Jay Page: A Fly Pinay for Community Based Education
Jay Page is an Organizer of Educational Programs at LEAD Filipino, an organization that fosters civic engagement amongst the South Bay Filipinx community. Jay was born in Pasay City, Philippines, but raised in the Bay Area on 90's Hip Hop and the Hyphy Movement. Passionate about mental wellness and Pilipino culture, she has developed curriculum around Filipino history and movements for high school and college-aged community members. Jay shares her activism journey on being a Filipina educator.
Pinay: “Pinay” is a Tagalog word for a woman of Filipino descent.
How did you first get involved with Filipinx activism and mental health work?
I first got into mental health as a result of [my own] family experiences. I felt very isolated. A lot of things were happening to me, and I liked to read about why these things happened so I got into psychology and sociology. It wasn’t really until I went to UC Davis that I discovered that there’s a whole cultural aspect that influences my mental health. I discovered that Western therapy practices don’t always apply to immigrant experiences of intergenerational conflict and trauma.
I learned a lot of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I started incorporating those ideas into my mental health studies. And now here I am! I’m with Filipino youth!
I went to Mission College, and I had always been organizing. I was the president of the Honor Society, always inviting others to do work with me but I never got to explore how my roots impacted my struggles. Then I got to UC Davis. I moved there a week before everyone else started coming in. So, I’m in this really boring farm town and I have nothing to do. I had no money and I was living in North Davis. I took a walk to campus, it was a 2–3 mile walk, it was 103 degrees, and I saw this building with a bridge–the Golden Gate bridge and the Filipino sun on it. It was the logo for Bridge: Filipino Outreach and Retention. I was like, “Oh look! There’s the Filipino sun. They’re probably from the Bay. I’m from the Bay!” I was homesick and so I kept that in my head. That building was closed so I kept walking.
A few days before school started, I went to this Asian American Fall Welcome with all seven of the Filipino-American organizations trying to recruit people. I met these twins, Valerie and Melissa Poquiz, from BRIDGE — that sign I saw on the building earlier that week. They reached out to me and we vibed right away because I could tell they were from the Bay. (I was right, they were from Hercules.) They kind of had attitude; they were different. So, they recruited me to Bridge, and then there was Kappa Psi Epsilon, the Filipina Sorority. This was my first time living away from home, and I’ve always wanted to join a sorority. They were also trying to recruit me.
The other thing was Sacramento has really whack music, so I had been listening to the radio that whole week and I emailed the radio station and I said, “Dude, your music sucks!” [laughs] “You guys need new music! You’ve been playing the same music over and over and over for 60 hours”– and they offered me an internship to become a DJ! So I had those three choices: Bridge, which was all about social justice; Kappa Psi Epsilon, which I would have loved to join because it’s such an empowering sisterhood; and then I had the option to become a DJ. I ended up choosing Bridge, and that’s just shaped my career ever since.
What experiences motivated you to stay working within the Filipino community?
I really liked what I was doing with Bridge at UC Davis. Then, I came home, and I was working at the mall. I couldn’t get any jobs at non-profits because I didn’t have a Masters. I was kinda void of Filipino-American anything when I first came home from college. So I joined a few other organizations, and then I met Angelica Cortez, the founder of LEAD Filipino, from another organization we were a part of. She was like, “Hey, I’m starting up this new Fil-Am org in San José, are you interested in joining it?” and I was like “Sure, I don’t know what I’m gonna do but okay.” [laughs]
I kind of liked the vibe with LEAD because Angelica let me do whatever the hell I wanted to do. Like 3 in the morning, I would text her and be like, “Hey Gels, I’m gonna start this program.” She’d be like, “Oh hell yeah!” That’s just how it’s been. Also, I’d call myself a disorganized organizer. I hate emails, meetings, spreadsheets and conference calls, so I do anything I can to avoid any of that. I don’t even own a laptop — PowerPoints for both my cohorts have been written out of my iPhone and my paper notebooks. But if you ask me to do a real quick history lesson, I love to use my voice, the angry spirit I carry during protests and government meetings, and my mean ass eyebrows to move people. I’m super old school and Gels let me be me while creating all these programs.
How would you describe LEAD Filipino and what are some projects you’ve led within the organization?
LEAD Filipino is a San Jose based organization that started with Angelica Cortez. For the first few years, she had just been sitting and observing the state of California and its lack of representation of Filipino Americans. Not just in government, but also in media and entertainment. Her push was to encourage Filipino Americans to take up those spaces because we’re one of the least represented. She wanted to change that.
With LEAD Filipino, there are a lot of different components. There’s a Fly Pinay program for empowering Filipinas. We connect entry-level Pinays with mentors who have at least 5 years of experience in their desired careers. We have an annual Fly Pinays Conference where the mentors and mentees spend the day in development and empowerment workshops. Throughout the rest of the year, we hold events for the pairs to attend together, but a lot of them go out and have career development conversations on their own. There are civic engagement programs where we work with the Asian Law Alliance to register Filipino American voters in Santa Clara County, and there’s the program that I oversee, the Education Program.
I create Filipino American Studies for schools and community programs in the South Bay. I do this because I remember being in high school and not wanting to be in class, ever. A large part of it was what was going on at home. The only time I was ever interested in school was when our classes had something to do with ethnic studies or introspection — but even that was very rare. I had the privilege of taking Asian American studies classes in college, and I do have to emphasize the word “privilege.” Not everyone is able to go to college, and these courses are rarely offered in any school. I wanted to offer an opportunity for folks to explore their culture and history and examine whether these have an impact on their struggles and successes, even if they don’t have the privilege of going to college.
