VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Filipino Americans in the Hampton Roads region of southern Virginia have vowed to come out in force and make their presence felt in the November elections.
"It’s all about building our political power as an ethnic community," said Bert Dayao, Capital Region chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). "And that means translating our numbers in a way that they truly count."
Political mobilization and empowerment were among the themes that emerged from the recent NaFFAA convention in Detroit, Michigan.
The non-partisan voter mobilization project, dubbed "FilAm Vote Coalition of Hampton Roads" (FAVCOHR), aims to reach Filipino communities in Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.
Filipinos in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area grew by 33 percent in 10 years, according to the 2010 Census – a rate of growth that has caught the attention of state and local elected officials and policy makers.
The region is home to nearly 40,000 Filipinos.
"The issues in this election – jobs and the economy, budget and taxes, education – directly affect our community," said Virginia House Delegate Ron Villanueva.
"There are clear choices this year and we’re all looking forward for a clear direction. But we have to be engaged and understand the importance of registering people to vote,” he said.
Following Villanueva’s remarks, Gloria T. Caoile, former NaFFAA national vice chair and founding member of FilAm Vote, stressed that "we have an opportunity as Filipino Americans to shine in Virginia, a key, battleground state. Hampton Roads can make a difference. We will make it happen not only between now and November 6, but we will keep the fire alive after Election Day and continue to play an active role in this country’s political system."
Caoile cited the example of Nevada where Filipinos grew by 146 percent in 10 years. "Politicians from both parties are heavily courting our votes and paying attention to our issues," she said.
Gem Daus, an Asian American Studies adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, briefed those present about Census statistics, demographic data and recent findings by the Pew Research. "In addition to our growing numbers, we have a high rate of growth, high educational attainment, low poverty rates and income that’s higher than the national average," he explained.
“But of the hundreds of community-based organizations in the country, there are only four that’s primarily organizing around political and civic engagement. It’s a deficit we need to correct.”
"There’s less than a hundred days before the elections,"
Tracy Laguid, a member of the Filipino Young Professionals (FYP) said.. “We need a lightning rod to move us into action."
Nita Cacanindin, a board member of the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater (CUFOT) – the oldest and largest community organization in the area – also expressed support for the project and offered the use of the Filipino American Cultural Center to host voter outreach events.
"We may belong to different political parties but this non-partisan effort of everyone working together will make a long and lasting impact," she said.
Dr. Johnny Montero, a long-time community leader, agreed: "Our ethnic community badly needs this bipartisan FilVote public service. This is the key to our empowerment and I am glad to see much enthusiasm, especially our youth."
Other organizations participating in the launching of the FilAm Vote Coalition are: Bicol Association, Filipino American Chamber of Commerce of South East Virginia, Filipino American Historical National Society (FAHNS), FilAm Civic Action Group (FilAmCAG), Fil-Am Friendship Committee and Ilocano Association.
Naomi Estaris, former CEO of Operation Smile and now COO, The Travel Outlet of Virginia, Inc. and Founding President of South East Virginia’s Fil Am Chamber of Commerce, was designated to head up FAVCOHR and run the day-to-day operations of the voter mobilization project.
NaFFAA Capital Region Vice Chair Bing Branigin is overall coordinator, with Gloria T. Caoile as adviser. Funding was made possible from a grant from Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIA Vote), a national institution focused to encourage and promote civic participation of Asian Pacific Islander Americans in the electoral and public policy processes at the national, state and local levels.