Interviewing a Founder

Last month, members of the Pilipino community and Cal alumni gathered at the historical International Hotel to remember and relive history the of the Pilipino American Alliance (PAA) at its 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration. There were food and photos, traditional dance and testimonials, and a project presented by PAA interns. As a PAA intern, I was part of that project, and for it we interviewed PAA alumni — like Joselito Laudencia.

Joselito was part of Maganda’s founding, though we discuss little more about Maganda beyond that. Rather, since our interview was for a PAA event, much of our conversation revolved around the work Joselito did during and after his involvement with PAA. His was and is a work community-driven and focused on generating change for that community — first for his community on campus through his involvement in PAA and currently for the larger community off-campus through his company Abundant Good, a life coaching service.

What Joselito does through his community organization isn’t that different from what Maganda does, as Joselito spent much of his time and made it his career to help others generate change for themselves. Maganda strives to do the same, providing the space and the encouragement for the creative community to generate not necessarily change but something: music, photography, spoken word, prose

Anything.

Here is our interview.
_________________________________________

Alex Cariaso: Tell me a little about yourself and how you were first exposed to PAA, why you got involved with PAA.
Joselito Laudencia: How I got first exposed to PAA? It was during my sophomore year in college and I had joined through what at the time it was called the Educational Issues Committee and then the next year when I chaired the committee, I changed the name of the committee to POWER.

Let me just tell you then – things are different now. Twenty years later, things are different. Is there something like the Educational Issues Committee now?

AC: We have PASS, Pilipino Academic Student Services which is the recruitment and retention organization.
JL: That’s good. One of the biggest issues at the time was about retention; rates were really high; 50% was the dropout rate. Part of it was really looking at how to make sure there could be something done to make sure that students got the support and resources to stay on board. But it wasn’t only about the community but also making sure the administration put in research and resources into the community so that they wouldn’t be neglected.

And then after that, the next year, I became the chair of that Educational Issues Committee. And then I changed the name of it to POWER, which stands for Pilipinos Organized to Work for Educational Rights. It was a lot more political in terms of focus. One of the things we did was put together a report that was looked at Pilipino student retention and came up with records that were distributed to administration and diff Pilipino student groups to other campuses. One of the other issues we worked on was Tagalog classes. Is that still a problem? [talked about the cutting of Tagalog classes]

When I was chair of POWER, there was a Tagalog class but they decided to cut it. So then we raised a campaign to get it back and got it reinstated.

When I had joined PAA, I remember at the beginning of the year there is that orientation meeting and introduction to all the committees and at the end of the meeting, where everyone signs up for things that interest them. When I was chair of POWER, I remember going up there and going in front of whole group and a lot of people telling me, PAA is predominantly a social organization and that people get in involved with cultural night so don’t be upset if nobody signs up and if nobody signs up for your committee.

I had my speech set up, ready to talk about our need to fight for our rights and to stand up for ourselves and a lot of people were saying that that might turn people off and [it might] be too “out there.” They told me it’s a social organization and that I should maybe downplay my goals – “We want to work towards this and work with people” and not demand things. [laugh] So I remember thinking, “what did I sign up for?”

As I was going up there to talk about my committee, I thought, “You know what, I’ll say what I need to say and whoever wants to join I want to join me. I don’t care if it’s one or two people at least I’ll know we have the same goals and are working for the same things. So I said what I wanted to say and used the words I wanted to use, and at the end, mine had most of the sign-ups of all the other committees.

That showed me that there was a real wanting of people to work on these different issues, they just didn’t have the vehicle. That’s the direction I took it, so we looked at student activism, Ethnic Studies, Asian American Studies. And [we] also really looked at how to connect student committees with the committee at large in a way that looked more at political kinds of issues. That’s what I did during that year.

During that same year, my friend Ray started up Maganda. So I was part of the founding group of that. Then I did Balita the next year.

I was involved [with PAA] for a couple years: my sophomore year and my junior year. After that, I moved away from student politics and moved to community, I did a lot of community organizing. There’s a group in Oakland called the Center for Third World Organizing where they train young people to be organizers in communities of color. I started working on community campaigns around different kinds of issues: toxins in the community, building better playgrounds, getting rid of lead in people’s homes, all these different things. It was very focused on community activism.

AC: Did you continue that community involvement after graduation?
JL: A lot of my work was community organization for maybe 15+ years after that.

AC: I see that you founded Abundant Good, a life coaching service for gay men. How did you shift to that from community organizing?
JL: Part of my work has really focused on being of service to other people and on leadership development and helping people reach their potential. That’s been the core of what I did be it through committee organizing or union organizing or doing life coaching. Same tools. I’m concerned with how do we live the life that we want and what stops us from getting there and develop tools to be successful. That’s how I moved from community work to work as life coach. Working with gay men is new for me, something I really got into in the last year. I’m trying to work with communities that are not in the mainstream and that need some kind of support.

AC: Do you think your involvement in PAA has impacted that?
JL: Skills transfer. PAA really taught me what it meant to really get involved in my own community and really what it meant and how important it was for people in the community to step up and become leaders. One of things I noticed is there’s this vacuum that exists, especially in communities that are marginalized, that are minorities, that there is this lack of leadership and people wanting to step up to leadership. That’s where I learned that the person I was waiting for me is me. It’s the same for everyone. You are the one that everyone is waiting for – that’s what carried into my work and life coaching.

AC: What are some memorable PAA events or moments for you?
JL: Let’s see, one is the first time I went up and talked during that orientation about the call for people to get involved politically. The other was the Tagalog class thing which was a memorable moment because it showed the power of organizing and what it meant for us to come together as a community. I would say, I think – I would say cultural night, do they still have that? Is that still popular? I think one of the things I did when I was chairing POWER during the PCN, during intermission in the middle of program. One of things I did, right before intermission, I spoke in front of the whole audience about the issue about Pilipino student retention. We need to have people speak up on behalf of the community. I had them sign postcards that were sent to administration so it was really cool. I was up there on stage, talking to community members and everyone there about this issue and right when intermission broke, our table was bombarded with people wanting to get involved, of the community coming together and actively signing these postcards and then sent to the university administration.

AC: What would you say was the most important issue/program/or event that you and your core worked on that you would like PAA core now to know about? And why that?
JL: I feel like a broken record. I would say again and again, point to it, because it seems like that there’s people who don’t really know, some people who don’t remember the political activities that PAA has been involved in. That was how it was born, how it was first created. People should know that there is an opportunity to do anything we want to do, it’s just people need the vehicle to do it. One of things I learned that people did have was a yearning to stand up for themselves and the community. And what I did was provide that vehicle.

{ alexandria cariaso / finance and marketing director }

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