By Chrissi Fabro, FINDink Contributor
Around this time of year is election time for student clubs. General body members nominate, candidates conduct social media campaigns and make their speeches, members cast their votes, and finally a new executive board is elected for the new year. But what does it mean to be a Filipino student leader in our day and age? As students, we don’t live in a vacuum. We exist in and are therefore affected by the social, economic, and political issues inside and outside of our campuses and clubs.
6 years ago, I was elected to be on FIND District III’s executive board (e-board). I had experience being on an e-board of a club, Pilipinos of Hunter (POH), as the Public Relations Officer and the Secretary, but I never imagined being elected to be a part of the district e-board.
That year was the height of an anti-trafficking campaign led by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. The Florida 15 trafficked workers had just won their trafficking visas. Another case of trafficked Filipinos in New Orleans, known as the Grand Isle Shipyard trafficked workers, just hit the news after three migrant Filipino workers died in an oil rig explosion. After being a part of sharings with the workers, who were survivors of horrible and exploitative working conditions and human trafficking, I wanted to make sure the D3 community was aware and involved.
As e-board, we wanted to be different. We regularly held short discussions on current events with calls to action. Our leadership summit intentionally highlighted the issues including, but not limited to migration, and Overseas Filipino Workers, and LGBTQI+ discrimination so that we are not just talking about identity and building leadership as campus leaders, but know about the conditions of the Filipino community and how to take action to improve those conditions.
The elections for the district e-board following our year was nothing I’ve ever seen in my years of being a part of D3. Many candidates who ran for D3 eboard were talking about social justice issues in their speeches and wanting to make changes. It was inspiring to see D3 members passionate about being positive forces in their community, especially when, historically, FIND has been infamously and incorrectly known as just a social and party space.
Fast forward. In 2014, the Black Lives Matter kicked off after the shooting of unarmed black youth, Mike Brown, by police and the heightening state violence waged against black communities. It brought to light the historical and institutionalized racism and white supremacy that had targeted and criminalized people of color, especially black people. It also brought to light the culture of impunity where police officers get away with murder. Filipino youth all over the country had participated in the Black Lives Matter protests. Filipino youth raised questions about how to respond to racist comments their parents make and wanted to know how to show support for the black community and what solidarity looked like.
In 2016, the struggle of Standing Rock against the construction Dakota Access Pipeline caught mainstream media. The First Nations people of Standing Rock’s fight to defend their ancestral lands from destruction inspired people all over the country to fight with them. Filipino youth joined the protests in solidarity with them and with the understanding that land and water are life. They drew connections to the plight of indigenous people in the Philippines, who are also subject to militarization and displacement for corporate greed, plundering their ancestral lands for resources and profit.
In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and youth, including Filipino youth, all over the country were outraged to have a president who was blatantly sexist, racist, and anti-immigrant. They took to the streets and joined protests all over the country, exclaiming, “Not my president!” Until today, Trump continues to attack Muslims, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+, and communities of color, fueling youth to resist. We see his administration attacking education and healthcare, basic social services, through budget cuts and privatization.
In the Philippines, Duterte wages war against the people, with the drug war claiming the lives of 20,000 poor people and counting; martial law and militarization continuing to terrorize Moro and indigenous people and displacing more than 400,000 people in Mindanao; and illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings of journalists, activists and community leaders who are critical of Duterte. Youth in the Philippines are holding massive walk-outs from schools and work to protest Duterte’s fascist rule, while communities organize themselves to resist the tyranny.
History has shown that vibrant young leaders come out of the struggle for genuine changes. Today, we are living in politically-charged times that call on youth to be critical of the world around us, but, more importantly, to be active change-makers that advance the rights and welfare of our communities in the U.S. and back home in the Philippines. Crises in the world challenges youth to be the type of leader that commits to fighting for a world in which our people can reach their full potentials. As student leaders, we hold big responsibilities in our clubs and campuses, but we have a choice to remain neutral on these pressing issues, or go beyond the dialogue and take action.
My challenge to emerging Filipino youth leaders is to go beyond the campuses and get involved in taking action to serve your communities. In the era of Trump and Duterte’s attacks on our people, which kind of youth leader will you be?
Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily represent the views of FIND, Inc.