This interview was originally published in the article 5 Asian American Women Who Are Leading and Influencing Social Justice Movements in California.
Can you give us some background about what you do?
I am currently the Executive Director of the CA Immigrant Policy Center or CIPC. I provide the vision for the mission of California’s premier immigrant rights organization. I came to this role after successfully managing a statewide capacity building project, involving nine regional coalitions in California, which strengthened their viability through a combination of highly customized training, grant-making and leadership coaching. I have two decades of experience in nonprofit management and human rights advocacy. I worked on international refugee, migration, human rights and civil rights issues in Southeast Asia before working with ACLU as Policy Director for its San Diego regional affiliate. I was also Policy and Advocacy Director at CHIRLA in Los Angeles from 2007–2010. Before moving to the United States, I worked with various international organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Open Society Institute-Burma Education Project in Thailand, and the Jesuit Refugee Service. In June, 2003, I co-authored the book Anywhere But War, about the armed conflict and internal displacement in the Indonesian Province of Aceh.
How did you become involved in social justice and activism?
I grew up in the civil war in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship. My first job was an organizer for a non-profit working to assist families displaced by the civil war. In college, one of our professors was abducted by the military and she was never found again. Growing up poor and under a dictatorial regime was enough to seed a very different consciousness in me, one that was borne of questioning the forces that imposed the hardship meted out on my family and my community. I knew at a very young age that something was terribly wrong with the society I lived in and that questioning and seeking spirit, let me to the path I am in today.
What are you fighting to achieve in this world?
Like many women in the social change movement, I want one fundamental thing: that we can leave a lasting legacy of societies that are better than when we found them. It’s a challenging quest, especially in these times: the right to live with dignity and respect, the right to have opportunities that help us thrive, and most importantly, sustainable communities that makes a complete break with dark legacies of racism, sexism, and inequality.
Why is it important for women to be involved in the social justice movement? Who inspires you? Do you have any idols?
I also grew up in the feminist movement in the Philippines. I was a student activist and I have been marching on the streets for as long as I can remember. However, my mother, my aunts and my sisters did not have the privilege of “wokeness” that I have experienced. In these spaces where we are fully aware of what is needed to truly transform oppressive conditions, are opportunities for women social justice workers to help other women get to a place where we can own our power and if not total freedom, then the ability to make choices that empower us.
To this day, my key inspiration is my dead mother who lived her values of love, courage and compassion without asking for anything in return. I am mostly inspired by other women, mostly the unsung male and female workers in the immigrant rights movement who do the work everyday, without expecting any credit or public adulation. They are the people that shift the current under the iceberg.
I do not have idols, except maybe some really good literary writers and they are too many to mention.
If you could give one piece of advice to any young woman reading this who is hoping to create change one day and lead a movement, what would it be?
I would like her to ask herself: because you decided to do this, think about the one good, powerful legacy you want to leave behind. You are not obligated to finish the work, no one can really finish it, but you can be part of a great movement of women who left something good and lasting in the world, much better than when they found it.