Mariela Fletcher and Brendan Flores | Photos courtesy of NaFFAA
NEW YORK – Mariela Fletcher, a Seattle-based community leader, was elected President of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) at its 14th National Empowerment Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada, last month. Joining Fletcher on the executive board are Christopher Rivera, national vice president, Angeles “Jelly” Carandang, national treasurer, and Aldrin Carreon, national secretary. As outgoing President, Brendan Flores will continue as National Chair.
Kelly Ilagan Coldiron will continue to serve as executive director. Gio Duaqui, Art de Joya, Armie Sayson, and Nadia Jurani were inducted as members of the board of trustees.
Flores will lead the reorganization of NaFFAA’s board of governors to reflect the structures of other prominent national non-profit organizations. On the other hand, Fletcher will oversee the operational priorities in strengthening NaFFAA’s blueprint by empowering the regions.
“I am grateful and excited to serve in this capacity. We have a great team full of energetic leaders who are ready to serve our more than four million Filipino Americans,” Fletcher said as she described the diverse experience of each member of her team. “I hope we can hold our north star vision together, build our people with genuine relationships, make deeper connections with our partners, and continue forging together in shaping the future of NaFFAA in the next 25 years.”
Flores praised Fletcher as the right leader for the job. “She served under three NaFFAA national chairs and as board member for several organizations. She has a wealth of experience on how to lead effectively and efficiently. Her main role will be finding means to strengthen our NaFFAA regions,” Flores said. “During this uncertain and challenging times, we need a leader who thinks outside the box and leads with charity towards all. This is what a Mariela Fletcher brings to the table as the new NaFFAA president.”
This year’s conference is NaFFAA’s first after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic and marked its 25th anniversary since its founding in 1997.
Nearly 600 NaFFAA supporters, including national and local Filipino American leaders, elected officials, celebrities, influencers, business leaders, and community advocates, attended the 3-day conference with the “Navigating the Present, Shaping the Future” theme.
The three-day conference had three focus areas to shape its future: national advocacy, leadership development, and civic engagement featuring speakers and discussions on issues affecting the Filipino American community, such as mental health, LGBTQ+ community, Fil-Am Alerts Program, and anti-Asian hate.
NaFFAA leaders also sought to relaunch its 2020 flagship program, “E3” – Entrepreneurial and Economic Empowerment, which focused on digital and financial literacy and its role in Filipino culture.
Among the dignitaries that came to speak before the attendees were Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Nani Coloretti, the highest appointed Filipino American in the Biden Administration; and Sheila Marcelo, the Co-Founder, and CEO of Proof of Learn, a Web3 learning platform with a mission to unlock accessible, high-quality education across the world.
NaFFAA also celebrated its history by remembering its early beginning and honoring its past leaders during the civic engagement segment on the conference’s third day.
Remembering the past
“We can’t move forward unless we remember the past,” said Gloria Caoile, one of NaFFAA’s co-founders, as NaFFAA paid tribute to the late Alex Esclamado and acknowledged the presence of co-founders at the event; namely: Loida Lewis, Michael Dadap, Rodel Rodis, and incorporators Gloria Caoile, and Jon Melegrito.
“The Filipino-American community has been at the forefront of many things, and that is why we need to celebrate everything that had happened before us. We celebrate the lives of our great leaders like Alex Esclamado, one of our founders who drove across the country to gather Filipino-Americans from every aspect of life and realize the need to build a united national organization that will stand the test of time,” said NaFFAA’s national chair Flores. “We are grateful for our dear founders, and we are inspired by their resilience. Our founders’ vision and dedication despite the many unknowns during the early years of NaFFAA inspires us to move forward with hope as we move towards our next 25 years.”
Besides Esclamado as its founding national Chair, NaFFAA also noted the dedication and accomplishments of his successors such as Loida Nicolas Lewis, Alma Quintana Kern, Greg Macabenta, Eduardo “Ed” Navarra, Jose Teodoro “JT” Mallonga, and Brendan Flores. Each Chair made its mark on the community by prioritizing the development of new leaders, leading the charge on national advocacy issues, or encouraging and promoting Filipino-American civic engagement.
For the past 25 years, NaFFAA has grown tremendously in becoming the united voice of Filipino Americans across the nation in matters of national advocacy, leadership development, and civic engagement. The last six years under Flores’ leadership became an excellent test for the organization dealing with several challenging issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of Anti-Asian Hate crimes, Fil-Am population growth to more than four million, natural calamities, civil unrest in international countries, issues in Fil-Am representation, and many other challenges encountered by the Filipino American community.
The 37-year-old Flores, together with his executive board, staff members, board of trustees, region chairs, national chairman’s councils, and other state leaders, spent the last six years focusing on empowering Filipino Americans and ensuring Fil-Ams get their seats on the essential tables.
During the last six years, significant milestones were accomplished during the term of Flores:
- Getting Congress to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to FilAm Veterans of World War 2, which was signed into law by the President
- Empowering more Filipino-Americans to run for public office in their Run for Office campaign
- Assisting several FilAm celebrations at the White House with various organizations to honor their rich history and contributions to the United States.
- Maximizing the 2020 Census registration of 4 million Filipinos in America, now the 3rd largest among the Asian population. Collaborating with other organizations in naming a ship after a Filipino American hero of WW2, USS Telesforo Trinidad, and
- Reopening a national office in Washington DC with fully paid Executive Directors Jason Tengco and Carissa Villacorta is now operated by Kelly Ilagan Coldiron.
“Brendan’s most significant contribution is coming and working together in NaFFAA, of the young and the old FilAms, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, and Generations X, Y, and Z,” Lewis said, the first female national chairperson. “As a millennial, he believes that anyone with a willing heart and willing mind could lead such an organization. He hoped the younger generation would step up to such prominent roles.”
After the conference, Flores recognized several organizations and individuals for their exceptional contributions to the Filipino-American community.
“The most important thing now is what we do with what we gained during the conference as we press forward together towards the next 25 years of NaFFAA. I hope that instead of saying 4 million strong, we can proudly say that we are more than 5 million strong,” Flores said. “We need the younger generation, our youth, to step up and rise up to the challenge. This is a collective effort. Together, let’s make history and continue to write our story.”
–With Ricky Rillera/PDM