Contact: Mark Eyo, Communications Lead
After three years since the last convening, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations’ highly anticipated 14th National Empowerment Conference (NEC) was finally held on August 4th – 6th in Harrah’s In Las Vegas, Nevada. The three-day conference was considered the largest gathering of Filipino Americans in the United States since the pandemic. The conference was attended by some of the biggest names in the fast-growing Filipino-American community. Attendees included national and local Filipino American leaders, elected officials, celebrities, influencers, business leaders, and community advocates. NaFFAA’s NEC also coincided with the organization’s 25th-anniversary celebration, highlighted by their Anniversary Gala that was attended by over 500 Filipino-Americans. Over the course of three days, NaFFAA saw nearly 600 attendees in total.
The event was a collaborative effort from the whole Filipino-American community with help from several generous sponsors such as GoFundMe, RFL Foundation, Civic Leadership USA, TAAF, AT&T, Verizon, The Jurani Family, The de Joya Family, AARP, NaFFAA Michigan, Brighthouse Financial, Wells Fargo, ITO Solutions Inc, and many others.
“WE CAN’T MOVE FORWARD UNLESS WE REMEMBER THE PAST”
The 14th National Empowerment Conference and 25th Anniversary was themed “Navigating the Present, Shaping the Future.” Despite the conference’s focus on shaping the future and dealing with current issues, it also became a special tribute to the organization’s great founders of the past, who were present during the conference. As Gloria Caoile, one of NaFFAA’s co-founding members present during the event, emphasized, “we can’t move forward unless we remember the past.” The three-day conference celebrated the heroes of the past who paved the way for NaFFAA to be the organization that is the voice of the four million Filipino-Americans today. They gave tribute to the late Alex Exclamado and recognized other co-founders present during the event such as Loida Lewis, Michal Dadap, Rodel Rodis, and incorporators Gloria Caoile, and Jon Melegrito. Co-founders and incorporators/founding members participated in a Founder’s Panel that was hosted by NaFFAA’s National Chair, Brendan Flores.
Flores commented, “the Filipino-American community has been at the forefront of many things, and that is why we need to celebrate everything that had happened before us. We celebrate the lives of our great leaders like Alex Esclamado, one of our founders who drove across the country to gather Filipino-Americans from every aspect of life and realize the need to build a united national organization that will stand the test of time. We are grateful for our dear founders, and we are inspired by their resilience. Our founders’ vision and dedication despite the many unknowns during the early years of NaFFAA inspires us to move forward with hope as we move towards our next 25 years.”
In addition to the great contributions of Alex Esclamado, NaFFAA would be remiss to not acknowledge the great accomplishments of the Chairpersons since. Each Chair truly made their mark on our community, whether through prioritizing the development of new leaders, leading the charge on national advocacy issues, or encouraging and promoting Filipino-American
civic engagement. Regardless of our different strengths and differing opinions, each Chair was able to forge their own way, finding solutions and answers to tough questions we can all agree on. Former Chairs Loida Nicolas Lewis, Alma Quintans Kern, Greg Macabenta, Eduardo “Ed” Navarra, Jose Teodoro “JT” Mallonga, and now Brendan Flores dedicated hours of support to the organization and there is no doubt that NaFFAA, as the voice of Filipinos and the Filipino American constituency in the United States, has benefited from it.
For the past 25 years, NaFFAA has grown tremendously in becoming the united voice of Filipino Americans across the nation in matters of national advocacy, leadership development, and civic engagement. The last six years under Flores’ leadership became a great test to the organization dealing with several difficult issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, rise of Anti-Asian Hate crimes, Fil-Am population growth to more than four million, natural calamities, civil unrest in international countries, issues in Fil-Am representation, and many other challenges encountered by the Filipino American community.
STATE OF NAFFAA TODAY, UNDER BRENDAN FLORES’ LEADERSHIP
The 37-year-old Flores, together with his executive board, staff members, board of trustees, region chairs, national chairman’s councils, and other state leaders, spent the last six years focusing on empowering Filipino Americans and ensuring Fil-Ams get their seats on the important tables. During the last six years, significant milestones were accomplished, including getting Congress to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to FilAm Veterans of World War 2, which was signed into law by President Obama during Brendan’s term of office. Flores’ team also emphasized empowering more Filipino-Americans to run for public office in their Run for Office campaign. Flores’ administration was also responsible for assisting several FilAm celebrations at the White House with various organizations to honor their rich history and contributions to the United States..
A great effort was also made to maximize the 2020 Census registration of 4 million Filipinos in America, now the 3rd largest among the Asian population. NaFFAA, under Brendan’s leadership, together with other FilAm organizations working together, lead to President Joe Biden’s naming of a ship after a Filipino American hero of WW2 – USS Telesforo Trinidad.
After many years of absence, a national office in Washington DC is once again operated by fully paid Executive Directors Jason Tengco and Carissa Villacorta previously and is now operated by Kelly Ilagan Coldiron.
