Filipino Youth Unite and Strengthen the Community in NY

New York, NY—This past November 3-5, over 30 Filipino youth, workers and allies participated in “PASULONG: Our Stories Must Be Told, Our Future Must Be Forged,” the youth consultation organized by Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, a grassroots organization consisting of immigrant and US-born Filipino youth and students, and co-sponsored by the Department of Women’s Studies, Barnard College.

“This was Ugnayan’s first conference, and we feel that it was a big, firm step forward in uniting and strengthening Filipino youth and the Filipino community,” said Leah Obias, an Ugnayan organizer.

Conference participants included local high school and college students, and working youth in their 20s, both US -born and immigrant Filipino youth, as well as allies and domestic workers. Youth from Los Angeles also participated. “I was astounded by the diversity of generation, citizenship status, class, gender, age and sexual orientation that were represented,” said Rachelle Cruz, a US-born Filipina college student living in New York . “PASULONG shed an illuminating light on the collective struggle of Filipinos worldwide and how important the call for communication and action is for our community’s survival and resistance.”

The consultation featured a keynote speech from Arturo Garcia, Coordinator of Justice for Filipino American Veterans, LA, who spoke about the history of organizing the Filipino community in the US context, and set the direction and tasks of the youth in the current climate, with immigrant communities under attack and worsening conditions in the Philippines .

An all-youth panel of Filipino community organizers spoke on issues faced by Filipino youth. Analiza Caballes, of Damayan Migrant Workers Association, spoke about the conditions in the Philippines that force 3,000 Filipinos to migrate every day, focusing on family separation and the social costs of migration. Christine Araquel, of Kabataang maka-Bayan (Pro-People Youth), LA, spoke about the US laws and policies, mainly focusing on immigration and war. Leah Obias, of Ugnayan, spoke about education, employment and the challenges that youth face in these areas locally, including systemic racism, deskilling and low wages. Olivia Quinto, of Gabriela Network NY, spoke about issues of young Pinay women, including sex trafficking and prostitution. Finally, Riya Ortiz, also of Ugnayan, spoke about issues of young queer Pinoys, and how the issues youth face every day are further compounded by heterosexism.

Participants explored these topics further by sharing their stories during in-depth workshops facilitated by Filipino youth members of Ugnayan. “I realized how much I have in common with other Filipino youth in their experience with racism and discrimination in the educational system,” said Cruz, who participated in the workshop on education and employment. “It was truly an inspiring experience to hear the stories of my kababayan resisting systems of oppression in the US ,” added Leanne Sajor, a 17-year old Pinay immigrant high school student who attended Pasulong. “I was moved by the willingness of each participant to share their struggles that contributed to the conference’s sense of kinship.”

“PASULONG” also featured poetry, acoustic music and group singing in a solidarity night celebrating the Filipino people’s culture of resistance; food prepared and served by domestic workers from Damayan Migrant Workers Association; and action plans presented through creative skits. The action plans were synthesized and will be undertaken by the youth of Ugnayan.

Solidarity messages from national-democratic youth and student organizations in the Philippines helped to root the participants to the struggles of Filipino youth in the Philippines . “Hearing messages of support and solidarity from our counterparts in the Philippines showed us that the work we are doing is just and right, and has an impact beyond the personal and local,” Obias said. “We know that we cannot truly develop as a community if our people and our homeland are still mired in poverty. We need to support the Filipino people’s struggle for life and liberation as an essential part of addressing the issues we face as youth and as a community here in New York City .”

“PASULONG was a manifestation of the growing and dynamic movement of Filipino youth,” expressed Sajor. “As a young activist I often felt useless in helping the people in my country. But this past weekend demonstrated that the Filipino youth movement in the United States goes hand in hand with our mga kasama back home.”

For information on Ugnayan’s upcoming events, please email us at ugnayan_nyc@yahoo.com or visit ugnayan.blogspot.com or www.myspace.com/ugnayannynj.