It just feels right. That’s the sentiment I heard over and over from folks who gathered at Echo Park over the weekend for the 25th Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture. And I have to agree. With the downtown skyline just south and a gorgeous afternoon sun reflected in the lake, the day was filled with memories of the local neighborhood and things to come for a resilient and ever-changing community.
The food booths seemed to quadruple in size, reflecting the surging Filipino food scene in L.A. Music and dancing filled the air.
Still, issues in the local neighborhood with gentrification are serious and loaded. I heard this, also, from many people attending. And perhaps that’s why having the festival return to HiFi is more important than ever – an affirmation that the community is not going anywhere and still plays a vital role in shaping what happens next for local residents and businesses.
Big props to all the staff, volunteers and artists at FPAC, that made the festival a success! As always, for anyone who wants to support the important work that FilAm Arts does each and every year, check out FilAm ARTS.
I also sat down with Filipino and Bangladeshi families in L.A. as they recounted how extreme weather and storm surges have shaped their homelands:
Leah Tejada was at work when she got the news: a massive hurricane had just hit near her family’s hometown on the island of Leyte in the Philippines and the emerging reports were grim.
“I was scared,” she said. “They said there’s no food, so I sent money to Manila and looked for somebody who will go by land to bring food, [like] dried fish.”
Like many Filipinos in L.A., Tejada scrambled to reach her family and send aid after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013. When she finally got word from her three brothers – more than a week after the storm first hit – the news was mixed: they had survived, but their home was demolished. And all of them had to flee to the capital, Manila.
I also visited a local coastal community, Hermosa Beach, which is trying to take measures now to prepare for rising sea levels near its main business district.
Listen to the full interview with Hermosa Beach environmental analyst Kristy Morris here. These stories capped a whirlwind period of monitoring climate negotiations leading up to the Paris deal. We’ll see what comes next!
This year marks the forty-year-anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, when US-backed forces fell to communist armies of the north. It was a profound moment for the US and for Southeast Asia. Today, Southern California is home to the largest community of Vietnamese in the U.S. At KPCC, we recently aired a special week-long series exploring the legacy of April 1975.
For me, it was an intense reporting experience, spending time with families who fled a war-torn country and struggled in a new land. Like many important stories, this one is composed of multiple points of view and perspectives, shaped by memories, trauma, hopes, courage and, at times, prejudice and regret. It also drew me to explore archival material at UCI’s rich Southeast Asian Archives and explore other communities affected by the events of 1975, such as Cambodians.
Here’s an excerpt from my feature on the Cambodian American community in Long Beach:
Four decades after the Khmer Rouge seized control of Phnom Penh, Cambodians in Long Beach are still coming to terms with the tragic events that sent thousands fleeing their homeland.
“It was really chaotic,” said Lian Cheun, who escaped from a prison camp in Cambodia as an infant along with her parents. “Everybody had survival in their mind, trying to figure out how to reconnect with family, trying to find family that are missing.”
In some cases, family members were split up in the labor camps set up by the Khmer Rouge. When the regime fell in 1979, the country was in turmoil, prompting many to make for the border with Thailand, where they spent time in refugee camps on the way to the U.S.
In Long Beach, Cambodians have established a close-knit community and a busy business district, but the experience of the past is often never far behind.
I also met some amazing artists who are exploring their family histories and covering new territory. I was especially impressed with these three artists, who joined us in the studio to talk about how they’re taking on taboo subjects in their community with creativity:
Check out all the stories in the series, After Saigon, here.
This week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino outlined details of a plan to establish an autonomous area in the Southern Philippines for Muslims and indigenous communities.
The proposed bill, known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), is the most concrete step since the government signed the 2012 peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the leading separatist group in Mindanao.
There was much hope at the time, but talks quickly got bogged down, most notably over who would profit from natural resources and taxation in the newly-formed region. That issue, and others, are addressed in the current draft bill, which despite criticism, has received support from some key officials.
“This law is for the children who wish to run across school grounds instead of running for their lives,” Mujiv S. Hataman, governor of the semi-autonomus region, said in a statement posted on Facebook Wednesday. “This law is for families who want to put life into the earth through crops and produce, no longer to dig graves for their fathers and sons who have fallen in war.”
President Aquino acknowledged that economic development in the region has lagged behind other parts of the country, in his address.
“Kaya naman gusto nating bigyan ng pantay na pagkakataon ang lahat, lalong-lalo na ang mga nasa laylayan, upang mabigyan sila ng kakayahang makiambag sa pag-angat ng bansa,” he said in Tagalog.
A few key points in the current draft bill. It will:
— Establish a local self-government system, which will include law enforcement
— Retain locally most tax revenue from natural resources in the region
— Set up an area of land that will include the region now known as ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao); Cotabato and Isabela; and other municipalities that voted in 2001 to be included in the region
–Set up a way in which other areas could join the region. Voters in Mindanao where at least 10 percent of the registered voters ask for inclusion at least two months before ratification of the deal could be included.
