WAPATO, Yakima County — The Yakima Valley’s Filipino community goes back five generations to the early 20th century. Its political activism, according to local Filipino community leaders, has been spotty at best.
“I’ve seen what happens if your voice isn’t heard,” said Rey Pascua, president of the Filipino-American Community of the Yakima Valley.
Citing concerns about health-care access, education and immigration issues, a small group of Filipinos from the Lower Valley is drafting a charter to form its own political action group. The organization will be a local chapter of the Seattle-based Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington, which has been endorsing candidates and lobbying for legislation beneficial to Filipino Americans for almost 30 years.
Organizers held their first informational meeting at the Filipino Community Hall in Wapato in late August with 27 in attendance. Ten so far have agreed to become charter members, organizer Dori Peralta Baker said, which comes with a $25 annual fee.
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“It’s not about issues that only matter to Filipinos,” Baker said Monday. “It’s about making sure Filipinos are at the table for issues that are also important to them.”
It’s not clear how many in the Yakima Valley identify as Filipinos or have Filipino heritage. Pascua said the Filipino Community Hall has 300 members, and he estimates there are 1,200 across Central Washington, including active community groups in Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
“This new group calls for a real effort to define what our place in society is and how we fit into being Americans,” said Pascua, who was born in the Philippines in 1950 and moved to the U.S. three years later. “It gives us a real responsibility to define ourselves.”
Baker said the group is planning another meeting in the coming weeks to narrow down the terms of the group’s platform.
One common issue Baker and Pascua identified is a communication struggle Filipinos face when accessing health care. Many Filipinos have Spanish surnames — the country was once controlled by Spain in the 19th and early 20th centuries — which sometimes leads to their health-care provider’s paperwork being delivered to them in Spanish, which Baker said few of them speak.
“Health-care providers need to be able to identify Filipinos as Filipinos,” Baker said.
She said she and Pascua hope to present the group’s charter at the state Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs when it holds a board meeting on Sept. 20 in Wapato.