A POLITICAL ORIGIN STORY
My grandmothers were born on the opposite ends of the Philippines, a semi-feudal/semi-colonial nation consisting of over 7,000 islands. Forced migration patterns rooted in imperialism and fascism pushed my grandmothers off the islands: they left their husbands, their children, and mga barangay to work as nurses at the same hospital in Brooklyn, NY. With their hard-earned remittances, my grandmothers carried their entire families across two whole oceans. In this strange, foreign land, my grandmothers replanted their villages.
Thus, my inheritance: immigrant matriarchy.
In all of my pursuits, I have sought to honor this legacy. The mission: liberate all oppressed people so that we can live with ease and autonomy, without the need to sacrifice.
Photo on the left: Kayla, on her first trip to the Philippines, posing with her aunties and Uncle Paul in Divisoria, a market in Manila. Photos below, left to right: Kayla with Grandma Erly, Kayla with Mama Lily, Kayla with cousins/siblings and Auntie May.
In undergrad, I spent a semester abroad in Nepal through Pitzer College's cultural immersion program. During my time in Nepal, I developed Nepali cultural competence and language fluency. I was then able to connect with rural community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate for Nepali women's social and economic independence, dignity, and safety. A shortlist of the NGOs: ABC Nepal; Partnership Nepal; WOREC Nepal; Pourakhi Nepal’s Safer Migration Project (SaMi); and The Forum for Women, Law, and Development. With the support of these organizations, I conducted community-informed primary research on the social ostracization and disempowerment of Nepali women migrant workers upon reintegration with their communities of origin. I also used survivor-centered secondary sources, as well as my academic classes on Nepali history and politics to construct my critical analyses. My final thesis paper was entitled "Disillusioned by Reintegration: Reframing the Narrative of Nepali Women’s International Mobility & Sexuality".
Photo of Kayla and दिदीहरु (older sisters) from Kawasoti, a small city in Nawalparasi, Nepal. These दिदीहरु volunteer for/work with SaMi in an effort to support other Nepali women from their region who are returning from work abroad.
After graduating, I worked as a Community Organizer at Matahari Women Workers Center, a Greater Boston-based non-profit that organizes a multiracial/multilingual base of immigrant women of color employed in low-wage sectors for workers' and immigrants' rights. Matahari's members are predominantly domestic workers. The first domestic workers in the U.S. were enslaved African women. This legacy of systemic racism continues today: only ten states have passed laws that extend labor protections to domestic workers, who are disproportionately immigrant women of color.
My work at Matahari was three-fold: 1) help members develop their own leadership through Matahari's empowerment-based model, 2) enforce the Massachusetts Domestic Workers Law through Matahari's #OurWorkOurWorth Wage Claim Campaign, and 3) organize the community for comprehensive immigration and labor policies. Policies included: the suspension of the expiration of Temporary Protected Status and the creation of a path to citizenship; the expansion of the Domestic Workers Law to include au pairs; and an emergency bill of essential workers' rights during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Photo on the left: staff and member-leader meeting on Zoom. Photos below, left to right: staff and member-leaders at Congress to lobby for TPS Justice (2019), group picture at International Nanny Training Day (2019), Kayla and cohort upon completion of Justice at Work's Summer Institute on immigrant workers' law (2019).
During my time in Boston, I also organized with Boston Pilipinx Education, Advocacy, & Resources (PEAR), a volunteer, grassroots organization that advocates for the human rights of Filipinxs in the U.S. and in the Philippines. We created space for our community through kamayan and other events. We held political education workshops and collectivized our knowledge of our people’s historical struggle. Through lobbying and direct actions, we pushed our government representatives and the public to divest from the policies that contribute to our families’ forced migration. We also took care of our recently immigrated kababayan: as COVID-19 broke out, we coordinated mutual aid efforts for isolated and exploited Filipinx J-1 workers across New England.
Photo on right: group picture from PEAR retreat (2018). Photos below, left to right: Kayla and kasamas at TAMA NA SOBRA NA protest in front of NYC Philippine Consulate (2019), banner from protest, kamayan table.
I now pursue a Master in Public Policy and a Master in Social Welfare (Social Work) through Luskin School of Public Affairs at University of California, Los Angeles in order to deepen my competence as an organizer and advocate.
My direction: may I stay grounded in radical vision, and my work guided by the people.
A clip from my talk on organizing strategies for social justice movements and campaigns (Lesley University, February 2021).