NaFFAA co-founder and first female national chairperson Loida Lewis highlighted, “Brendan’s most significant contribution is the coming and working together in NaFFAA, of the young and the old FilAms, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, and Generations X, Y, and Z. As a millennial, he believes that anyone with a willing heart and willing mind could lead such an organization. He hoped the younger generation would step up to such prominent roles.”
The three day conference topics were divided to discuss in each day one of NaFFAA’s three pillars- National Advocacy, Leadership Development, and Civic Engagement. The conference was highlighted by speeches and workshops from Fil-Am community leaders, the 25th Anniversary Gala with Filipino Concert King Martin Nieverra as special guest performer, and an election for new NaFFAA national executive leadership team.
NEC DAY 1- National Advocacy
The first day of the conference kicked off with discussions on national advocacy that included a panel discussion from a bipartisan panel of previous commissioners of the White House Initiative for the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The day was also filled with workshops and discussions on hot-button issues for the Filipino American community like mental health, LGBTQ+ community, Fil-Am Alerts Program, and anti-Asian hate.
Kevin Acebo, one of the anti-Asian hate panelists presented AAPI Hate statistics to the Fil-Am audience exclaiming, “Hate has a devastating impact on mental health. Among Asian American individuals who experienced a hate incident reported to Stop AAPI Hate, almost half (49%) reported depression or anxiety. Almost three-quarters (72%) named discrimination against them as their greater source of stress, even ahead of their health concerns during the pandemic.”
NEC DAY 2- Leadership Development
The second day of the conference was geared towards leadership development. This day commenced with a presentation from the NaFFAA Capital Region Chair, Ryan Namata. He presented partial results from the Filipino-American Survey.
Namata shared, “Our Filipino-American Survey will be informing of the broader Fil-Am demographic in the United States, and how NaFFAA goes about building out a pipeline of leadership. We appreciate the sacrifices and willingness to help further grow our Filipino American community by our elders. But, this should also be a call to our younger generation. We encourage you to step up, be engaged, and rise up to leadership roles for our community.”
Danielle Ocampo, EPYC (Empowering Pilipino Youth Through Collaboration) Director, also hosted a panel discussion on Intergenerational Dialogue, where the youth participants and audience members had dialogues and discussed ways to bridge gaps to build a more united Filipino American community.
NaFFAA leaders also sought to relaunch its 2020 flagship program, “E3” – Entrepreneurial and Economic Empowerment, where we focused on digital and financial literacy and its role in Filipino culture.
Day two’s main event was NaFFAA’s Got Talent, where each region showcased their talents. Jacque de Joya, State Chair of Nevada commented on the event saying, “It feels good to hold such an event that showcases everyones’ talent and have fun together. I am glad we were able to gather in-person as a NaFFAA family and laugh together after being separated for more than two years due to the pandemic.”
NEC DAY 3 – Civic Engagement
The last day of the conference was centered on topics of civic engagement. The NaFFAA founders started the day with a panel explaining the history of how NaFFAA was organized in 1997.
Jon Melegrito, NaFFAA’s first executive director, shared, “when offered the NaFFAA executive director position, I have to choose between this role and another job that pays more. I have a family to feed, a house and school tuition to pay for, but I have this feeling that taking the NaFFAA role is the right thing to do and I know I made the right choice.”
The day was also filled with speakers who discussed FilAmVote, Presidential Appointments, Civic Participation and Running for Office. Filipino Americans such as Nevada State Assemblymember Glen Leavitt, The Honorable Melissa Ramoso, Elected Member of the San Francisco Republican Party Central Committee Rudy Asercion and The Honorable Mark Pulido who previously or currently serve in elected offices led this discussion.
During the third day, the 25th Anniversary Gala was held. Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Nani Coloretti, the highest appointed Filipino American in the Biden Administration, spoke to over 600 guests who attended. The gala night’s keynote speaker was Sheila Marcelo, the Co-Founder and CEO of Proof of Learn, a Web3 learning platform with a mission to unlock accessible, high-quality education across the world. Ms. Marcelo previously founded Care.com in 2006, and currently serves as a Board Member for The Asian American Foundation (TAAF). Executive Director Kelly Coldiron moderated a Fireside Chat with Ms. Marcelo, who spoke to her passion for service, and coming into her own confidence as a high-power businesswoman and mother. She was later awarded the Loida Lewis Award for her exemplary leadership and commitment to serve and uplift the Filipino American community, named after NaFFAA co-founder and Filipino American businesswoman Loida Lewis.
Organizational Restructure and Election
During the third day, Brendan Flores announced the end of his term as NaFFAA’s President and continuation of his role as the National Chair. Mariela Fletcher, a Seattle-based community leader who previously served as Flores’ vice chair will take over as president. Flores will be leading the reorganization of NaFFAA’s board of governors to reflect structures of other large national non-profit organizations. On the other hand, Fletcher will be handling the operational priorities in strengthening NaFFAA’s blueprint by empowering the regions.
