By Cherie M. Querol Moreno
Editor at large
OAKLAND, Calif. - Emotions are bound to pour out when the grass-roots organization Filipino Advocates for Justice marks another year of championing social justice next week.
"Isulong! Honoring our past, current, and future leaders," set for April 27 at Impact Hub Oakland, will be a celebration of collective accomplishments. More importantly, it will be a recommitment to honoring the legacy of the organizer who is stepping down after nearly four decades of leading the charge for the voiceless and underserved.
For 37 years, Lillian Galedo has directed FAJ, born in 1973 as Filipinos for Affirmative Action. That length of service exceeds the average career, but Galedo, 69, is anything but typical.
"I decided a while back I wanted to be a 'free agent' before I turned 70, shed my non-profit responsibilities, just community activism as a 'free agent'," Galedo explained the transition to this writer. "My retirement from FAJ was something I decided about three and a half years ago. The board has known for about three years, and we have been succession planning for over two years."
The timing of her departure could not have been less ideal, given the surge of anti-immigrant attitude since the presidential campaign and now with the aggressive policies in the administration of Donald Trump.
Not so fast: Galedo is not forsaking her mission.
Her activist flag will remain unfurled in her “lifelong commitment to progressive social change and community organizing”
"Who knew Trump would win? Like everyone else, I assumed Clinton would win," she expressed a prevalent sentiment. "I'm leaving my job at FAJ but not retiring from activism. There's plenty for all us to do."
Galedo will be passing the torch to Geraldine Alcid, whom she counsels to "never give up, work collaboratively in building strong movements." With causes teeming, she advises to " make sure to take care of yourself and family, (because) what we're doing is protracted social change."
She rolled off her short list of action items:
"Over the next few years I'll continue to fight for rent control and just-cause eviction in Union City and Alameda, and as an individual for progressive elected officials in both those cities." She vows to "remain involved in advancing immigrant rights and strengthening the resistance to the Trump Administration's racist, regressive and harmful policies."
FAJ morphed out of FAA, which was founded to wrest parity for Filipinos. In 2012, the pioneering group renamed itself Filipino Advocates for Justice to “better capture who we are and what we do,” Galedo told this writer while planning their 38th anniversary fund-raiser at the time.
Her involvement with the Filipino community began in opposition to the Marcos dictatorship and evolved into Filipino immigrant and Filipino American organizing as waves of newcomers arrived to flee the repressive regime and the poverty it engendered and ignored.
Social services provided lifelines for the weary newcomers. With mainstream agencies ill-prepared to respond with cultural sensitivity and linguistic competence, the responsibility fell on Filipino associations, clubs and organizations to fill the gaps in the spirit of "bayanihan."
"FAJ definitely struggled some years, with respect to funding..., but we have always attempted to be relevant to the big issues impacting the more vulnerable sectors of the Filipino community," the tireless leader looked back. "We come from a 'never give up' framework, strive to play a role in alleviating the suffering in our community, build leadership among the most vulnerable in our community; advancing progressive policies; build vibrant social justice movement."
The organization has acquired cachet because of its resolve, unwavering in pursuit of its objectives. No FilAm from her generation comes to mind as matching Galedo's ability to inspire engagement to confront the powerful on behalf of the marginalized multitude. None has consummated change who was not in elected office or owned a corporation.
With Galedo at the helm in the 1980s, FAJ in its earliest iteration advocated for amnesty added to IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act) in 1986, won implementation of a bilingual education plan in Oakland, and reformed excessive punitive disciplinary policies in Union City.
In the 1990s, her team formed FilCRA (Filipino Civil Rights Advocates), a national Filipino organization that rejected anti-immigrant policies in the state and nationwide, such as Prop 187, welfare reform, harmful immigration enforcement policies, English-only policies, and an attempt to end bilingual services.
New issues emerged with the new millennium, particularly after Sept. 11, 2001.
FAJ "defended the jobs of airport screeners who were falsely scapegoated for the 9/11 attacks," disproportionately affecting Filipinos who made up 60 percent of screeners in the Bay Area,” said Galedo.
The organization began rallying caregivers, ultimately helping establish the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights and initiating advocacy for greater labor protections for domestic workers.
As the Filipino population (immigrant and U.S.-born) soared, FAJ ignited voter registration drives. They set their sights on violence prevention in Union City and Oakland and halted development of the Union City hills.
This decade, FAJ won a domestic worker bill of rights. They helped fight for sanctuary city in Alameda. Recently they won just cause eviction in Union City; getting close to just cause eviction and completed profile for Filipino registered voters in Northern California, finding nearly 50 percent of Filipinos eligible to vote are not registered.
The rise of the Filipino population boggles even this seasoned warrior.
"The community's grown beyond my imagination," she said. "Thirty-five years ago Filipinos in the Bay Area probably numbered a little more than 100,000. Now the community's about 500,000-strong in the S.F. Bay Area, and are one of, if not the largest Asian population in California. And I never imagined that after all these years the community would still be predominately foreign born. It speaks to the continuing relevance of immigration on our community's growth."
She likes how her people have paid attention.
"The community is also much more empowered and civically engaged than when I started, except for the anti-martial law movement, which I participated in. Some cities have very large Filipino communities who have assumed positions of municipal leadership over the last 25 years. The Filipino community exerts local political power, and is helping to build citywide progressive coalitions in Union City and Alameda and other cities across ethnic lines, and is involved in building the progressive movement. We finally elected the first Filipino to the California state legislature."
District 18 (D- Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro) representative to the California Assembly Rob Bonta's political star rose simultaneously with Galedo's community leadership.
Many years a member of the FAJ board, Bonta's ascent to the state Legislature reflects the efforts of area activists who learned to build and nurture alliances, stayed in focus, believed in their endeavors and trusted their leader.
The current Assembly Assistant Majority Leader offers a loving tribute to the woman who once watched over him and his siblings over 40 years ago while his parents - her fellow activists - marched with clenched fists to unionize farm labor:
"Lillian Galedo is an institution and is simply irreplaceable," the fifth highest ranking Assembly representative told this writer. "Her unquenchable thirst for justice and her work in the trenches-- literally for decades-- transforming lives one day at a time is without peer and sets the standard for future generations. There will never be another like her."