Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado blew into town one day in May 20 years ago, with a swagger that turned off leaders of the Philippine American Heritage Federation (PAHF) who were suspicious of him.
As it happened, we were meeting that evening at AFSCME’s conference room. We had learned from Gloria Caoile, a PAHF founder and national labor leader, that Alex wanted to talk to us about his “dream” of uniting all Filipinos in the U.S. and becoming a force to reckon with.
Although we weren’t warm to his overtures, we allowed him to speak.
Apparently, he and his wife Luly, had been traveling all over the U.S. talking to community leaders about “community unification and empowerment.” Although it had been tried many times before, he said, those efforts never succeeded. He mentioned “lack of unity” and “crab mentality” as among the reasons. That’s why, he said, it’s “the impossible dream.”
It’s time, he exhorted us, to fulfill this dream by mobilizing the millions of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in this country and form a national organization to represent our interests in Congress, where policies are made. It’s time to flex our muscle and translate our numbers into a powerful force.
His call to action, he said, drew enthusiastic responses from the places he visited. In the last two months, Alex and Luly used their own money to drive across the country, fueled by a mission and a message.
As a result, he bragged, more than one thousand community leaders and heads of organizations, had committed to come to Washington in August that year, for a “National Empowerment Conference.”
But for this to happen, he needed PAHF’s support. After all, if we’re going to host the conference, we have to be on board with the plan.
With only three months away, we doubted he could pull this off. Maybe 300 would come, we thought.
Gloria, however, prevailed on us to make it work. She had faith. She made us understand that while it’s Alex pitching the idea, we all have a stake in this dream.
Before coming to DC, Alex visited Loida Lewis in New York City. Internationally known as a successful CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Loida got on board with the vision. Her support, notably financial, was critical.
I must confess to being amazed when, as Alex predicted, more than a thousand showed up at the JW Marriott Hotel for three days in August 1995 for the founding of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)
Alex wasn’t bragging after all. He walked the talk.
On the first day, delegates marched to the White House to rally for equity and justice for our Filipino veterans. A dozen of them were arrested for chaining themselves to the White House fence. Recognition by the US of the service and sacrifice of our Filipino veterans became NaFFAA’s rallying cry since day one. It was a unifying issue, a reason for our being.
But to follow through with the bold and ambitious resolutions passed by the delegates, creating an infrastructure for NaFFAA was imperative. Otherwise, it would have been all talk and no action.
After Alex was elected interim chairman and Gloria as vice chair, I was appointed executive director, which meant leaving my job of 27 years at George Washington University. Within a week after the conference concluded, we had a Washington DC office in operation and a paid staff. True to his word, Alex raised the necessary funds to keep the national office going for a few years.
Working with Alex, Gloria and Loida – all passionately committed to community empowerment – made a believer out of me. Enough to give up job security, much to my wife’s distress.
Alex was a visionary, but to execute that vision he needed believers and doers, movers and shakers. There are many unsung heroes who made NaFFAA happen, who are working hard to achieve the impossible dream.
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