BY CHRIS PHAN, APIAVOTE
For more than 40 years, Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ) has been an advocate for immigrant, worker and civil rights in the East Bay. It was originally established in 1973 by students and community members in the East Bay. However, over its long organizational history, FAJ hasn’t just stayed to this mission alone — it has continuously risen to respond to community needs and invested in youth leadership in all the forms that it takes.
Pamela Ignacio, communications lead and program assistant for FAJ, sat down to share the organization’s history and current programs, and how it continues to shift and support the community. FAJ started out to respond with the ethnic studies, civil rights and labor movements of the 70s, but over time, they’ve adjusted their programs to respond to the shifting needs of the Filipino community. For instance, Pamela explains, their workers’ rights program grew in response to the aftermath of 9/11, when a large number of Filipino workers who were working at airports were facing discrimination. Similarly, as housing prices grew more and more unaffordable in the 2010s, FAJ’s work with tenant organizing rose to meet it. Today, FAJ serves more than 130,0000 Filipinos and Filipino Americans who call the East Bay home. Their work today centers on four key programs — youth leadership and development, workers’ rights, immigration support and community organizing.
Their immigration work primarily consists of direct immigration support, especially through guiding folks through the naturalization process and know your rights immigration workshops. For workers, FAJ has also operated a caregiver empowerment project to support Filipino Americans for the past ten years. Pamela explains, “[For workers], there are so many caregivers and so many domestic workers in the East Bay who are Filipino American. We’ve held know your rights trainings, worker intake, and trying to help workers claim their breaks or wages or finally receive their backpay.” They hold worker support groups (Kapwa Ko) to give workers a space for caregivers and other workers to get more information on wage theft, immigration questions and more. Over the last seven years, FAJ has helped caregivers recover over 1 million dollars in lost wages.
FAJ has also advocated for policy changes to support workers — in the early years of the program, they campaigned for the first California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in 2006-07. They joined the National Domestic Workers Alliance and helped found the CA Domestic Worker Coalition (CDWC). In more recent years, they have also pushed for SB 1257, which focused on securing employment safety standards for domestic service workers.
Their youth development program focuses on one on one mentorship to ensure success in schools, mental health support, and after-school youth community building. Their after school programming takes place at their two offices, and notably, highlights how the continued investment in the development and mentorship of their youth has led to the longevity and responsiveness of the organization. Pamela explains, “The youth here are usually the interns — they lead the workshops, they facilitate the conversations. This space lets them be anything — they could become organizers, or prepare for college, or anything — whatever they need. We have conversations on everything including stress management, identity discussions, family and relationships as a Filipino American, culture, and financial management. We make the space to openly discuss our histories and identities.” Youth — mainly high schoolers — lead the facilitation and design of workshops, programming and discussion topics. “They have held art galleries and open mics — even over Zoon now — talent shows, cooking shows, and blanket and food drives. For example, previously, they’ve held events in response to the Mt. Taal eruption.” Pamela emphasizes that the high schoolers are the ones guiding their program — with mentorship and guidance from the counselors. “A [youth] counselor once told me that, ‘you’ve succeeded if all you have to do as a counselor is turn on the buildings and the lights, and just be there’ — a counselor is not there to guide the whole thing, but to let the high schoolers become the leaders.” FAJ has also continued to support youth as they grow up by implementing an 18-24 transition program if they want to stay involved with FAJ.
Filipino Advocates for Justice have been a mainstay of the community for over 40 years by continuing to respond to and support ever-changing needs — today, they’re donating masks and PPE, helping with Census outreach, and starting and amplifying COVID-19 relief funds. Above all, they know that their adaptability and longevity comes from their ability to listen to, center, and empower youth to lead responsive programs for the future. After all, several of FAJ’s staffers were previously part of their youth development program. Notably, Filipino Advocates for Justice realizes that investing in youth leadership is a fundamental part of meeting community needs — and hope to continue to do both long in the future.
Read more about Filipino Advocates for Justice and donate to them during the month of May via the #GiveInMay campaign.