We’re getting ready to teach another Awareness in Action Program in eastside San Jose this summer, and some of the classes are going to be facilitated by our Spring Training Program participants. It’s a free 8-week course and we’ll be focusing on Fil-Am Mental Health, kultura, and Filipino American history in the Bay Area. We also have our two Fil-Am History tours lined up to supplement the classes. I encourage anyone to join!
What has been your process in creating training programs and your own Filipino American Studies programs in an area where there are no Filipino American Studies at all?
Right now, we have three educational programs; one of them is the Awareness in Action program. It’s a summer program for college-level community members and every week, we teach a different aspect of Fil-Am culture, history, and movements. We talk about mental health, we talk about Fil-Ams in government, we talk about knowing your rights, and we talk about the 500 year history of Filipino Americans — one of our foundations of the class.
Our other program is our high school program, which is a year-round program of Filipino American Studies. Then, our spring training program is brand new. It’s in our first year, and we’re training people to teach the summer program. This program in particular came about because after having the summer program for two years, we’ve been approached by a lot of different programs and schools saying, “Hey, can we bring your curriculum to our school?” I was like, “Dude, this is great!” But there’s only one of me. So, I wanted to be able to train people to do what I do, so that the supply matches the demand. There’s a lot of passionate people out there; they just need an avenue to be trained and get the experience, and that’s the reason why I created this [program].
There is a 500-year history of colonialism that’s pretty much erased from Filipinos’ memories. Spain and the US may no longer claim the Philippines as a colony (neocolonialism will be a whole ‘nother conversation), but the trauma dating all the way back to the first interactions with Spaniards STILL lingers in our DNA, our thought processes, and our economic well-being, even after we’ve crossed the Pacific and created our lives out here. (If anyone would like to know what I’m talking about, come see me in my summer program.) My curriculum opens the doors for students to understand their interactions with their families and society with a cultural lens. And sometimes it’s painful. The later part of the program sticks to Angelica’s original vision — Awareness in Action. After participants explore their own history, how do they combine this new awareness with their talents to empower themselves and others?
I think the most rewarding part of creating the curriculum is building relationships. I often have guest speakers who are better versed in their subjects than I am, so I prefer to have them speak on what they’ve lived than to lecture about what I’ve read. I meet folks in the community just by walking up to them and introducing myself, and asking if they’d be down to share their stories with my students. I’m super lucky because everyone I’ve run into is down for the people.
I try to make my curriculum as interactive as possible. In this year’s summer program, the facilitators will be incorporating theatre skills we picked up from Bindlestiff Studio to introduce the class.
My process and goals have changed significantly since I picked up the Awareness in Action Program last summer. At first, I just wanted to teach Filipino Studies and maybe inspire folks to learn about their culture. Now, I work to give people foundations to create or improve their own programs.
What are the challenges and joys of being a Filipina educator, and a Filipina in general, here in the South Bay?
Being a Pinay, you’re not only this professional and you’re not just an educator. I think it comes with the culture, to be so caring about other people, that you end up nurturing everyone in a community. As fulfilling as that is, sometimes there’s no time for you. There’s time for everybody else but you.
What do you think are the best aspects of being a Pinay?
I take a lot of pride in the fact that Pinays can fucking do it all. We can be the leaders in our communities, and we can nurture our families. It’s a stereotype, and it’s also, at the same time, the strength that we have. It’s natural.
How do you see LEAD Filipino and your community growing in the future?
I see us having our own physical space. I see us being able to provide another space for people to say, “This is where the Filipinos organize.” We could be that. I [also] think we can create a lot more educational programs. I think we can be that space for empowerment for other Filipinos. I have to add that the Filipino community in San Jose owes a lot to the Mexican Heritage Plaza, North Side Community Center, and the Filipino Youth Coalition. A lot of South Bay Filipino organizers were schooled inside these facilities, and I will always have respect for the ones who built resources where nothing previously existed. I would like to expand these resources.
How does being a Pinay impact how you educate others, and how you lead your activism?
I think it definitely shows in the way I really, really care about other people, beyond just teaching them content. People reach out to you, and they know that you are able to take care of them not just as a student but as family. They’re able to trust that at the end of the day, I can still be there for them for moral support.
What words of wisdom do you have for future Pinays who are interested in doing this type of work?
Words of wisdom…I hope you wake up everyday and know that you are that bitch! That chick!
In community grassroots organizing, you’re making a lot of money moves but without the money. A lot of these big moves, they come out of the love I have in my heart for my people. But being a grassroots group also means a lot of times we’re coming out of pocket. That’s the struggle right [there], to just survive. My driving force with community organizing is [that] I wanna see people in my community thrive. I’m doing this so people have a resource.
Another thing that people don’t know is how much you struggle internally on a daily basis. I guess one thing I would tell people who are organizing is check up on each other all the time; even if it looks like “Oh yeah, I’m doing good.” Sometimes it’s the people who appear to be the fiercest or the strongest, they also need to check in. Just remember that.
Do you have other last words of wisdom you’d like to share?
I’d still like to become a DJ! [laughs] [But,] I would never be where I am today without folks opening doors for me: my advisers at Mission College — Rosalyn Chan, Carolyn Kuri, Aaron Malchow, Liz Pelayo, and Coach Corey Cafferata. A lot of what I know now in Fil Am organizing, I learned from Dr. Robyn Rodriguez, Kuya Dale Maglalang, Dr. Richard Kim, Kuya Kirby Araullo. And I can’t forget my closest homegirls and organizing partners Angelica Cortez and Jaki Joanino. And lastly my family who influence everything and listen to me when I cry.