A reflection on NaFFAA’s 14th National Empowerment Conference: A Story of Filipino Diaspora

by Steve Van Derodar

Attendees to NaFFAA’s 14th National Empowerment Conference | CONTRIBUTED Photo

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) successfully held its 14th National Empowerment Conference and 25th Anniversary Gala at the Harrah’s Hotel in Las Vegas on Aug 4-7, hosted by the NaFFAA’s Desert Mountain Region.

It was my first national conference since joining the organization in 2018. For first-timers like myself, it’s mind-blowing how the whole conference was conducted with impressive plenary topics, highlighted by a Concert Dinner attended by more than 400 guests.

I found it a superb opportunity to see many Filipino Americans who are leaders in their own right – in business, government, healthcare, the youth sector, media, technology, and many more. It was believably the biggest gathering of Filipino leaders from across the country.

Beginning
The strength of a nation lies in its number. The organization started in the Spring of 1997 when Alex Esclamado, then-publisher of the Philippine News, opined that there is currently no national organization to represent Filipinos when some Asian nationalities do. Alex then started increasing the idea to several organizations by visiting numerous Filipino organizations in 27 cities to invite FilAm community leaders to join NaFFAA as the only national organization for Filipinos in America, working for their political, financial, cultural, and personal empowerment.

NaFFAA’s vision is to serve as the voice of all Filipino Americans by uniting, engaging, and empowering diverse individuals and community organizations through leadership development, civic engagement, and national advocacy.

The First National Empowerment Conference (NEC) was held in Washington, DC, in 1997. Since then, the NaFFAA has promoted the welfare and well-being of four million Filipinos and Filipino Americans throughout the United States. As a non-partisan and non-profit organization, NaFFAA is the largest national affiliation of Filipino American institutions, umbrella organizations, and individuals. Its fifteen-member regions cover the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands.

Programs
NaFFAA’s platform for advancement is evident in its programming. It has been the standard bearer for promoting the welfare and well-being of the four million Filipino Americans throughout the United States. These are met by their various programming advocating for advancement. To include a few: NaFFAA’s Business Summits focus on sharing resources for Filipino American business owners and entrepreneurs; NaFFAA’s signature FilAm Vote program focuses on increasing political empowerment through non-partisan civic engagement. NaFFAA continues to advocate for immigration reform and civil rights for Filipino Americans through its National Federation Forum and policy platform.

Youth Engagement
As leadership continuity challenges arise, NaFFAA seeks to engage the youth sector to provide empowerment and created NaFFAA’s Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) Ambassadors Program to engage young Filipino Americans to build the next generation of leaders.

Political Empowerment
NaFFAA salutes every Filipino running for office and celebrates their successes and intentions. Did you know that many Filipino Americans have been elected to office? It was refreshing and inspiring to see several Council members, mayors past and present, Congressmen, and several Filipino appointees from the White House at the convention itself. Whether Republican or Democrat, it gives us a sense of pride to have Filipino Americans are finding their political calling.

Opportunities and Resources
There are several opportunities found in the national organization. For example, the conference provided several critical opportunities for advancement ranging from Cultural Perspective to Successful Entrepreneurship, Civic Leadership to Intergenerational Dialogue and Reflection, and Social Activism to Digital Literacy, among others. Many interesting topics and workshops, including US Medicare Portability, Roles at the Polls, Human Relief 101, etc.

Civic Leadership USA and The White House API Initiatives are two of its stalwart resources.

(L-R standing) John Bahia, Dr. Angie Cruz, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, Steve Raga, (L-R seated) Brad Baldia, Michael Dadap, Dr. Rommel Rivera, Dr. Aida Rivera, Dr. Laura Garcia, Steve Derodar, and Michelle Amor. | CONTRIBUTED Photo

In 2020, NaFFAA held its first iteration of E3 Workshops sponsored by Comcast Universal, a series of online webinars aimed to positively impact members of the Filipino American community by providing them with digital tools and skills training to help them succeed with their personal and business endeavors, or give them the confidence to navigate technology and the digital world. This was in recognition of Comcast Universal’s commitment to the communities where its customers and employees live and work.

Advocacies
NaFFAA’s three-fold advocacies are Leadership Development, Civic Engagement, and National Advocacy.

  1. Leadership Development
    Engaging and empowering young Filipino Americans to build the next generation of leaders and building the capacity of Filipino American organizations to serve their communities better.
  2. Civic Engagement
    Uniting, building, and increasing political empowerment through non-partisan civic engagement and building strategic relations with policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels.
  3. National Advocacy
    Advocating for immigration reform and civil rights for Filipino Americans and promoting small business and financial education.

Autonomy
Member regions are comprised of states as chapters and operate independently through their constitution. Likewise, funding is independent and autonomous. It can bank on national resources and platforms but implements its program locally.

The Northeast Region was well represented at the conference with John Bahia, Dr. Angie Cruz, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, Steve Raga, Brad Baldia, Michael Dadap, Dr. Rommel Rivera, Dr. Aida Rivera, Dr. Laura Garcia, Steve Derodar, Michelle Amor in attendance.

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