SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (FAXX/jGLi) — They may not be the Freedom Riders, who rode interstate buses in 1961 and the following years into the segregated southern United States, for non-enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that held that segregated public buses were unconstitutional.
But 30-something Filipinos found the sixties’ Freedom Riders, who ended the “separate but equal” segregation, handy role models. Instead of mere fence setters, this bunch, who called themselves AFIRE Fighters For Justice (AFF4J), woke up very early or did not sleep at all just to make it on board a bus that took them to the legislative Capitol here.
The bus riders were (Group 1), Lina Hernaez (Leader), Chito Hernaez, Jericho Maslog, Issa Maslog and Angela Maslog; (Group II), Tiffy Poblete (Leader), Daniel Marquez, Cristina Acaylar, Carmen Libot and Marina Rativo; (Group III), Al Cabagnot (Leader), Remy Cabagnot, Nicanora Mendoza, Bendice Garin and Aurea Macaspac; (Group IV), Myrla Baldonado (Leader), Pura Calo, Erlinda Alperes, Leona “Daday” Signe and Pat Sampan; (Group V), Roger Anquillano (Leader), Carlita Anquillano, Pilar, Carmen Rara and Caridad Batacan; (Group VI), Kit Poon (Leader), Peter Poon, Librada Santos, Juanita del Rosario and Jane de Veyra; Group VII, Kristina “Kaikai” Mascarenas (Leader), Kristina Tendilla, Rowan Quinain, Tess Gutierrez; and (Group VIII), Jerry Clarito (Leader), Vendo Capili, Joseph G. Lariosa, Sally V. Richmond and James Gan.
They were volunteers and supporters of Alliance of Filipino Immigrant & Refugee Rights (AFIRE) led by Executive Director Jerry B. Clarito. They met at AFIRE headquarters at 7315 North Western Avenue in Chicago’s northside before 6 a.m. and were later dropped off at 7 p.m. at the same location.
They were passengers of one of the ten buses that left different pick-up locations in Chicago at about 6 in the morning in what was billed as Asian American Action Day when they converged in the legislative Capitol Rotunda here to drum up support among state legislators for passage of a pilot program to conduct outreach and education on Hepatitis B.
They also rallied for the passage of a House Joint Language Access Task Force Resolution introduced by State Rep. Lou Lang (D-16th) and State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-9th); Comprehensive Immigration Reform Resolutions separately introduced as H.R. 377 by State Rep. Edward J. Acevedo (D-2nd) and S.R. 328 by Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-1st); Protect the Immigrant Services Budget Line Item that fights to protect funding for successful programs of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) that include the New Americans Initiatives (NAI) & Refugee and Immigrant Citizenship Initiative, the Immigrant Family Resource Program, the Parent Mentor Program; and Uniting America Program; and the passage of “Comfort Women” Resolution introduced by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-57th).
AFIRE COALITION OF AAJA & PAVE
AFIRE is one of the coalition members of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ)-Chicago, formerly Asian American Institute, and the Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE), that mobilized nearly 400 community members to lobby legislators for a day of legislative action.
Members streamed into the Capitol Rotunda for a rally that featured legislators and community leaders advocating for their constituents. This May marks nearly one-year anniversary of the launch last July of the first Asian American Legislative Caucus in Illinois composed of nine members although the 117-member 98th General Assembly has yet to elect an Asian American legislator. The closest legislator to have affinity with Asian American is Latino (Puerto Rican) Rep. Fred Crespo (D-44th) of Streamwood, whose wife is a Filipino American, Dorothy Acacio Luz, a native of Baguio City. The next Asian American Legislative Caucus meeting will be held this summer.
Community members greeted this anniversary with a state agenda that tackled among others language access and the Hepatitis B healthcare crisis. “Mobilizing community members around a day of action in our state’s Capitol is critical in raising awareness around what affects Asian Americans specifically. Today is about showing legislators that we care and we’re prepared to fight for what we want,” noted Advancing Justice-Chicago executive director Tuyet Le.
To cheers of “Mabuhay” (pronounced ma-boo-high, a Filipino word which means long life), Mr. Clarito was able to engage and thank hundreds of Asian Americans, Hispanics and Blacks for making it to the event before the presence of state legislators. They screamed and answered to the cadence of “Ma-boo, Ma-boo, High, High, High!
Another Filipino American, Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of ICIRR, urged the crowd to contact their own state legislators to support the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Resolutions introduced by State Rep. Acevedo and State Rep. Munoz and get U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk [R-IL] and U. S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-6th-IL) on board with the CIR, saying “Remember November! Keep Our Families Together!”
Asian American Advancing Justice-Chicago legal director Andy Kang described the state agenda as, “an example of different Asian American communities coming together and addressing some of our biggest common challenges in Illinois.”
