Pilipinx community comes together, discusses future at UC Berkeley summit

Melvin Tangonan/Courtesy

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About 130 people from various organizations came together during the campus Filipinx Summit on Nov. 17 to discuss the future of the community and advocacy efforts for a Pilipinx studies program.

The summit was created to bring the Pilipinx community together and to collaboratively brainstorm future plans, according to campus sophomore Lauren-Cecile Galang, who works in the office of ASUC Senator Melvin Tangonan. It featured performances, speakers from various organizations — including faculty from the UC Davis Filipinx studies program — and Pilipinx food, amid the group discussions. Tangonan’s office, the Division of Equity and Inclusion’s Asian Pacific American Student Development program, the Multicultural Community Center and Pilipinx Academic Student Services, among others, sponsored the summit.

“The Filipino community on campus is more than a club at school,” said Jus Lim, a member of the summit’s organizing outreach team. “It’s more than an organization that you do in college.”

According to Tangonan, the movement for a Filipinx studies program started in 2014, after former ASUC President DeeJay Pepito and former Pilipinx-endorsed ASUC Senator Sean Tan passed an ASUC Senate resolution in support of establishing the program.

Summit organizer Loella Disto said she also thought it was important to give credit to the three “titas,” or “aunts,” of the movement: faculty members Joi Barrios, Cynthia “Chat” Aban and Karen Llagas. She added that they were responsible for helping launch the movement and should be given more credit.

“To have us all together, fighting for one cause — that is to not have our history erased — was a huge deal,” Disto said.

Campus currently offers Filipino language classes, as well as several courses on various aspects of Pilipinx culture which are offered during the summer. Many students, including Tangonan and Lim, said these summer courses were inaccessible, however, due to their timelines and price.

Lim said he hopes the summer classes will be offered during the school year, and added that he would like to see permanent Pilipinx faculty as well.  Tangonan similarly expressed that he would like to see a potential Filipinx studies minor in the future and research opportunities as well.

“The community here on campus is really a sense of people coming together learning about our difficulties, trying to navigate this higher institution,” Tangonan said.

The event was not only attended by the Pilipinx community, members of the Vietnamese student population also showed up.

Quincy Huynh, campus graduate student and current external vice president of the Cal Vietnamese Student Association, said he did not fully understand the issue before the event, but is now in full support of the program.

“Even though I’m a STEM major, I personally place heavy importance on ethnic and language studies because learning one’s culture, heritage, and language is so empowering, especially for communities that are generally underrepresented, like the Filipinx and Southeast Asian community,” Huynh said in an email.

Event organizers said the exact timeline and next steps for this fight are uncertain, but they hope to have the program established within the next five years, according to Tangonan.

According to Michael Gaetos, chief of staff for Tangonan, the office of Senator Tangonan is currently compiling a report of the data and information from the summit, which will be used to inform future decisions.

“I have real hope for a future program at Berkeley — one that generates resources and opportunities for students and faculty to produce scholarship in Philippine, Filipino, and Filipinx studies,” said campus graduate student Kat Gutierrez in an email. “We have the archives, the infrastructure, the faculty, and the student body to make a firm case to institutionally secure a program.”

Kate Finman is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.