Here’s an excerpt from the preamble to the draft bill:
“We, the Bangsamoro people and other inhabitants of the Bangsamoro, imploring the aid of the Almighty, aspiring to establish an enduring peace on the basis of justice in our communities and a justly balanced society, and asserting our right to conserve and develop our patrimony…do hereby ordain and promulgate this Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
Importantly, the draft text also includes this line:
“The freedom of choice of other indigenous peoples shall be respected.”
This is a point of contention for some indigenous communities in the area, whose traditions predate the arrival of Islam in the Southern Philippines and who are often caught up in the conflict between separatist forces and the federal government.
Filipinos make up the largest and fastest-growing Asian group in California, but often their stories are overlooked or distorted in media and the public conversation. I’m very happy to be part of a new effort, from the Filipino community itself, to document and craft its own storytelling through the Saysay Project.
Here’s how FilAm ARTS, the group behind the project, describes the effort:
The SAYSAY Project is a community-sourced documentation project by FilAm ARTS to capture the myriad of experiences in the Filipino diaspora through story telling.
“Saysay” (pronounced sigh-sigh) is a Tagalog word that has a double meaning: to have intrinsic value and to declare. This project aims to engage the community to tell their stories, and to document and preserve these shared stories for future generations.
George Villanueva also has an interesting report in KCET about the recent Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture, where Filipinos from across Southern California contributed stories to the Saysay Project.
Philippine-born Pilar Diaz, who immigrated to and grew up in Colorado and now lives in Los Angeles, was asked about her experience being interviewed during the SaySay Project. She said, “it made me reflect about who I am, how I got here. Even though I go about my everyday life in L.A. operating as an American, telling my story reminded me that I’m Filipino, have Filipino values, and see the world as a Filipino too.”
This week, the latest round of secretive trade talks for the massive Transpacific Partnership Trade agreement took place at an exclusive resort in Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu, drawing protesters and prompting more than a dozen arrests.
The trade deal, which the US is pushing and Japan just announced it is joining, would cover 12 nations and have vast implications for millions of people, especially those in poorer Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Often as a journalist, it’s a tough sell to get people interested in faraway negotiations on a trade pact that has lacked transparency and offers few, concrete details.
However, thanks to investigative work by groups like Citizens Trade Campaign and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, enough internal documents have been leaked to paint a picture that should draw attention. (One chapter, made public in 2012, reveals attempts to give special rights to corporations under the deal, allowing them to undermine national and local protections on public health and food safety.) The documents also show that the pact, known as the TPP, could affect:
–labor rights and workplace protections
–land holdings and agricultural rules
–access to medicine for residents in poor countries
–Internet freedom and online expression
This week I spoke to Nizam Mahshar, a Malaysian activist with the Malay Economic Action Council, who was at the police station in Sabah after 14 protesters were detained on “drug charges” on July 20. Mahshar told me that the arrests were enough to derail the protests that day, but that actions to educate local businesses and residents continue. Their concerns are shared by some prominent critics of the deal, including former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has called for more transparency in the talks.
Mashar told me that none of the civil society groups or local representatives from trade unions or industries have been consulted.
“The whole negotiation right now is being driven by the United States and for us, the developing countries, [we] are victims of being bullied by these big countries.”
Check out the full interview with Mashar on Free Speech Radio News that aired July 24, 2013 here.
The next round (the 19th) of TPP negotiations will be held in Brunei from August 22-30. In the meantime, you can access more documents about the trade deal here. Also, check out this music video on the TPP, where more than just the melody is familiar:
Climate change could have vast implications for the Mekong River Delta in the coming decades, including affecting extreme weather, population migration and the ability of farmers to produce vital crops for hundreds of millions of people.
Dr. Jeremy Carew-Reid, lead author of the study, called it “shocking” and told Inside Climate News: “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected.”
Those climate extremes could fundamentally alter the production of such staples as soya, maize, cassava and rice, according to the study.
One interesting note in the research is on rice cultivation, a key source of food and livelihood in the region. About half the world’s residents depend on rice as a main staple in their diet and a third of the world’s rice supply comes directly from the Mekong Delta, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. (You can download a 2012 FAO study on rice cultivation here.) Much of it comes from the rice fields in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
Authors of the Mekong ARCC study say that an increase in seasonal rainfall could actually “increase the suitability for lowland rainfed rice culture,” but follow with a word of caution: “The model does not take in account extensive flooding or flash floods related to projected increased rainfall which past experience has shown to be extremely destructive of rice and other crops.”
Other key findings:
–Population growth is putting pressure on rural resources and could lead to a weakening of rural communities’ ability to adapt to climate change, leading to shifts in migration, especially from rural to urban areas.
–Deforestation and illegal logging could continue to affect “floods, landlsides and land degradation,” further worsening climate change’s influence in the region.
–Hydropower projects in the area could contribute to more environmental risks, by contributing to “forced relocation” and “food insecurity” for residents.
You can access the full study and supporting documents here.
The Mekong ARCC team is inviting public comment on the draft report until April 12. Know of some good community groups, farmers or local residents in the Mekong area? I think it would be great to have their voices help shape this study. Comments to Mr. Simon Tilleard: email@example.com.