Undocumented Filipino Pulitzer prize winning journalist honored

Consul General Adelio Angelito s. Cruz (seated extreme right) listens to a performance of Grupong Pendong during the 20the anniversary celebration of the Pilipino Workers Center. Photo © Teodoro Yap

UNDOCUMENTED Filipino Pulitzer award winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was honored by the Pilipino Workers Center, one of the most successful non-profit organizations serving Filipino and Filipino American workers in the United States, last Wednesday during its 20th anniversary celebration in downtown Los Angeles.

The PWC said the honor was in recognition of Vargas’ advocacy to help undocumented Filipinos in the US.

Born in the Philippines, a former American colony, Vargas was raised in the US from the age of twelve. He was part of the Washington Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting.

Vargas is the founder and CEO of Define American, a non-profit media advocacy organization that uses storytelling to humanize the conversation around immigration, citizenship and identity in the US. He revealed his status as an undocumented immigrant in 2011 in an effort to promote dialogue about the immigration system in the US. and to advocate for the DREAM Act, which would provide children in similar circumstances with a path to citizenship.

“I am an American. I just don’t have the right papers,” Vargas said.

Vargas, dedicated his PWC award to all undocumented Filipinos during a brief acceptance speech.

“This is for all the undocumented Filipinos. It is no longer the time for us to go ‘tago ng tago.’ It is time for us to claim ourselves and claim this country. Because you cannot define American without defining the history of Filipinos in America. You cannot define American without talking about the Filipino fishermen in New Orleans, the Filipino manongs in Hawaii and in LA and all over California. You cannot define American without talking about the history of this country as it relate to the Spanish-American war and the taking of our country (Philippines) as a colony. You cannot define American without acknowledging the varied history of our people who’ve been in this country before it was United States of America,” Vargas said to the applause of his audience.

The celebration, held at the historic Pico House on Wednesday, also saw the PWC honoring State Senator Connie Leyva for authoring Senate Bill 1015 which removed the 2017 sunset provision of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and made the law’s provisions permanent.

Leyva said she was honored and humbled by the PWC recognition.

“This bill is about honoring all workers. Sometimes people want to honor workers but they don’t want to honor all workers. I’d been in the labor movement for 20 years before I ran for office and this bill was so easy for me to do because it was the right thing to do. And I just want to ask you; I want the first right of refusal on any other legislation that you may want to carry,” Leyva told the largely Filipino American crowd.

There are over 300,000 domestic workers who serve as housekeepers, nannies, and caregivers in private homes in California. A big number of these workers are Filipinos or Filipino Americans.

Without them, many Californians would be forced to forgo their jobs to tend their households — which would be economically disastrous.

The PWC has been at the heart of all the efforts to earn benefits for these workers, protect their rights and help them seek redress for abuses committed against them, regardless of their immigration status.

Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles Adelio Angelito S. Cruz amply recognized the PWC achievements and contributions to the welfare of Filipino workers during his speech.

Cruz even told PWC Executive Director Aquilina Soriano Versoza that he would want the government of the Philippines to honor the works of the Filipino American community leader, even promising her that he would work for such to happen.

Among the PWC’s standout achievements is its construction of the Larry Itliong Village in downtown Los Angeles which functions as a community center and a 45-unit housing edifice.

PWC also owns a Philippine jeepney which is part of its continuing promotion of the Historic Filipinotown and as well as of Philippine culture.

The 20th year anniversary celebration was greatly enhanced by remarkable performances by Grupong Pendong, Pakuragayan Kulintang Ensemble, Malaya Filipino American Dance Art, Irene Soriano, activist couple Stephanie Sajor and Eddy Gana Jr., (known as Steady) and Iraq war veteran and hip-hop artist Mark “Bagyo” Villamac Ho and his brother Luwee.

Bagyo, who is battling life-threatening illnesses, has also been driving the Philippine jeepney tours of the historic Filipinotown.

Actress Giselle Toengi hosted the ceremony.

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