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The Year that Was

It started with the Women’s March in Washington on January 21. My cousin, Araceli Cristobal Suley of Silver Spring, MD., who is also a grandparent, was livid that a misogynist bragged his way to the Oval Office.  

But rather than sink into despair, we rose up that Saturday morning, took the Metro downtown, and joined more than 1 million people at the Mall. 

My cousin carried a hand-made sign, with a simple message directed at Trump: “Now You’ve Pissed off Grandma!”  

Like Celi, who also has two granddaughters, Elvie and I didn’t want Lilah and Maya to grow up in a country that disparages women, minorities and immigrants. 

We met other Filipino Americans during the March. They were waving placards that read “Stand with Immigrants,” “SAY NO to RACISM,” and “Rise Up and Resist!”  

Two weeks later, after Trump issued his controversial travel ban, we were out on the streets again, joining a large crowd of protesters in front of the White House to denounce the order, which discriminated against Muslims. 

On March 8, while covering the International Women’s Day March and rally near Capitol Hill, I ran into 16-year-old Filipino American Paula Fudolig of Gaithersburg, MD.  She skipped school and brought along her mother and 10-year-old sister. “I missed the Women’s March in January,” she said. “This time, I wanted to participate in a strike demanding fair treatment and equal rights for women.” Paula’s mother is angry over Trump’s anti-women and anti-immigrant policies. “I want to be able to raise my daughters to stand up for their rights,” she said.

March 19 found me in White Sands, New Mexico for the Bataan Memorial Death March. It was my first time to walk, along with 7,200 others, 14 miles along desert sand in 90-degree heat. On my shirt were the names and pictures of my dad, Gregorio, and my uncles Gil Dizon, Arsenio Dizon, Romulo Villa and Justino Vigilia. They were all Death March survivors. I met other families of veterans from across the country. I plan to do it again in March.

On May 1, Patrice Diaz Cleary shut down her popular DC restaurant, Purple Patch, in solidarity with “A Day Without Immigrants.” Patrice, and another restaurant owner, Genevieve Villamora of Bad Saint, joined dozens of business owners to protest Trump’s immigration policies.  “Many of our workers are immigrants,” Patrice said. “We depend on them to keep our businesses running and our communities vibrant and alive.”

October was historic. The US government finally honored Filipino World War II veterans with the formal presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal. Among the 21 living veterans who came was my uncle, Arsenio Dizon, from New York. More than 300 relatives received an award replica on behalf of deceased veterans.

That same month, NaFFAA celebrated its 20th anniversary. Its leadership is now in the hands of millennials. They have vowed to continue NaFFAA’s mission of empowering the Filipino American community by being engaged in politics and government.  

November saw the election of 36-year-old Filipino American Kelly Fowler to the Virginia State Legislature. Her victory affirms that Filipino American women are indeed rising, and not just resisting. They are not just outside protesting. They want to be inside debating their male counterparts on how best to move this country forward.

We hope 2018 is the year we are finally going to see a Filipino American in Congress. Gina Ortiz Jones of San Antonio, Texas, has an excellent chance of winning. The 34-year-old daughter of a Filipino immigrant served in Iraq and has impressive national security credentials.

Finally, we extend our personal welcome to Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, who assumed his duties in December. As a fellow journalist, can I really call you Babes?

So, that was the year that was. We will build on our modest achievements and move forward with faith in our fellow Americans that they will do the right thing.  

Besides, you don’t really want to piss off Grandma, would you?


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