LAKAS focuses on immigration, culture

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April Manalang '11 speaks at LAKAS. COURTESY PHOTO / ROBIN THADY '19

Saturday, Feb. 24, the College of William and Mary’s Filipino-American Student Association hosted its annual LAKAS Leadership and Community Action Summit to discuss issues of immigration and culture in the context of the current American political climate. The event hosted three professional panelists and included students from the College’s UndocuTribe, an organization that focuses on immigration policies, awareness and advocacy.

FASA President Miguel Locsin ’19 reflected on the meaning of the word “lakas” and how it related to his own immigration story and FASA’s summit.

In Tagalog, ‘lakas’ means strength,” Locsin said. “… In 2007, I moved here from the Philippines and I got on this big plane, immigrated here, and took part in a journey that changed my life and the lives of our ancestors and your life as well, whether you are Filipino or not. Having grown up in America for 11 years now, the word ‘lakas’ has again evolved in its meaning, depending on the context facing us. In our context today, for lakas and this summit right now, lakas emphasizes community with us minorities and the community in general.

“In Tagalog, ‘lakas’ means strength,” Locsin said. “… In 2007, I moved here from the Philippines and I got on this big plane, immigrated here, and took part in a journey that changed my life and the lives of our ancestors and your life as well, whether you are Filipino or not. Having grown up in America for 11 years now, the word ‘lakas’ has again evolved in its meaning, depending on the context facing us. In our context today, for lakas and this summit right now, lakas emphasizes community with us minorities and the community in general.

Locsin emphasized the summit’s goal of addressing immigration and finding a way to share those ideas with the broader community.

“The question is, how do we calmly and patiently come up with solutions and ideas that are acceptable to all Americans as dictated by the elements of democracy while disregarding all sentiments of racism, prejudice, selfishness and ultimate homogeneity?” Locsin said.

Norfolk State University assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies April Manalang ’11, who was the event’s keynote speaker but was unable to attend due to medical reasons, shared her remarks in a video.

According to Manalang, the Filipino-American population is spread out, with over two-thirds of the population residing on the West Coast, and 10 percent and 60 percent of that population residing in the North East and the South, respectively. She also noted that the Hampton Roads area has one of the largest Filipino-American communities and is the second-largest Asian-American group with over 19.7 percent. Manalang said that the vastness of the Filipino-American population across the country makes it more imperative for individuals across generations to stay connected and come together to discuss change, especially in relation to topics such as immigration as younger Filipino-Americans move away from church as a center of community discussion.

“How can we craft solidarity across generations and strengthen civic and political engagement in our communities?” Manalang said. “If we’re not necessarily gathering in the church anymore — if that’s not the center of where we gather as a community, as we know, given what I’ve shared previously about millennials being less affiliated more than any other time in history with a religious community, how do we then develop that solidarity across generations and make sure that our communities develop and build and strengthen over time?”

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates Deputy Director Kendall Kosai said that his grandparents, who were Japanese-American and were incarcerated during World War II, tried to assimilate into U.S. culture and did not talk much about their experience as a result.

“For me, I consider the incarceration experience for them to be traumatic, right — it’s trauma,” Kosai said. “And to look back on that and the effects of that, were that we largely lost our culture, we largely lost our language. I didn’t learn Japanese until I was in college and it wasn’t because [my grandparents] taught me because my professor taught me, right? We didn’t talk about the incarceration experience. We don’t talk about our history. So, 75 years later, when we’re here talking about the Muslim ban and we’re talking about rounding up people who are on lists that are deemed a threat to national security, it’s very reminiscent.”

The summit also addressed the immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. Kosai noted how the categorical changes to visas, specifically family visas, could negatively impact families immigrating from East Asian countries because of family interconnectedness. According to Kosai, you can currently sponsor individuals such as spouses, children and siblings, but the Trump administration could hinder that sponsorship by removing those categories of relational identification.

“Under the current administration, they’re proposing that we cut those categories all together,” Kosai said. “So imagine coming to the United States and never being able to have your sibling or your children or your parents come to the United States. Because Asian-Americans, their family structure is structured in a way that we rely on our siblings, that we rely on our parents, that we rely on our grandparents to help raise a family, they’re such an integral part of the way that Asian families function, that the current proposal is horrifically inhumane to Asian-American Pacific Islander families.”

Kosai was also concerned that removing these relational categories would greatly affect women.

“If we’re only going to admit individuals with high skills, and these are individuals with credentials with high education, we don’t talk about how that disproportionally affects women, and how women are disproportionally affected across the globe in terms of their access to education, in terms of their individual ability to immigrate to the United States,” Kosai said.

Thursday, Feb. 22, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revealed a new mission statement that removed a clause that referred to the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University Theresa Ronquillo believed that the new change mistakenly omitted a critical part of American history.

“It erases indigenous folks and it also erases the fact that black folks in this country were not immigrants — they were kidnapped,” Ronquillo said.

Ronquillo emphasized the importance of college administrators initiating change through training programs that raise awareness of immigration.

99 percent of the time [change] starts with students,” Ronquillo said. “But I would hope that the faculty and staff at higher education keep themselves accountable and continue training. The University of Washington — and they’re on the quarter system — they started something called Leadership Without Borders, and they had an undocuAlly training every quarter for staff and faculty specifically and it was driven by the administration, as far as I know. That’s what needs to happen on the college level, is that administrators, deans, decision makers need to show solidarity and support because it falls onto you students a lot and I see that, and I see you.”

“99 percent of the time [change] starts with students,” Ronquillo said. “But I would hope that the faculty and staff at higher education keep themselves accountable and continue training. The University of Washington — and they’re on the quarter system — they started something called Leadership Without Borders, and they had an undocuAlly training every quarter for staff and faculty specifically and it was driven by the administration, as far as I know. That’s what needs to happen on the college level, is that administrators, deans, decision makers need to show solidarity and support because it falls onto you students a lot and I see that, and I see you.”

UndocuTribe Panelist Diego Rodriguez ’19 said that the issue of initiating change is often left to faculty of color and  instead should be more widespread.

“It’s also problematic because oftentimes what happens is it’s faculty of color that take on this burden,” Rodriguez said. “And its exhausting not only for the students but then you have educators who are educators of color who are putting up with what happens under the administrative level but also what students want but also they have lives, and families.”