Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies continues to grow during COVID-19 pandemic

Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies continues to grow during COVID-19 pandemic

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie. The Bulosan Center is located at Hart Hall at UC Davis.

The Bulosan Center expands its research and internship program this fall, driven by its community-centered approach to studying the Filipinx-American community.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations and institutions have had to navigate shifting to an online environment. The Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies at UC Davis has been able to expand their research and their internship program, propelled forward by its goal to support the needs of the Filipinx-American community.

Established in 2018 under the leadership of Robyn Rodriguez, a UC Davis professor and Asian American studies department chair, the Bulosan Center is the first collegiate center for Filipino studies in the U.S. While the center started as a grassroots organization, it received $1 million in state funding last year. This support from the state enabled it to continue striving toward its goals in research, advocacy and education.

This funding has allowed the Bulosan Center to expand its research projects, most notably its Filipinx/Filipinx-American Health and Well-Being Survey. Led by RJ Taggueg, a graduate student in the UC Davis department of sociology and director of research at the Bulosan Center, this survey aims to collect data on the health, well-being and ultimately the needs of the Filipinx-American community. 

“Very few folks actually do this kind of work, providing disaggregated data on [the Filipinx-American] community in and of itself,” Taggueg said. “As a center that focuses on the Filipinx experience, we want to make sure that we collect information on our community, information that our community needs, so that we can provide people with tools.”

After the rapid spread of COVID-19 early this year, the survey shifted its focus to the general state of the community during the pandemic. Significant findings from this study include the impact of COVID-19 on Filipinx-American healthcare workers. 

Over 40% of the 800 Filipinx-Americans who filled out the survey reported being healthcare workers or having household members in the health field. Only about 5% have been tested for COVID-19, and over 40% stated that they did not know where to find the nearest testing facility. Many healthcare workers also reported a lack of adequate protective equipment, sometimes having to reuse a single mask for up to an entire week. 

“These folks who are in the healthcare system, as a whole, are not accessing all the resources that should theoretically be at their fingertips,” Taggueg said. “So now, part of [our research] is trying to find out what’s preventing folks from getting the same access as everybody else.”

A significant amount of Filipinx-Americans also reported high levels of anxiety which they attribute to the pandemic. Many experience a growing sense of loneliness and difficulty with establishing a support system while in quarantine.

One way that the Bulosan Center strives to foster a sense of community during this difficult time is through their internship program. Wayne Jopanda, a graduate student in the UC Davis Department of Cultural Studies and the associate director at the Bulosan Center, has created a space for students to learn more about Filipinx-American history and current events, to carry out research projects and to become familiar with outside resources. 

While COVID-19 was an obstacle to this program at first, the shift to online learning allowed the Bulosan Center to open its (virtual) doors to interns across the globe. What started in winter 2019 as a quarterly program that included about 15 UC Davis students has now grown into a year-long program that has accepted over 150 students from around the world. 

“During quarantine, there was a need from folks to find a sense of community,” Jopanda said. “A lot of folks are living away from family and may feel isolated. We had folks who experienced family loss due to COVID or other issues, and they just needed a space. So I decided to open [the internship program] up to build larger circles of mentorship and support for our interns, no matter where they’re at.”

Annelle Garcia, a second-year transfer student with a major in sociology and a minor in Asian American studies, is now entering their second year as a Bulosan Center intern as part of the associate director’s team.

“One of the best things about the [shift to] work online […] is that we’re getting so many more perspectives, so many more voices and so many more talents,” Garcia said. “We’re able to diversify the work that we do, and we’re not just coming from a UC Davis undergraduate standpoint.”

Garcia was offered the opportunity to become an undergraduate team lead for this year’s internship program. As a strong advocate for transnational activism, they decided to direct their team’s attention to important issues in the Philippines. Their team has since been able to create educational resources about mental health in the U.S. and the Philippines, the Anti-Terror Law and COVID-related policies that impact the Filipinx-American community.

“For me, it was super important that we not only do work that connects our efforts back to the homeland, but it was also important that I make sure my interns get the same sense of recognition, attention and care that I received when I first came into the Center,” Garcia said.

Chloe Azurin, a second-year transfer student majoring in anthropology with a sociocultural emphasis, was a Summer 2020 intern for the Education Retention and Mental Health team, where she continues her internship today. 

“I was already feeling like I ran out of time, as a transfer student, to get to know and have a place at Davis, but coming to the Bulosan Center was my way of finding a family,” Azurin said. “No one’s expected to be perfect in our internship. Everybody just puts out ideas and we all learn and grow with each other.”

Azurin was able to conduct research on the mental health of first-generation Filipinx-American immigrants while also learning about issues that are important to the Filipinx community. Over the summer, the Bulosan Center hosted weekly workshops with guest speakers to facilitate discussions about these topics.

“Having people who came before us in the field and inspiring us to go forward and showing us actual steps to help was really important because we all want to care, but nobody really knows where to start,” Azurin said.

While the Bulosan Center is no longer accepting interns for the 2020-2021 school year, the faculty still strongly encourages interested students and community members to reach out to them. 

“We want to provide opportunities for our students to step up, take on leadership roles, to lead projects and visions that they are passionate about and to collaborate together,” Jopanda said.

They emphasized their desire to break away from the common hierarchical structure of internships and instead focus on building a supportive community.  

“The goal of the Bulosan Center is to serve not just our students at UC Davis, and not just the Filipinx community at large, but everybody who is hoping to build together collaboratively,” Jopanda said.


Written by: Liana Mae Atizado — features@theaggie.org