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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 31, 2017
Jason Tengco, NaFFAA Executive Director
NaFFAA to Celebrate its 20th Anniversary in October
Washington, DC — The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) turns 20 years old this year.
This October, several events are being planned to celebrate this milestone, which coincides with the national observance of Filipino American History Month. They will culminate with NaFFAA’s 20th Anniversary Gala, to be held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 21, 2017.
“Our 20th anniversary is an exciting occasion to reflect on our accomplishments and to reaffirm our mission as we move forward into the future,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Brendan Flores. “We will also honor our Filipino World War II veterans, whose cause we have championed since our founding; recognize the movers and shakers who embody the spirit of leadership and civic engagement; and thank NaFFAA’s founders who blazed the trail for unification and community empowerment.”
With its theme “NaFFAA 2.0: One Voice, Four Million Strong,” NaFFAA will recognize the legacy and accomplishments of the organization over the past 20 years, and highlight its comprehensive vision to unite and amplify the voices of the four million Filipinos living in the United States. “NaFFAA 2.0” represents how NaFFAA is honoring its past while forging a new forward-thinking and balanced approach in uniting, engaging, and empowering diverse Filipino American individuals and community organizations through leadership development, civic engagement, and advocacy.
A National Convergence
More than 1,000 community leaders, youth, seniors, elected officials, business professionals, and Filipino World War II veterans attended NaFFAA’s founding conference in August 1997 in Washington, DC.
At the founding conference in Washington, DC in August 1997, more than a thousand community leaders, students, young professionals, senior citizens, veterans, elected officials, entrepreneurs, and business owners traveled from different parts of the country. They responded to a national call to assert their presence as a growing ethnic population and to have a national voice in advocating for the interests of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the United States.
Initiating the call were leaders of the West Coast-based National Filipino American Council (NFAC), led by Alex Esclamado, Lupo Carlotta, Rodel Rodis, and Greg Macabenta; East Coast leaders Loida Nicolas Lewis and Michael Dadap; and the Washington, DC-based Philippine American Heritage Federation (PAHF) led by Gloria T. Caoile and Jon Melegrito.
Alex Esclamado, one of the founders of NaFFAA, was elected interim chairman by the National Steering Committee at the end of the 1997 National Empowerment Conference (NEC).
For three days, they discussed and debated critical issues affecting Filipinos and Filipino Americans, who numbered nearly 2 million at the time (compared to almost 4 million today). They included equity and justice for Filipino World War II veterans, immigration reform, health and wellness, women’s rights, voting rights, business opportunities, electoral challenges, youth, seniors, and affordable education. Participants passed resolutions and formed working committees to begin the process of building the organization’s infrastructure.
Reflecting the urgency of the issues facing Filipino Americans, the gathered community leaders embraced the mantra of “Panahon Na!” or, “The Time Is Now!” This slogan embodied the spirit of the delegation, and was chanted by attendees at workshops, plenary sessions, receptions, and demonstrations.
Delegates to NaFFAA’s 1997 founding conference march to the White House to call public attention to the plight of Filipino World War II veterans.
On the first day of the conference, they marched to the White House to call attention to the plight of Filipino World War II veterans whose demand for equity and justice had been ignored by the U.S. government for decades. More than a dozen veterans chained themselves to the White House fence in protest, and were arrested in the aftermath. Advocating for veterans’ rights and benefits has been NaFFAA’s major advocacy initiative ever since.
“Our aspirations for empowerment was tied to the struggle of our Filipino veterans,” recalls Loida Nicolas Lewis, one of NaFFAA’s founders. “We have to raise our voices and fight for them in the halls of Congress if we want Washington’s policy makers to take us seriously as a political force.”
The presence of many young community members was a promising precursor to the future of Filipino community advocacy. Attendance by people of different backgrounds was notable not only in the number who attended, but also in their active participation in every aspect of the conference, from leading workshops to introducing resolutions designed to ensure diversity and inclusion in the organization.
Justice and equity for Filipino World War II veterans was NaFFAA’s top priority at the founding conference in 1997.
The strength of the community was evident in the assembling of community members from different sectors of society. “Our strength as a community is due in large part to the contributions of women, men, young people, and seniors who draw upon one another’s energies and resources,” says Gloria T. Caoile, also a NaFFAA founder. “We’ve become a better organization because of their selfless leadership.”
Adds Gus Mercado, who led a delegation from Dallas, Texas and served as a founding regional chair, “When we gathered in Washington, DC, to give birth to the Federation a generation ago, we were there bright-eyed and full of idealism, but not exactly knowing what to expect. The Filipino problems in America were immense and insurmountable, we thought. But the enthusiasm, bombast and fire in the belly of the visionaries led by the venerable Alex Esclamado were infectious and we were hooked. I was convinced that the Filipinos in America badly needed this – to have one united vehicle to voice their collective aspirations, sentiments and yes, grievances.”
In September 1998, NaFFAA’s first elected and appointed national officers were sworn in. From left, Greg Macabenta (Public Relations Officer), Klaus Buntua (Treasurer), Rodney Salinas (Youth Director), Jon Melegrito (Executive Director), Gloria T. Caoile (National Vice Chair), Alex Esclamado (National Chair), and Ron Quidachay (Legal Counsel).
A new generation of Filipino American leaders emerged from this historic gathering. By the end of the conference, Alex Esclamado was elected as National Chairman of the organization, with Gloria T. Caoile as National Vice Chair and Klaus Buntua as Treasurer. They were officially elected to a two-year term the following year after NaFFAA’s Constitution and By-Laws were ratified at the 1998 Empowerment Conference. Reappointed as executive officers were Executive Director Jon Melegrito and Public Relations Officer Greg Macabenta.
Following this historic event, empowerment conferences were held every year until 2000, and every two years subsequently. Esclamado’s successors were Loida Nicolas Lewis, Alma Kern, Greg Macabenta, Ed Navarra, JT Mallonga, and Brendan Flores, the organization’s youngest and first-ever millennial National Chairman.
To learn more about NaFFAA or to purchase tickets for the 20th Anniversary Gala, please visit www.naffaa.org.