Growing up, I often felt that you were either born privileged or not privileged, white or “other,” straight or gay. It wasn’t until I started college at UCLA, surrounded by fellow Filipino American and LGBT students, where I realized that there is a spectrum of unique identities. But many of these students had felt marginalized merely because of who they were. Furthermore, they often felt like they were part of the “model minority” myth, where our needs as Asian Americans weren’t prioritized because we were seen as doing better academically and economically compared to other minorities, and therefore didn’t need as many resources or attention. At the time, we were engaged in a campaign called “Count Me In,” which called on the University of California system to disaggregate their data into distinct ethnic subgroups beyond merely “Asian” or “Pacific Islander.”
After graduating from UCLA and moving to Washington, D.C., I had the privilege of working at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), where we sought to improve the quality of life of AAPIs by increasing their access to the federal government. We encouraged federal agencies to tackle the “model minority” myth by disaggregating their data to better identify the needs of our diverse community, including in areas like education, health, civil rights, and federal hiring. We understood that the AAPI community is not monolithic, but rather is extremely diverse: we represent over 30 ethnic groups, and speak over 100 languages and dialects.
Although diverse, the Filipino American community can also be very divided, given that the Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands with numerous distinct dialects. These regional, cultural, and language-based divisions often continue with factions here in the United States. The organization that I now work for — the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) — strives to unite and empower our community’s diverse individuals and organizations by focusing on leadership development, civic engagement, and advocacy. One of NaFFAA’s initiatives, what we call our “Diverse Segments Council,” tackles this by advocating for the needs of diverse communities, including LGBT individuals, women, veterans, and young professionals.