October is National Filipino American History Month. It is a time where Filipino Americans and other members of the community remember and honor their history.
Celebrated since 1988, Filipino American History Month was established to commemorate the community's history, from immigrating to the United States to serving in the military during World War II. Needless to say, the contributions and presence of the Filipino American community in the United States is one that should be both recognized and embraced. Part of the celebration included Apicha's CEO, Therese Rodriguez.
On October 30, Rodriguez was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the NYC chapter of the Filipino American Historical Society. In addition to this award, Rodriguez was also recognized earlier this month for her work against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
You can read her acceptance speech below.
Statement by Therese R. Rodriguez
Filipino American National Historical Society
Metro NY Chapter
October 30, 2017
I am deeply touched by this lifetime achievement award. It is especially significant as it comes from the Metro NY Chapter of The Filipino American National Historical Society. I salute the Society’s decades of service to the Filipino community and its role in recording the life of the Filipino Americans in the U.S. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
You honor an immigrant woman of color who is a shamelessly PROUD lesbian. You believe in leadership that begins with acceptance of self and a commitment to build a generous and compassionate society. I share this award with the founders of the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS activists, who advocated to remove Asian and Pacific Islanders (A&PIs) from the “other” category in AIDS data and succeeded in getting our recognition as a distinct immigrant group.
All glory is not mine to take.
I stand on the shoulders of many kababayans -- nurses and community volunteers, who formed the Piambrera Project during the early days of the epidemic, to deliver requested home-cooked Filipino meals to Filipinos, alone, dying of AIDS in NYC hospitals, abandoned by families and friends. Named after the stackable food container, this project, led by kind and generous volunteers, fed, bathed, even helped brush the teeth of patients too weak to lift their hands.
I stand on the shoulders of Filipino Americans who founded Acacia Fund to raise funds for A&PIs, working with organizations like Ma-yi Theater, to provide compassionate care to those infected with HIV. Care that included preparing PWAs to die with dignity, arranging for funerals and burials, even sending ash remains to families in the Philippines. Acacia Fund was named in memory of a dying man’s wish that his ashes be buried under the shade of an acacia tree in the Philippines.
To the consternation of our own families and despite the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in our community, many young Filipino American lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and heterosexuals joined the staff of Apicha. Together, we built Apicha, reached out to marginalized communities, built coalitions and marched proudly at Pride parades. One of them is a lead organizer of tonight’s event, RJ Mendoza Nadal, who continues his advocacy towards a world without AIDS. Many Filipino Americans – doctors, nurses, lawyers, artists, clients and patients – have volunteered to be part of our board of directors, my dedicated partners in developing the mission and vision of an enduring Apicha.
Apicha is now a federally qualified community health center. We believe in the health center core principle that health care is a human right, a civil right, an immigrant right. We will continue to advocate and provide quality and holistic health care to those living with HIV, the LGB and Ts, and the A&PIs. We provide primary care and other support services to all who come to our door regardless of their ability to pay and immigration status.
In Jackson Heights, Queens, by the spring of 2018, our satellite clinic will be adding pediatric and oral health services. There are tens of thousands of Filipino Americans living in the borough of Queens. They will be among those we will serve as we extend our services to the largely immigrant communities in Queens. Also, in Queens, we will have space dedicated to community building relations between the different communities we serve.
Every time Apicha and I are given recognition, I introspect and take to some exercise in poetry:
Looking at life through its rear view
Twenty-twenty still imperfect
I am planning …
Yet the benefit of the past seems inadequate
To find the “y” in the equation
Equal to the satisfaction of knowing
Exactly what to do.
I optimized what life gave
Of birth, work and luck
An immigrant. I flourished
Lived as much of the American dream
I want no more
I learned acceptance extends quality of life
Grip on life deepens.
Life as immigrants of color presents many challenges in these uncertain times but we will continue to dare to struggle. A luta continua!
And as I have in the past, with fist clenched, chanted at the top of my voice, “Makibaka Huwag Matakot!”