“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”
Sen. Ted Kennedy, June 1968, eulogizing his brother, Robert
Every even year after its first 3 consecutive national conferences, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) holds a National Empowerment Conference (NEC). One is scheduled to take place in San Diego, CA on August 7-10 at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center in Mission Valley. It will be its 11th national conference since its founding by the late Alex Esclamado, former Editor/Publisher of California’s weekly broadsheet, the Philippine News.
Quite remarkably, the 11th NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference has demonstrated its ability to adapt to the fast changing technology of our time as proven by its strong presence in the internet through its website and social media exposures in facebook and tweeter. Lorna Dietz, one of the conference consultants/advisers appointed by Chair Ed Navarra, outdid herself here. I could tell her stamp in much of the information on the conference website and the social media. Ed certainly knew what he was doing when he appointed Lorna and Ben Menor to oversee and coordinate the conference and get it moving.
11th NEC: Theme, Roster of Speakers and Workshops
Lofty is the goal of 11th NEC as boldly declared by its theme: We Break the Dawn: Master Planning the Future. It aims “to build a new master plan for the next generation of leaders” by empowering individuals with tools, resources and a shared network. The conference opens on Thursday, August 7 with a Pre-Conference Leadership Institute led by Empowering Pilipin@ Youth through Collaboration (EPYC)
The featured tracks and workshops reflect a design pointing to the 11th NEC theme of honing a new generation of leaders. Check it out:
* Tomorrow Starts Today: Strengthening the Fil-Am Mentorship Pipeline -Lakas Mentorship Program (Southern California)
* How to Build a Complete Social Media Strategy Gino Barrica (Founder, FLPNO.com)
* The Value of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in the Public Sector – Mavette Trinidad Sadile (President, County of San Diego Filipino-American Employees’ Association)
* Helping the Silent Victims Among Us -Circle of Empowered Women (NaFFAA Illinois)
To grace the conference as speakers are Filipino Americans who personify NaFFAA’s ideals of empowerment. They are: Billy Dec , CEO and Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a restaurant and entertainment development company in Chicago that owns and operates Rockit Bar & Grill, Sunda, Rockit Burger Bar, Underground, ¡AY CHIWOWA! and Bottlefork.
Also listed as speakers are: Jason Tengco, Senior Advisor, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Antonio Taguba, (Ret.) Major General in the U.S. Army, Liberty Zabala, Multimedia Journalist, NBC 7 San Diego, Tony Olaes, President : Olaes Enterprises, Inc. (ODM), Steven Raga, National Urban Fellow, AARP and Jose Antonio Vargas, immigration advocate and most prominent undocumented immigrant.
A Brief Look at the Past Empowerment Conferences
The first National Empowerment Conference took place in 1997 in Washington, D.C. where more than 1,000 delegates from various Filipino American organizations across the United States came together to form a federation now known as NaFFAA (National Federation of Filipino American Associations). Themed “Panahon Na!” (It’s Time!), this assembly drafted its constitution and by-laws, appointed officials, addressed four major issues: immigration, affirmative action, welfare reform, and equity for Filipino World War II Veterans and delegates marched to the White House on the first day of the conference, led by hundreds of uniformed Filipino veterans, to demand “equity now.” For the first time, the veterans issue became a national campaign for justice.
On October 16-18, 1998, the second NEC was held at the Marriott Wardman Hotel in Washington, D.C. Alex Esclamado and Gloria T. Caoile were elected national chair and vice chair, respectively for a 4-year term. Klaus Buntua, Jon Melegrito and Ian Puruganan were treasurer, Executive Director and Youth Chair in that order. The Constitution and By-Laws was unanimously ratified and a decision making body, the National Board was formed with representatives from all 10 regions.
In 1999, when then First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton came as Keynote Speaker to the 3rd NEC at the City Hilton and Towers in New York, chaired by Loida Nicolas Lewis, founding NaFFAA Chair, Alex Esclamado exuberantly pronounced that “as a community, we have finally earned a seat at the table of power.” Indeed as he declared, it was the highest honor given to the Filipino-American community in the entire 412 years of presence of the Filipino in America, a feat that to this day has yet been duplicated.
Ten more national conferences followed each even year, namely: in Las Vegas, NV – year 2000, San Jose, CA – 2002, Chicago, IL – 2004, Waikiki, HI – 2006, Seattle, Washington – 2008; San Francisco, CA – 2010 and Detroit, MI – 2012. Loida Nicolas-Lewis and Greg Macabenta led NaFFAA as national chair and vice chair, respectively from 2002 to 2005. In 2006 Alma Kern and Rozita Lee were elected chair and vice chair in that order, followed by Greg Macabenta as chair and Rozita Lee as vice chair in 2008. Ed Navarra and JT Mallonga were elected and reelected as chair and vice chair, respectively in 2010 to the present. Another election will take place in this 11th NEC in San Diego with two possible candidates for the highest post, Rozita Lee from Las Vegas and JT Mallonga from New York.
I’d been to some national conferences since we hosted one in Chicago in 2004. Having been in the shoes of these conference chairs, I give the leaders of the host state and region a lot of credit. The task is humongous and stressful but worse than this, it is ungrateful and unforgiving. You work hard and do your best but still some things can go wrong, some even beyond your control. Yet, there will be blames and criticisms and there’s nothing much you can do to avoid them. What counts is how your work has made an impact on the greater goal of the organization. If it has moved NaFFAA to a place it wants to be, or at least closer to where it hopes to be, then congratulations! You’ve done your job. Move on. There is more work to do to fuel our hopes and keep our dreams alive.
At the risk of alienating myself from the NaFFAA dreamers though, I’m coming out with this brief observation and commentary in hopes that some will be open-minded enough to stop and ponder on its merits. After all, my purpose is never to do harm but to help NaFFAA achieve its dream of empowerment for Filipino Americans.
I think that the biggest problem of NaFFAA is the absence of real and substantial support for the national by the member regions and states. It’s a federation that is weakened by its organizational set up, with each state and region existing and working only for its own agenda. Each one does its fundraising using the NaFFAA brand and goes about its programs but doesn’t pay back its dues to the national coffers. With nothing but membership dues coming in trickles, with collection improving some (not much) only during election year, this federation can’t function like one. A mendicant federation cannot grow; neither can it expect to gain respect, least of all, wield influence in a society where politicians pay serious attention only to those who can put money where their mouths are. In its current state, NaFFAA can’t effectively lobby these lawmakers for its cause.
If your could figure out what makes the NRA, TEA PARTY, NAACP, Labor Unions and the like so influential that they can make the President and Congress pay attention to their demands you’ll understand why NaFFAA, in its current state, can’t live up to the dream of its dreamers. Without changing its set up and the mindset of its leaders, it can only be big and a legend in our own small minds.