“THERE IS NO ILLEGAL HUMAN”
In the AFIRE bus, passengers bonded by getting to know each other, including their birthplaces, which are mostly from the Philippines, except for the husband of a Filipina, who was born in Red China. Some have problems with immigration while others don’t have. But they pledged to help in the challenges the community face. The youngest passenger was 17 and the eldest, 86. They also sang Filipino folk songs.
Clarito told bus riders that there are 13,000 Filipinos, who have no health insurance, and AFIRE hopes to help them secure insurance coverage regardless of their immigration status. “Walang illegal na tao. Ang illegal lang ay aksyon. Lahat tayo ay pare-pareho. Kahit ikaw ay puti, itim o ano pa mang kulay sa harap ng Diyos.” (There is no illegal human. Only illegal action. All of us are created equal. Even if you are white, black or of other color before God.) Everybody will be judged if they don’t help one another and the door will be shut against those who are indifferent.)
Filipinos are the second largest Asian Americans in Illinois, second only to Asian Indians. “But we are invisible.” In 1903, there were only three Filipinos in Illinois. Now, there are 120,000. “And we are still invisible. Only five Filipinos joined the previous Asian American bus rally in Springfield – Mr. & Mrs. Chito & Lina Arnaez, Al Cabagnot, Tess Gutierrez and Kristina Tendilla.
REPORTER’S REUNION WITH AN OLD FRIEND
“After a big turnout at the May Day Immigration Rally last May 1st, AAAJ and PAVE noticed the presence of Filipinos and they gave us this bus and T-shirts. I hope in the next trip, we can fill up three buses.”
Clarito added, “hindi lang tayo ang pumapalakpak, tayo ay pinapalakpakan na rin.”(We are not just spectators. We are also actors.) This is a qualitative lift in our actions by engaging in healthy heart workshops, Usap-Usapan (town hall meetings), pro bono works for NAI (New Americans Initiatives) and other activities that can make the community better and make Filipinos believe that we can organize with this four-hour journey that impacts on the community.
“If Filipinos can contribute to make society and community better, by organizing a journey to get a 17- and 86-year olds together, it can have an impact to this and the coming generations not just in Chicago but also in the world. And you will take pride in saying, TGIF –Thank God I’m Filipino, a homonym for Thank God It’s Friday. At tayo ay maipagmamalaki sa mundo. (We will be the pride of this world.)”
One of the motives of this reporter to take the trip to Springfield was to have a re-union with an old friend and a former law student, who is now Sen. Darin M. LaHood (R-37th) of Peoria. Senator LaHood, a member of Appropriations and Judiciary committees among others, is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
By the time the bus riders were heading back to Chicago, the “Comfort Women” Resolution was approved.
STATE REP. LOU LANG SPEAKS: State Rep. Louis I. Lang (D-16th), deputy majority leader of the Illinois General Assembly and one of the lead organizers of the first Asian American Caucus meeting last year, welcomes some 400 Asian Americans organized by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago (formerly Asian American Institute) and Pan-Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) coalition. Looking on from right are Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR),State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt (D-5th), State Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy (D-14th), State Rep. Mike Smiddy (D-71st), State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-9th), State Rep. Greg Harris (D-13th), State Rep. Mike Fortner (R-49th), State Sen. Linda Holmes (D-42nd) and unidentified. (FAXX/jGLi Photo by Joseph G. Lariosa)
REUNION OF OLD FRIENDS: “Just call me Darin” was how State Sen. Darin M. LaHood (center) (R-37th) of Peoria humbled himself when he met this reporter, Joseph G. Lariosa (extreme left), who had known him as a law student back in the days, when they had a reunion at the Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. At right is Jerry Clarito, Executive Director of Alliance of Filipino Immigrant & Refugee Rights (AFIRE). (FAXX/jGLi Photo)
AFIRE FIGHTERS 4 JUSTICE: These are some of the 30-something volunteers and supporters of Alliance of Filipino Immigrant & Refugee Rights (AFIRE), who boarded the bus behind them, from Chicago, Illinois en route to the Capitol Rotunda in Springfield to lobby passage of a pilot program to conduct outreach and education on Hepatitis B; House Joint Language Access Task Force Resolution; Comprehensive Immigration Reform Resolutions separately introduced as H.R. 377 and S.R. 328; Protect the Immigrant Services Budget Line Item that fights to protect funding for successful programs of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) that include the New Americans Initiatives (NAI) & Refugee and Immigrant Citizenship Initiative, the Immigrant Family Resource Program, the Parent Mentor Program; and Uniting America Program; and the passage of “Comfort Women” Resolution. Among those in photo are Jerry Clarito (seated, extreme right), AFIRE Executive Director, Sally V. Richmond, (second from left, front row), who organized the trip, and reporter, Joseph G. Lariosa (extreme left, seated). (FAXX/jGLi Photo)