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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies receives $1M in state funding

Funding to support wide-scale Filipino research survey, media justice lab, advocacy, education efforts

The Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies at UC Davis received a $1 million allocation in state funding to expand its work in Filipino research studies, advocacy and education. 

Dr. Robyn Rodriguez, professor and chair of the Department of Asian American Studies, launched the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies initiative in 2018. With Filipino Americans being one of the largest and fastest growing Asian American groups, Rodriguez saw the need to create a center for Filipino studies. 

The center builds on the work of the Welga Project – an initiative led by Rodriguez and Director of Archives and Public History Jason Sarmiento – that focused on documenting and preserving the history of Filipino Americans’ contribution to the farmworker movement in California, such as with the Delano Grape Strike. 

With its inception as a grassroots community effort, the Bulosan Center developed into the first and only research center focused on the Filipino American diasporic experience based at a major research university in the country. 

A team of undergraduate interns and leaders, including UC Davis doctoral students and scholar-activists, continue to contribute to the field of critical Filipino studies on a local and national scale and maintain their pillars of research, advocacy, and education through the Bulosan Center. 

“In just 12 months, we preserved Filipino American history through the Welga Digital Archive; we developed curriculum with K-12 teachers in support of AB123 based on the archive’s resources; we disseminated the Filipino American experience to hundreds of Filipino American community members through exhibitions, workshops and lectures; we convened young Filipino American scholars at what will be an annual national research conference on the Filipino American studies [and] we partnered with documentary filmmakers on projects highlighting the trials, tribulations and triumphs of our community,” Rodriguez said at a press conference. “We did all of this and more with modest funds we received exclusively from our community.” 

Rodriguez thanked California Assembly Member Rob Bonta, the first Filipino American state legislator in California, for championing the $1 million state funding that was announced during Filipino American History Month in October.

“I hope [the funding] is a down payment on ongoing funding and we’ll have to keep fighting for it every year, but this is a good first-time effort by all of us fighting together,” Bonta said at a press conference. 

One of the projects being pursued with the funding is a wide-scale Filipino survey of health and well-being in California – a project that has not been done to a great extent since David Takeuchi’s Filipino American Community Epidemiological Study (FACES) in 1995. The goal of this survey is to translate Filipino American academic research for broader consumption. 

“Through this research process, we are not only equipping [community members] with the resources to talk about their concerns grounded in empirical data, but we’re also fostering this data collection movement – this idea that our community is valuable and nobody has looked at us, but we need to be represented in these things,” said RJ Taggueg, a Ph.D student in the UC Davis Department of Sociology Ph.D. and the director of research for the Bulosan Center. 

For this centerpiece project, Taggueg said he and his team of interns are joined by community partners that focus on topics specific to Filipino American health and well-being, such as the migrant experience, youth mental health, labor, employment and housing issues. Taggueg aims to figure out the questions that they need to answer about their communities, what issues they face and how to get the information to be able to equip them with the necessary tools to push Filipino studies forward. 

“Later on down the line, this data will also be useful for other researchers to no longer be hindered by the fact that there just isn’t any data out there beyond what you can glean off of the big national surveys like the census,” Taggueg said. “When you take a subset of that big data set, you get a very limited picture of what is going on because those questions are not particular to the Filipinx community. Ultimately, we wanted to pursue a project that not only speaks to the Filipinx experience, but will be used by the community moving forward.”

Taggueg acknowledged that they would not be able to pursue this project without the $1 million in funding and credits Rodriguez for allowing him to pursue this work with the support that only the center can provide.

“I think it also says something that the state of California is the one funding this because it just demonstrates how valuable the center is,” Taggueg said. “It starts this conversation that the Filipinx community here in California in particular is worthy enough for investment.” 

Aside from the research survey, the funding will also support the launch of a lab for new media justice for the center. The prospective lab will encourage experimentation with digital and other forms of media to document the stories of everyday Fiipino Americans as they struggle against racism, heterosexism, homophobia, exploitation, and other forms of marginalization. 

“Most importantly, we will be ensuring future scholars complete their Ph.D.’s at UC Davis and that the next generation of FilAm scholars are on a path to following [in] their footsteps,” Rodriguez said. 

The Bulosan Center has also provided the opportunity for many undergraduate interns to learn more about their culture and history, as well as be more involved in their community as leaders. 

“I got into college and I really wanted to make change through government and policy, and then I joined the Bulosan Center and it taught me about community organizing and advocacy,” said Catherine Deguzman, a second-year Asian American studies and political science double major and intern at the Bulosan Center. “It showed me the power of the people, which really taught me that you don’t have to be in a government position to make change.” 

Abbygayle Principe, a fifth-year history major and one of the original Bulosan Center interns, said that she hopes the center serves as a source of empowerment for Filipino youth to not feel ashamed of where they come from or who they are. She wants them to reclaim their identities and be proud, especially as the center has supported the implementation of Filipino studies in K-12 curriculum throughout California. 

“I hope the youth are able to see that they are studying more than just George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and that there are visionaries that look just like them that have made history,” Principe said. “It’s just so empowering to think that maybe some young Filipina girl somewhere in a very white dominated area can learn about someone her skin color that did something amazing and how empowering that mentality must be for someone her age to grow up with.”

The center draws its mission from the life’s work of Carlos Bulosan, an immigrant worker, activist and writer who wrote about the Filipino experience in California through the book “America is in the Heart.” Rodriguez, Taggueg and other Bulosan Center team members – such as Sarmiento, Associate Director Wayne Jopanda, Director of Operations Kirby Araullo, Director of Policy and Community Engagement Katherine Nasol, Senior Historian Stacey Salinas and Senior Communications Editor Nick Garcia – aim to continue Bulosan’s legacy, provide other people all across the nation with the opportunity to pursue Filipino studies and divert more resources to their communities.  

“This funding represents a vote of confidence by the California state legislature in the importance of research that lifts up the stories, experiences, contributions and struggles of our community,” Rodriguez said.

Written by: Graschelle Fariñas Hipolito — campus@theaggie.org



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