By Jon D. Melegrito

Letter from Washington


..."Ten days in October"

...continued from index page

Although I stayed late with the revelers Friday night, I managed to get up the next day at 6 o’clock to run a 5K race at the Bluemont Park in Arlington, VA. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret), FilVetREP chairman, led more than 60 runners. Dubbed “Run for the Gold,” to commemorate the Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino World War II veterans, the early Saturday morning event raised funds to support FilVetREP’s education program.

Saturday evening, we all dressed up for NaFFAA’s 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner at the Wardman Hotel. It was an emotional moment for me. I had the honor of being the founding executive director.

Twenty years ago, in August 1997, more than a thousand community leaders, students, senior citizens, Filipino World War II veterans, young professionals, entrepreneurs and elected officials from across the nation gathered in Washington, D.C. for the first “National Filipino American Empowerment Conference.” Its goal was to build a national organization that will be recognized by Washington policy makers as the ‘the voice’ of Filipinos and Filipino Americans.

With its theme, “Panahon Na,” the organizers declared: “It’s about time we translate our numbers into political clout.” There were about 2 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans at the time. Their number grew to nearly 4 million today, making them the second-largest population of Asian Americans, and the largest population of Overseas Filipinos. Included in that count is an estimated 600,000 undocumented Filipino immigrants.

The October 21 Gala dinner program highlighted NaFFAA’s twenty-year legacy of advocacy and civic engagement. I’m both humbled and proud of my role in unifying and amplifying the diverse voices of Filipino Americans who have struggled over the years to assert its presence and speak out on critical issues that affect their interests.

To its credit, NaFFAA’s first rallying cry at its founding in 1997 was to highlight the plight of Filipino World War II veterans. By working closely with advocacy groups, NaFFAA helped secure some benefits for the veterans and their long-awaited recognition.

Following NaFFAA’s big celebration was an even bigger celebration: A congressional ceremony, led by US House Speaker Paul Ryan, to honor Filipino World War II veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal. It was held on Oct. 25 at Capitol Hill’s Emancipation Hall. About 25 living veterans, along with 300 next-of-kin from all over the country, were present to witness the historic presentation.

I thought of my dad, Gregorio Melegrito, and my four uncles – Arsenio Dizon, Gil Dizon, Justino Vigilia and Romulo Villa – who served honorably as USAFEE soldiers and guerrillas. At the Gala Dinner that same day, veterans families, community leaders, supporters and friends dined and wined to celebrate what Maj. Gen. Taguba aptly described as “a mission accomplished: securing the long-awaited recognition of the 260,000 soldiers who fought under the American flag, but were almost forgotten because of the 1946 Rescission Act.”

After the living veterans received their award replicas, they laid a wreath the next day at the World War II Memorial, then visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On October 29 and 30, I pivoted from celebrating our veterans to calling attention to the dire human rights situation in the Philippines. Award-winning author and journalist Raissa Robles spoke before faculty, scholars and students at American University and George Washington University about the looming threat to democracy under the Duterte administration.

It was an exhausting but exhilarating ten days in October here in the nation’s capital.





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