Unity and Solidarity

The National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) will hold its 10th National Empowerment Conference and 5th Anniversary Celebration on Aug. 2-5, 2012 in Detroit.

The theme of the celebration is “NaFFAA at 15: Celebrating our Identity and Solidarity.”

Among the invited guests from the Philippines are Senator Franklin Drillon, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. and Philippine National Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Filipino-American US Congressman Steve Austria (Ohio) will also be invited to grace the conference.

Spearheading the on-going preparations for the three-day conference are Willie Dechavez, chairman of the NaFFAA-Michigan which will be hosting the event; Princess Emraida Kiram, chairperson of the NaFFAA Midwestern States Region; and this columnist, who is the incumbent NaFFAA national chairman.

To enable the public to appreciate the objectives of NaFFAA’s empowerment conferences, here is a report on these important events:
In August 1997, some 1,000 delegates representing Filipino-American organizations across the United States held the first National Filipino-American Empowerment Conference in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the West Coast-based National Filipino American Council and the East Coast-based Philippine American Heritage Federation.

Spurred by the conference theme “Panahon Na!,” Filipino-American community and youth leaders, seniors, veterans, civil rights advocates and elected and appointed Filipino-American officials addressed four major issues:

Immigration, affirmative action, welfare reform, and equity for Filipino World War II Veterans.

To dramatize the urgency of the issues, particularly the one on veterans’ concerns, the delegates marched to the White House on the first day of the conference, led by hundreds of uniformed Filipino veterans, to demand “equity now.” Since then, the veterans issue has become a national campaign for justice.

At the 2nd empowerment conference held in Washington, D.C. on Oct, 16-18, 1998, delegates unanimously ratified NaFFAA’s Constitution and By-Laws, thus formalizing NaFFAA’s organizational structure.Elected to lead the federation were Alex A. Esclamado, national chairman; Gloria T. Caoile, national vice chairperson; Klaus Buntua, treasurer; and Rodney Salinas, national youth director.

Jon Melegrito was reappointed national executive eirector. NaFFAA’s national board, which includes representatives from 10 regions, was also formed and designated as the organization’s highest decision-making body.

Since then, NaFFAA has grown into what it is today – an organization recognized by Washington policy makers, private industry and national advocacy groups as the voice of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans throughout the US.

It is a non-partisan, non-profit national organization of more than 500 Filipino-American institutions and umbrella organizations.

Its 12 regions cover the continental United States, Hawaii, Guam and the Marianas.

Its mission is to promote the welfare and well-being of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans throughout the US by fostering unity and empowerment.

NaFFAA’s national office is in Washington, D.C. Its main function is to monitor legislation and public policy issues affecting Filipino Americans. It works in collaboration with other national groups on common issues and concerns.

NaFFAA convened its Third National Convention in New York City on Oct. 15-17, 1999. The convention’s theme, “Filipino Americans Leading the Way to the Millennium”, affirmed NaFFAA’s vision of establishing a solid, powerful presence of Filipino Americans in the US. NaFFAA further pushed its agenda of empowerment forward when it held the Fourth National Convention in Las Vegas on Sept. 28–October 1, 2000. The convention’s theme, “Making Our Power Count,” further promoted NaFFAA’s vision of establishing a solid and powerful presence of Filipino Americans in the US.

At its Fifth National Empowerment Congress held in San Jose, California on Aug. 28-Sept.1, 2002, Loida Nicolas Lewis was elected national chairperson, Greg Macabenta as national vice chairman, and Liz de Guzman as national youth chairperson.

Subsequent national conferences were held every two years: Chicago in 2004, Hawaii in 2006, Seattle in 2008 and San Francisco in 2010. Alma Kern, who was elected national chairperson in 2006, was succeeded by Greg Macabenta in 2008. This writer assumed the chairmanship in 2010.

Aware that the Filipino-American community in the US is only a portion of the Filipino diaspora, NaFFAA had also held a series of networking conventions to bring the global Fil-Am community together. The 1st Global Filipino Networking Convention was held in San Francisco in 2002. The other global gatherings were held in Manila (2003), Cebu (2005), Hawaii (2006), Sidney, Australia (2008) and Manila (2011).

Issues of importance to Filipino immigrants and overseas Filipino workers were discussed during these conventions.