Why I Organize: Filipina migrants in Seattle fight for rights in Northwest and back home.

Pin@y sa Seattle members Donna Denina and Claudia Alexandr Paras at West Coast Port Shutdown protests, Dec. 12, 2011

Pin@y sa Seattle members Donna Denina and Claudia Alexandra Paras at West Coast Port Shutdown protests, Dec. 12, 2011.

For decades, people have been the Philippines’ largest export. Women make up 70% of the more than 4,000 nationals who leave the country each day. Most of them come to the US, but there are Filipinas all over the world. Both in the US and abroad, they often find themselves in jobs where they’re vulnerable to violence or exploitation, such as domestic helpers or entertainers.

According to Pin@y sa Seattle*, a local group advocating for the human rights of Filipinas globally, this is a forced migration that’s a byproduct of hard economic times. In rural areas, land seizures and foreign mining are pushing the population towards the cities. Women make up the largest portion of government-tallied unemployed in the Philippines (7.1% in 2011). Millions of women are leaving the country.

Tomorrow, Pin@y is holding an event called KAMAY, in celebration of International Women’s Day. “KAMAY” means “HAND” in Tagalog, the national language in the Philippines. It’s a fitting title for the event, meant to represent the many hands of  Filipina women contributing to the fabric of the American labor force.

Through political education, Pin@y connects issues that Filipinas face in the U.S. directly to problems in the Philippines such as high unemployment, hunger and rampant human rights violations by the Philippine government.

I grew up in Seattle and while I know all the ins and outs of my community, local politics, and the history of the struggle here, before I found Pin@y I knew little about my own identity as a second generation Filipina-American. I’m embarrassed to say I had only vaguely heard of the Marcos regime and Imelda’s notorious shoe collection.

I also had a lot of questions about my background, such as: “How does a school teacher or a biochemist in one country become a janitor in the US?” My parents weren’t able to tell me; they were too busy working during my childhood.

My questions started to get answered through Pin@y’s political education discussions. Inspired by one of these discussions, I tried again to talk to my parents about their past. Suddenly their personal stories began to pour out. I was proud to learn that my mother marched during the First Quarter Storm protests against the Marcos regime in 1970. I started to be able to put my family’s personal history in a larger context and understand the economic conditions that led them to leave the Philippines.

“I was raised in the Philippines and saw all my cousins grow up with one parent absent. They had to leave to find better jobs to support their families,” says Claudia Alexandra Paras, a migrant and finance officer for Pin@y. “Following the pattern, I too moved to the U.S. and in 2006 began financially supporting my Mom and Lola (grandmother) by remitting money back to the Philippines.”

Ironically, it wasn’t until Paras came to Seattle that she learned about the National Democratic (ND) movement back in the Philippines. Pin@y is directly connected to the work and advocacy of women’s rights and welfare in the Philippines through GABRIELA, an umbrella of over 180 grassroots women’s organizations in the ND movement.

“I could see the connection between the struggles as a Filipina that I faced here to the problems that I witnessed growing up in the Philippines,” says Paras.

Like Paras, by educating myself and asking questions, I can start to break the silence between me and my parents and learn more about my identity. I can see how the liberation of other Filipinas and women in the world is tied to my own.

On Saturday March 10th Pin@y sa Seattle will share stories of struggle and hardship and celebrate the sacrifice and perseverance of all Filipina migrant workers around the world. “ K A M A Y “ will be held at Southside Commons (3518 S. Edmunds St) in Columbia City from 2pm-5pm. The event will feature music by the Pin@y choir, theater pieces, and a program about International Women’s Day, Filipina Migrant Stories Shared. There will be a silent auction and raffle, Filipino food, kids’ activities, and informational tables. All event proceeds will go towards supporting Gabriela USA’s 2nd National Assembly in Chicago this May. For more information, contact [email protected].

Watch a slideshow from the event »

*[Pinay is a term for female-identified Filipina women. The “@” symbol is used because it is a queer-friendly organization.]

Jill Mangaliman is a queer, Fil-Am, jack of all trades community organizer from Seattle, focused on issues of racial, gender, and environmental justice. They are a founding board member of Got Green, and a member of the Healthy Food Access Team, BAYAN PNW, and Pin@y sa Seattle. For fun, they like singing/writing about love and revolution.

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