Flores expressed his gratitude to all those who supported him during his term as NaFFAA’s president. He is the longest serving President and Chair and the youngest ever to serve in that capacity. His term as president was highlighted by pioneering youth engagement, inclusion, and diversity. This is displayed by him diversifying the age group in his leadership board. He was also recognized for his global involvement in Geneva, Tulong Sulong, funders and several sponsors. During his term as president, NaFFAA saw a record number of corporate sponsorships.
Brendan Flores commented, “Mariela Fletcher is the right leader for the job. She served under three NaFFAA national chairs and as board member for several organizations. She has a wealth of experience on how to lead effectively and efficiently. Her main role will be finding means to strengthen our NaFFAA regions. During this uncertain and challenging times, we need a leader who thinks outside the box and leads with charity towards all. This is what a Mariela Fletcher brings to the table as the new NaFFAA president.”
The newly elected executive board was also recognized with Brendan Flores retaining his role as the National Chair, Mariela Fletcher as the new National President, Christopher Rivera as National Vice President, Angeles “Jelly” Carandang as National Treasurer, and Aldrin Carreon as National Secretary. Executive Director Kelly Ilagan Coldiron will continue to serve in her position under the new Administration. A new Board of Trustees were also inducted, including: Gio Duaqui, Art de Joya, Armin Sayson, and Nadia Jurani. We thank outgoing executive leaders Dr. Aida Rivera and Abbey Eusebio for their tenure and service to the organization.
Fletcher highlighted, “I am grateful and excited to serve in this capacity. We have a great team full of energetic leaders who are ready to serve our more than four million Filipino Americans. Our National Vice President Chris Rivera is a long-time youth leader for NaFFAA. Aldrin Carreon is the youngest elected secretary in our organization. Jelly Carandang is a well-respected leader in the Filipino American community. Our new board of trustees Gio, Art, Armin, and Nadia are leaders with a wealth of diverse experience in various sectors and aspects of our lives that greatly affect our Filipino American community. With this group, I hope we can hold our north star vision together, build our people with genuine relationships, make deeper connections with our partners, and continue forging together in shaping the future of NaFFAA in the next 25 years.”
Sunday Mass and Awarding
A Filipino gathering would not be complete without a Sunday Mass to close the NEC Conference. An interfaith mass was held in gratitude for a successful NEC Conference and in prayers for safe travels of all those traveling back home-close and far.
At the conclusion of the conference, the following organizations and individuals were recognized due to their exceptional contributions to the Filipino-American community:
PRESIDENTIAL IMAGE AWARDS (for their outstanding commitment to uplifting the Filipino story/narrative)
- Kollective Hustle (Romeo Marquez)
- TOFA (Elton Lugay)
- So Jannelle (Jannelle So)
PRESIDENTIAL LEGACY AWARDS
- Loida Lewis
- Michael Dadap
- Rodel Rodis
PRESIDENTIAL CITATION for OUTSTANDING LEADERSHIP COMMITMENT
- Jon Melegrito
- Bing Branigin
- Giselle Rushford
- Gloria Caoile
- Rozita Lee
Brendan Flores Millennial/Emerging Leadership Circle Award
- Rachelle Ocampo – Millennial Awardee
- Kelly Ilagan Coldiron – Millennial Awardee
- Aldrin Carreon – Emerging Leader Awardee
Loida Nicolas Lewis Women Pioneer Award
- Sheila Lirio Marcelo
Alex Esclamado Community Service Award
Presidential Citation for Civic Leadership Excellence
- Honorable Mark Pulido, Former Mayor of Cerritos
- Honorable Ron Falconi, Mayor of Brunswick
- Mr. Steven Raga, Candidate for New York State Assembly
Presidential Partnership Award (in honor of your strong, continued contribution to a prolonged relationship)
- RFL Foundation
- National Civic Engagement Award – Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA)
- National Advocacy Award – AARP
- National Leadership Development Award – UniPro
- National Chairman’s Leadership Excellence Award– NaFFAA Executive Board
NEC Conclusion & The Next 25 Years
The NaFFAA’s three-day National Empowerment Conference is a testament that much could be done and accomplished when the Filipino American community is united. With the newly reorganized executive board and trustees, NaFFAA looks forward to continuing to be the voice to the more than four million Filipino Americans in the United States.
Flores concluded, “I would like to express my gratitude to our host state of Nevada, host Desert Mountain Region, executive board, trustees,regional/state chairs and volunteers. Thanks to all who participated. The most important thing now is what we do with what we gained during the conference as we press forward together towards the next 25 years of NaFFAA. I hope that instead of saying 4 million strong, we can proudly say that we are more than 5 million strong. We need the younger generation, our youth, to step up and rise up to the challenge. This is a collective effort. Together, let’s make history and continue to write our story.”
The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. Established in 1997, NaFFAA has been the standard bearer for promoting the welfare and well-being of the 4 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans throughout the United States. NaFFAA’s vision is to serve as the voice of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans by uniting, engaging, and empowering diverse individuals and community organizations through leadership development, civic engagement, and national advocacy.