FOR FILIPINO STUDIES
In 2018, Dr. Robyn Rodriguez, Professor and Chair of the Department of Asian American Studies, launched the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies Initiative (BCFSI), which aims to create a physical and digital space at the University of California, Davis campus.
The Center builds on work Dr. Rodriguez has already been leading through the Welga Project, established in 2014. The Welga Project created the Welga Archive, which started off documenting and preserving the histories of Filipino Americans’ contribution to the farmworker movement in California and has now expanded its scope to document and preserve histories of Filipino American activism and political engagement. The Welga Project has shared Filipino American history with hundreds of people around the country from elementary school students to the general public.
BCFSI draws its mission from the life’s work of Carlos Bulosan, worker, writer and activist. BCFSI aims at studying and analyzing the Filipino experience in the United States and the broader diaspora through interdisciplinary, community-engaged research, with a particular focus on the most marginalized and vulnerable groups. It will also collect and preserve resources documenting Filipino diasporic history and culture. Finally, the BCFSI can play a role in linking scholarly inquiry with policy debates and other forms of social action to bridge the divide between the university and communities beyond its walls. Though its initial focus is on the Filipino population in the United States and the diaspora, the BCFSI can expand into fostering research and education on Philippine concerns, with focus topics related to issues connected to emigration processes and their impacts economically, politically, socially and culturally on the Philippines as well as facilitating advocacy on matters in which diasporic Filipinos can offer particular skills-sets and expertise.
The BCFSI is less of a physical “center” (though it will be able to occupy space through the Department of Asian American Studies, UC Davis), but more of a “center of gravity” for research, historical preservation, education and advocacy anchored to the work of researchers based at UC Davis. If sufficient funding is generated, the BCFSI will consider opening up office space(s) in a highly populated Filipino community with UC Davis’ ambit (i.e. Solano, Yolo or Sacramento counties)
Carlos Bulosan was a migrant worker, labor activist and writer. His America is in the Heartcontinues to be an important piece of activist-scholarship, while a fictionalized account, America is in the Heart is an important chronicle of the real-life the struggles of the earliest cohorts of low-wage Filipino workers. Bulosan’s writing in and beyond America is the Heart, moreover, served to galvanize those workers, as well as the Filipino community more broadly, to organize themselves to fight against exploitation.
The Bulosan Center for Filipinos Studies Initiative aims to continue Bulosan’s legacy by uplifting the voices of the most marginalized in the Filipino community in the United States and the diaspora through community-engaged research and broadly disseminating knowledge about Filipinos for the purpose of advancing their rights and welfare. In short, the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, once established, would support research, education and advocacy.
This Initiative would establish the first-ever University of California-linked Center for Filipino Studies. Indeed, it would the first-ever university-linked center devoted to the study of Filipinos in the U.S. and the diaspora in the nation.
Though Filipinos have one of the longest histories of settlement in the state of California and continues to be one of its largest Asian ethnic groups, we fail to be adequately represented as students and faculty in the University of California, one of the most prestigious public research university systems in the entire country, if not the world. Knowledge production and education on the Filipino diasporic experience, particularly from a community-engaged perspective, while expanding is still insufficient for addressing our needs.
For instance, though there are statistics that indicate that among undocumented Asian immigrants, Filipinos constitute the largest share of the population, we have little research on their experiences. Similarly, though news reports and campaigns by Filipino organizations indicate that labor trafficking is an issue plaguing our community, we still do not know much about the mechanisms that lead to their trafficking. If knowledge is power then the Filipino community is severely disempowered. The Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies Initiative aims to change that.
CASE STUDIES FOR UNIVERSITY-LINKED ETHNIC CENTERS
Several other ethnic minority groups like the Puerto Ricans, Haitians and Hmongs have university-based research and education centers devoted to the study of their respective peoples. The City University of New York (CUNY) system established the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in 1973 and more recently established the Haitian Studies Institute in 2016. Meanwhile, several major universities in the Midwest (namely the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Concordia University, St- Paul, Minnesota) have centers devoted to Hmong Studies. We thus have plenty of models to emulate in moving forward with this Initiative, however, faculty members based in the UC-system have had little luck in convincing the administration that Filipino Studies is a worthwhile endeavor to support. We thus draw on the activist legacy of people like Carlos Bulosan to create a Center for Filipino Studies from grassroots.