NaFFAA celebrates 25th year, elects new set of officers (Part 1)

Executive Director of the Children’s Orchestra Society Michael Dadap receives his Presidential Legacy Award from National Chair Brendan Flores and newly elected President Mariela Fletcher. Dadap, a NaFFAA co-founder,  is being honored for his ‘visionary leadership and tireless commitment’ to promote traditional Filipino music and culture on a global stage.

By Mark Polo Eyo

After three years since its last convening, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations’ highly anticipated 14th National Empowerment Conference (NEC) was finally held on August 4th – 6th at Harrah’s in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The three-day conference was the largest assembly of Filipino Americans since the pandemic. The conference was attended by some of the biggest names in the dynamic FilAm community: National and local leaders, elected officials, celebrities, influencers, business leaders, and community advocates. NaFFAA’s NEC also coincided with the organization’s 25th anniversary celebration, highlighted by the Anniversary Gala. Over the course of three days, NaFFAA gathered nearly 600 attendees.

‘We can’t move forward unless we remember the past’

The 14th National Empowerment Conference and 25th Anniversary was themed “Navigating the Present, Shaping the Future.” Despite the conference’s focus on shaping the future and dealing with current issues, it also became a special tribute to the organization’s great founders, who were present during the conference. As Gloria Caoile, one of NaFFAA’s co-founding members present during the event, emphasized, “We can’t move forward unless we remember the past.”

The attendees of the National Empowerment Conference representing various regions and states across the nation: A willingness to work together in shaping the future of Filipino Americans. Photos by Vic Esquivel

The three-day conference celebrated the heroes of the past who paved the way for NaFFAA to be the organization that is the voice of the four million Filipino-Americans today. They gave tribute to the late Alex Esclamado and recognized other co-founders present during the event, such as Loida Nicolas Lewis, Michal Dadap, Rodel Rodis, and incorporators Gloria Caoile, and Jon Melegrito. Co-founders and incorporators/founding members participated in a Founder’s Panel that was hosted by National Chair Brendan Flores. 

“The Filipino-American community has been at the forefront of many things, and that is why we need to celebrate everything that had happened before us,” Flores remarked. “We celebrate the lives of our great leaders like Alex Esclamado, one of our founders who drove across the country to gather Filipino-Americans from every aspect of life and realize the need to build a united national organization that will stand the test of time. We are grateful for our dear founders, and we are inspired by their resilience. Our founders’ vision and dedication despite the many unknowns during the early years of NaFFAA inspire us to move forward with hope as we move towards our next 25 years.”

In addition to the great contributions of Esclamado, NaFFAA would be remiss to not acknowledge the great accomplishments of the Chairpersons since. The Chairs truly made their mark in their own unique ways, whether through prioritizing the development of new leaders, leading the charge on national advocacy issues, or encouraging Filipino-American

civic engagement. Regardless of their different strengths and opinions, the Chairs were able to find solutions and answers to tough questions that confront our community.

NaFFAA National Chair Brendan Flores (far left) with NaFFAA co-founders (from left) Loida Nicolas Lewis, Michael Dadap and Rodel Rodis.

Former Chairs Loida Nicolas Lewis, Alma Quintans Kern, Greg Macabenta, Eduardo “Ed” Navarra, Jose Teodoro “JT” Mallonga, and now Brendan Flores dedicated hours of support to the organization and there is no doubt that NaFFAA, as the voice of Filipinos and the Filipino American constituency in the United States, has benefited from it.

For the past 25 years, NaFFAA has grown tremendously in becoming the united voice of Filipino Americans across the nation in matters of national advocacy, leadership development, and civic engagement. The last six years under Flores’ leadership became a great test to the organization dealing with several difficult issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of Anti-Asian Hate crimes, FilAm population growth to more than four million, natural calamities, civil unrest in international countries, issues in FilAm representation, and many other challenges.

State of NaFFAA under Brendan Flores’ leadership

The 37-year-old Flores, together with his executive board, staff members, board of trustees, regional chairs, national chairman’s councils, and other state leaders, spent the last six years focusing on empowering Filipino Americans and ensuring FilAms get their seats on the important tables.

During the last six years, significant milestones were accomplished, including getting Congress to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to FilAm veterans of World War II, which was signed into law by President Obama during Brendan’s term of office. Flores’ team also emphasized empowering more FilAms to run for public office in their ‘Run for Office’ campaign. Flores’ administration was also responsible for assisting several FilAm celebrations at the White House with various organizations to honor their rich history and contributions to the United States. 

A great effort was also made to maximize the 2020 Census registration of 4 million Filipinos in America, now the third largest among the Asian population. NaFFAA, under Brendan’s leadership, together with other FilAm organizations working together, led to President Joe Biden’s naming of a ship after a Filipino American hero of WW II – USS Telesforo Trinidad.

Deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget Nani Coloretti addresses the National Federation of Filipino American Association’s 25th Anniversary Gala in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is the highest ranking FilAm in the Biden Administration.
Concert King Martin Nievera is the Anniversary Gala’s guest performer.

After many years of absence, a national office in Washington DC is once again operated by fully paid Executive Directors Jason Tengco and Carissa Villacorta previously and is now operated by Kelly Ilagan Coldiron.

NaFFAA co-founder and first female national chairperson Loida Lewis highlighted, “Brendan’s most significant contribution is the coming and working together in NaFFAA, of the young and the old FilAms, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, and Generations X, Y, and Z. As a millennial, he believes that anyone with a willing heart and willing mind could lead such an organization. He hoped the younger generation would step up to such prominent roles.”

The three-day conference topics were divided to discuss in each day one of NaFFAA’s three pillars: National Advocacy, Leadership Development, and Civic Engagement. The conference was highlighted by speeches and workshops from FilAm community leaders, the 25th Anniversary Gala with pop singer Martin Nievera as a special guest performer, and the election for the new NaFFAA national executive leadership team. Mariela Fletcher was elected president to succeed Flores.

The event was a collaborative effort from the whole Filipino-American community with help from generous sponsors such as GoFundMe, RFL Foundation, Civic Leadership USA, TAAF, AT&T, Verizon, the Jurani Family, the de Joya Family, AARP, NaFFAA Michigan, Brighthouse Financial, Wells Fargo, ITO Solutions Inc, and many others.

Mark Polo Eyo is the Communications Lead for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. He is a native of Gapan City, Philippines, and currently resides in Orem, Utah. A graduate of the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business Master of Public Administration Program, he is currently a project manager for a tech company in West Jordan, Utah.

Part 2: The Next 25 Years

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