Filipinos organize in Long Beach’s Westside

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Filipino residents stretch before the Saturday morning fun walk in Hudson Park.

As the sun rises over Hudson Park in west Long Beach, Filipino seniors gather for coffee, pandesal, and healthy group activities. In Cabrillo High School, Filipino youth in the Sama Sama club meet to talk about the social justice issues happening in the Philippines. At Grace United Methodist Church, low-wage Filipino workers are receiving free legal help to combat wage theft. Altogether, the organizers of the Filipino Migrant Center see these opportunities as avenues to empower the Filipino community and actively engage them in the movement for local and global justice.

California has the highest concentration of Filipinos in the United States. With over four million Filipinos in the country, approximately 17-25% (or one in four or six individuals) are undocumented, leading to issues of health access and immigration. In Long Beach, a large population of Filipinos have settled in the Westside between the bustling Port of Long Beach and the expanding 710 freeway. Many of the Filipino families on the Westside are low-income domestic workers due to lack of job opportunities in their community. As a result, labor trafficking and teenage pregnancies are problems many families face. Within these contexts, the Filipino Migrant Center works to educate, organize, and mobilize the community to address these long-standing problems.

Every week, organizers with the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC) knock on doors to talk about the issues facing Filipino residents and let people know about FMC’s services and activities. Through interactions with residents at clinics, schools, and social events, FMC learns more about the current problems Filipino families face, including the emotional needs of the members themselves. “We can’t address the Filipino community’s emotional and mental health just through our clinics and services,” says Executive Director Joanna Concepcion, “it’s also incorporated in the organizing work we do.”

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Filipino residents came together to celebrate Christmas at “Pasko Sa Westside!”

Beyond the legal services with labor and immigration issues, FMC organizers are also working with Filipinos of all ages to improve the health of the community. The Saturday morning Health and Fun Walks aim to engage more seniors in healthy activities. The Sama Sama youth club (meaning “coming together”) provides Filipino youth a space to learn about culturally relevant education. Social activities (such as their upcoming Christmas Party) provide community building space for residents to meet neighbors.

In addition, FMC is involved in local organizing campaigns to advance the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants within the broader community, such as the Coalition to End Wage Theft and the Language Access Coalition. Joanna Concepcion adds: “We want to help shape a new culture among Filipinos that they have the power, knowledge, and expertise to define what their future looks like here.”

For more information about the Filipino Migrant Center, visit

Bringing to Light the Struggle of Cambodian Immigrants and Their Families

April 17, 2015 will mark the 40 year anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, which ushered in a four year reign of terror in which 2 million Cambodians died (approximately 25% of the total population).  Those who survived experienced extreme deprivation, total breakdown of family and societal functioning, escape through mine-laden jungles, displacement within refugee camps, and eventual resettlement to the U.S. where they understood neither the language nor the culture.  It is no wonder that Cambodian adults remain one of the most traumatized populations in the world (more than 1 in 3 have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the only population where PTSD has been proven to pass across generations.

Not surprisingly given this history, Cambodians in the U.S. continue to struggle in school and finding employment that lifts them out of poverty. However, often their experiences are hidden because Cambodians are counted as “Asians” in the reporting of school and census data.

Tremendous differences exist in the histories, cultures, and migration experiences of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Hmong, and the many other people groups that are considered “Asian.”  And when data is disaggregated, it reveals enormous disparities in poverty rates, educational attainment, and many other indicators of health and well-being.  For example, 95% of the Japanese population has a high school diploma, compared with only 60% of Cambodians and 58% of Hmong.  Likewise, 53% of Cambodians in California are low-income, compared with only 16% of Indian-Americans.

Too often these numbers and the lives they represent are invisible and policy makers and the general public continue to operate with the false assumption of Asians as the “model minority.”  As the fastest growing racial group in California, it is critical that we better understand what is happening within the Asian sub-groups through better collection and greater availability of disaggregated data.

The stories of Cambodian refugees in Long Beach are explored in an episode of the new PBS seriesAmerica By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa called “Pass or Fail in Cambodia Town.” The California Endowment is proud to join with the makers of this series in documenting and demystifying the dramatic demographic changes occurring in the U.S.  In addition, we will be screening the episode and hosting panel discussions of these issues at two events in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Click here for more info and to register for the November 6th Long Beach event.

Written by Jenny Chheang, Program Manager, Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach

Editor’s Note: This posy originally appeared on The California Endowment website blog

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