Way to Blaze the Trail!

Jon MelegritoBy Jon Melegrito

Marlan Maralit, a labor activist and community organizer who works with me at AFSCME’s International headquarters, breezes into my cubicle Wednesday morning, all elated and excited, feeling rightfully triumphant like the underdog who manages to come out on top against all odds.

“Have you heard the news? This is big, Tito Jon.”

Mark Pulido just won his race for the Cerritos City Council in California. It was a tough contest, with seven candidates vying for three spots. Mark got the most number of votes, at 4,550, besting an incumbent council member and former three-time mayor who came in second with 4,170. Days before the March 8 election, it didn’t look promising for Mark. His opponents put out attack ads raising past “scandals” and hinting at certain improprieties. But that’s typical fare in any political dogfight.

Still, Mark prevailed. Indeed, it was a sweet victory for us. And of course for Cerritos, a suburb in Los Angeles, and the whole country. At 42, Mark represents the Filipino American community’s next wave of leaders who are taking up the reins. Like Del. Kris Valderrama of Maryland and Del. Ron Villanueva of Virginia  both in their early 40s  they are the new generation of movers and shakers.

Given Mark’s remarkable record of youth leadership (as UCLA’s first Filipino American student body president), community activism (as NaFFAA’s first national youth chair) and public service (as school board member), he stands a good chance of going all the way to the California legislature. In this state where at least half of the 3.8 million Filipinos live, it has yet to elect a FilAm to the state assembly.

When Mark help found NaFFAA in 1997, he was already a passionate advocate for civil rights, championing the Filipino Veterans’ struggle for justice as a rallying point for young people looking for a cause that would engage their energies. His enduring commitment is grounded in his intimate knowledge of Filipino American history, notably the role of Filipino labor activists in developing a culture of struggle and resistance. He never misses an opportunity to invoke the stories and services of labor leaders like Manong Philip Vera Cruz and Manong Pete Velasco who instigated the historic Grape Strike at Agbayani Village. They, and many other Filipino activists, were instrumental in building the American labor movement. This is especially important to remember, at a time when unions in Ohio and Wisconsin are fighting for their lives against vicious assaults by ultraconservative legislatures and governors.

Mark is also very conscious about the need to respond when our image as an ethnic minority is sullied by media stereotypes or irresponsible rants by celebrities. Back in September, he reached out to me and his other titos<D> and titas<D>,  extremely bothered by what he saw on YouTube.  “You will see the hatred and recklessness of this highly paid celebrity who has an audience of millions of fans, many who are young and impressionable. Whether we acknowledge it or not, he shaped or rather distorted the image and impression of Filipinos worldwide within only a matter of seconds.”  Mark was referring to racist and homophobic remarks made by boxing star Floyd Mayweather Jr. against Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao. He urged NaFFAA and other national civil rights organizations, to denounce the vitriolic video.

“As a longtime boxing fan, I understand there’s typical trash-talking in the sport,” he explained. “But there there’s hate speech. This was clearly hate speech.

If this were the NBA and the comments targeted Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, with all due respect, would be on the news this very night denouncing those very comments. Likewife, if Kristi Yamaguchi or Michelle Kwan were attacked, I’m sure JACL and OCA would speak out immediately and call on APA organizations to join in a chorus of protest.

“As such, I have high hopes that NaFFAA will take the lead and send a strong message. Millions of Filipinos and FilAms would be grateful if NaFFAA stood up for our community now and whenever we are clearly and unfairly being bashed.”

Thanks to Mark’s vigilance, NaFFAA denounced Mayweather’s remarks in a strongly-worded press release and urged other national groups to do the same.

Ten years ago, when Mark married Gloria, his high school sweetheart, I was a <C5,5,0,0,0,0>ninong<D><C255> (godfather) at their wedding. They now have two lovely children: 9-year-old Malia and 18-month-old Mark Jr. To be their ninong<D> is an honor that is humbling, but it also gives me so much pride. Pride in this young generation of leaders who are carrying the torch and blazing the trail for future leaders, passing on the proud legacy of our manongs<D> and Filipino World War II veterans to the next generation.

Among the many congratulatory messages posted in Mark’s Facebook wall is this simple note: “And with a new day, a new beginning!”

Send your comments to jonmele@aol.com.

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