran deep, especially when Lauren became involved in Jersey politics. She said, “I craved community. I didn’t look like many of my colleagues and I desperately wanted to feel like I belonged.” 

She co-founded the networking group Asian Women of Trenton Networking Group (AWTNG) in 2017 before she joined the governor’s office.

In November 2017, she approached three friends to discuss her burning concept:   Maria Mauricio, a childhood friend and an accountant; Jonie Planillo-Pachay, co-founder of UniPro and an accountant and sales representative; and Caitlin Torres, software engineer and mentorship coordinator in UniPro.  Shortly after the first meeting, two more enthused FilAms came on board:  Erlinda Delacruz, a consultant for a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention; and Roman Damaso, a management consultant. Together, they brainstormed ideas, knowledge, fears, questions until PFAY became more defined as an organization that is “intentionally casual” and New Jersey-based.

Lauren and her husband Jeremiah Pinca with Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy at a holiday reception.  

PFAY is the latest organization looking to engage young FilAms by creating a safe space where they can “support and empower” each other. While it appears, outwardly, to resemble the structure of other organizations – like UniPro or FYLPRO before it — it is not quite the same, said Lauren.

“PFAY’s uniqueness lies in our focus in developing a community for FilAms who are underrepresented in various industries,” she said. “Many members of PFAY work in industries where we are the minority – from accounting to design to government for example.”

“Understanding that our membership is made up of busy young professionals who are in the midst of building out their careers, we design our events so that it’s easy for our members to drop in whenever they’re available,” she continued.

Now counting 30 members, PFAY “grew exponentially” during the pandemic, she said. “Bound at home, everyone seemed to crave community anywhere we could get it.”

Lauren is proud of the members who have achieved career success at a young age. There is Karlito Almeda, chief of staff for the first Korean American politician elected to New Jersey’s State Legislature; Jed Empleo is the only AAPI graphic designer with the New York Giants; and Caitlin Torres, one of PFAY’s co-founders, is a software engineer with Blue Origin, an aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos.

“Our members are very impressive,” she said.

“We recognize that the strongest connections are genuine friendships, so we create safe spaces where we can support and empower our members, socially and professionally,” she said.

That, in essence, is how PFAY is looking to build a community.

The Professional Filipino American Youth  is on Instagram as @profilamyouth and Facebook.

VP LENI ROBREDO interview with Boy Abunda CLICK HERE

© The FilAm 2022

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