An illustration of three people, one wearing a head scarf and one wearing a bandana, stand in front of the star from the flag of the Phillipines.
Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Portland organization celebrates Filipino American History Month

October marks the 32nd annual Filipino American History Month. Many communities across the world also ritually commemorate their dead and dear departed ones in October. To talk about ‘the dying’ is potent in more ways than one right now, as the Philippines and United States are witnessing mass opposition to extrajudicial executions, which are defined as the killing of persons by the state’s authorities without any judicial sanctions or due process. The Philippines is also the second most dangerous place in the world for environmental defenders.

The Philippines and the United States are intertwined in a history that dates back to the Spanish-American War in 1898. The United States’ victory in the war resulted in the establishment of American rule in the Philippines, against the wishes of Filipino leaders. However, here I am primarily interested in recognizing the life-affirming work that Filipino Americans are engaged in to meet preventable deaths with an ethic of caring and resistance. In our conversations about recognizing or celebrating history, we honor how the past simultaneously colonizes and gives birth to our present conditions. 

Anakbayan Portland is a grassroots organization of Filipino youth organizers that leads with political education and community mobilization to establish a liveable future for all peoples. Jennifer Anderson ’19 joined Anakbayan Portland in 2018 and currently serves as the organization’s chairperson.

“For us as part of the National Democratic movement with a socialist perspective, true democracy looks like upholding the democratic rights of the broad masses,” Anderson said. 

Building on the actions of historically renowned Filipino leaders such as Gabriela Silang and Lorena Barros, the Movement for National Democracy (“Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya” or KPD) is an alliance of progressive organizations working towards a true democracy.

Filipino activists identify the exploitation of people and the abundant land as the root causes of social and economic inequality in their communities. 

“The people of the Philippines have been denied access to rights and land under colonial and imperial forces for centuries,” activist Janae Nilo said. “I now have a deeper appreciation for people power and the power of the natural world.”

Nilo, a member of Anakbayan Portland’s environmental justice desk, is also a plant consultant and horticultural enthusiast. It connects her to her grandfather, who loved to garden. Nilo recalls her ancestors who were at the frontlines of resistance to Japanese occupation post-WWII. At the time, they were also fighting for collective dignity and the right to self-determination, so that their homeland could flourish and be free from war and imperialism. For Nilo, her actions are about fostering a communal self-sufficiency she sees as revolutionary. 

“I want to tend the garden of this movement for National Democracy until every Filipino can own the fruits of their labor,” Nilo said.

Through our conversations, I got the sense that their identities and purpose are shaped by a commitment to intergenerational struggle and the ethic of caring for their community. 

“I joined Anakbayan looking for community with other forward-thinking Filipinos, and have since learned so much about Filipino history, revolution and resilience,” Nilo said.

Anderson also expressed similar sentiments about the importance of knowing history. 

“Even though the Philippines is over 3,000 miles away, I’ve never felt closer to our homeland than I do now through learning about our history,” she said.

Young Filipino activists and movement builders like Anderson often do not get paid for their work, but they do it because they find it rewarding to serve their communities. 

Anakbayan continues to build on their momentum by engaging Filipino and non-Filipino residents of Portland on a wide range of issues, such as solidarity, fair wages and the rights of workers. Recently, they also collaborated with the grassroots climate justice organization 350PDX to host an informative webinar on the widespread persecutions of Filipino environmental protectors and justice activists. The webinar is available to view on Anakbayan Portland’s Facebook page.

The United States is also currently in the midst of a politicized movement where more young and interconnected populations are calling for, as well as interpersonally enacting, powerful changes. 

Filipino American History Month raised my consciousness about the value of transnational dialogues in making visible collective futures that youthful organizers are bringing to life. The labor of Filipinos and diasporic Americans for freedom points to important lessons for all of us. We have the power to channel our energy into co-creating a more compassionate political collective in which all peoples can flourish.

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