Kaisa’s 30th anniversary Reflections

 

Founding member Go Bon Juan asks the past presidents of Kaisa – (from left) Nancy Herrin, Ernesto C.K. Chua, Harry Chua, Aquino Lee, Alexander Tee and Teresita Ang See – to bow to the Tsinoy community which helped in the realization of the Kaisa Heritage Center during its inauguration on Jan. 19, 1999.

Alexander Tee (1990-1992): More than 30 years ago, a group of young men and women of diverse backgrounds gathered together to serve as catalysts of change following the tumultuous events that unfolded in the aftermath of EDSA. We decided it was time to undertake meaningful activities for the community and the country; and thus Kaisa was born – Unity for Development. On the day that the officers of Kaisa were inducted, the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) struck and once again the country was in turmoil.
Idealistic and enthusiastic, the people behind Kaisa remained steadfast and forged ahead with innovative plans and projects.
During the early stages, there were some in the Chinese-Filipino community who had misgivings about our new group and questioned our political leanings. But we proudly stood our ground: We were first and foremost Filipinos.
Near our fifth year’s existence, we took a leap of faith and ventured into the monumental task of raising enough funds to establish Kaisa as a self-sustaining institution with its own office. In 1992, Kaisa produced “Tsinoy: A History of the Chinese in Philippine life in songs, dances and visual images” which was shown at the Philippine International Convention Center. Our Tsinoy community applauded our activities and responded with full support. Tickets were sold out.
Within our ranks there were no taipans or geniuses but only ordinary members and officers who desired to contribute towards changing society and country for the better, and who shared the same vision and passion that it could and should be done.
We might be ordinary but it did not stop us from dreaming extraordinary dreams and taking extraordinary steps to make our dreams realities.
To the new generation of Kaisa members and officers, we say: Never stop learning from history; let no obstacle, no matter how big, deter you from your chosen path; and continue to keep faith in yourself, in your vision and mission… keep them alive and burning.

Aquino Lee (1992-1993): I am glad to be a part of Kaisa since its inception. It was a very inspiring experience to come across a group of young Tsinoys from a broad spectrum of the Tsinoy community.
All very eager, raring to participate in nation building after the long years of martial law. The air every time we meet was charged with the relevancy and urgency of forming a group that can represent the voices of younger Tsinoys.
As we travel along the cultural, historical and social lines of work, an unexpected detour turned up with the deterioration of peace and order, and a series of unrelenting kidnapping threatened not just the Tsinoy community, but society as a whole.
To face this new challenge, we needed to muster all the courage we have to step forward and reach out to the media and the community to jointly jolt the government out of its complacency.
Cries for justice were made and demands for action to end these heinous crimes echoed throughout the country. Teresita Ang See, Harry Chua, Alexander Tee, Ernesto C.K. Chua, and I, as well as many of our board officers, faced the media to drum up the issue. Anti-crime group MRPO was formed and joined hands with Citizens Action Against Crime. Go Bon Juan, Lyonel Ty, Mariano Trajano and Joaquin Sy started to write, the whole board including Nancy Herrin, Leo Ang, Andrew Arriola, Lolita Lim, Lourdes Sy and many others coordinated and built alliances with groups who shared the same concerns.
All Kaisa members and friends were mobilized for the biggest Chinatown boycott and rallies, and the rest is history…
These activities were also punctuated by a number of relief missions we organized – the central Luzon earthquake, Pinatubo eruption and devastating typhoons…
Among the things I treasure most are the smiles and warm responses coming from people Kaisa served, or came in touch with. The other one is the fellowship and friendship among members built in the course of service.
It has been 30 years, immeasurable challenges have been overcome, but there are more tasks ahead. Kaisa’s work is never done, it is as relevant as ever.

Harry T. Chua (1993-1995): My term as president started with the First Tsinoy National Convention in Tagaytay in 1994. There were many ideas suggested during the plenary session, one being a clamor to open Kaisa chapters in other major cities. Two chapters resulted, and from time to time, we called on them for help in our projects, though they have become a bit dormant in recent years.
However, there was one tiny pebble of an idea that took root: that of establishing a Kaisa Cultural Heritage Center. The tiny pebble dropped into the pond rippled, and still continues to ripple in an ever widening circle today.
The cultural heritage center had been a dream of Chinben See. It started with a wish of expanding our library, which we considered our main “treasure.” At one point, Angelo King expressed a desire to help and it was during these discussions that the idea of a cultural heritage center crystalized. It became a reality when Mr. King offered us space in the new building he was putting up in Intramuros.
As circumstances changed and our concept expanded, the present Kaisa Heritage Center came into being.
The Center is a symbol of the trust the Tsinoy community has in us. Kaisa acts as its trustee and acknowledges that the Center belongs to the Tsinoy community who raised the funds to build it.
In the early 1990s, Kaisa took the lead in the fight against kidnapping of ethnic Chinese in our community. We were the visible face protesting the failure of the government in protecting us from the scourge of kidnapping happening every week. It was a tireless, thankless and dangerous work; but we eventually earned the respect of and admiration of the Tsinoy community; and helped us raised the P160 million needed to build the Kaisa Heritage Center.
Eighteen years have passed since we inaugurated the Center and the ripple effect has been enormous. The Chinben See Memorial Library is known internationally, and has become the foremost resource and authority for research on anything concerning the Chinese in the Philippines. Bahay Tsinoy has influenced hundreds of thousands of students who visited to look at the Chinese in a new light instead of its stereotype image. It has also become a de facto stop of government officials from China, high- and low-ranking, from premiers to city officials.
Today is our 30th anniversary. That we are still receiving support from the Tsinoy community is a validation of our role in society. We have found our rightful place in the Philippine sun!

Ernesto C.K. Chua (1995-1997): I recall the big responsibility given to me to head the fundraising campaign in 1997 on the occasion of Kaisa’s 10th anniversary.
Through the help of our partners in Batibot, Lyka Brown and Rene Villanueva, we put up a show at the Philippine International Convention Center, entitled “Tsinoy: Mga Anak ng Bayan,” revolving around the story of Jose Ignacio Paua, the only full-blooded Chinese general in the Philippine revolution. It was produced by renowned artist-singer Celeste Legaspi, with Audie Gemora as lead actor.
The show aimed to raise funds for the construction of the Kaisa Heritage Center. It did not disappoint: we were able to raise P40 million from the show.
Another big responsibility I recall was helping to organize the mass funeral march for kidnap victim Charlene Mayne Sy in 1993, during the height of the kidnapping menace. To safeguard Kaisa and separate the anti-crime work, I helped organize the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order with then senator Nikki Coseteng. Many Tsinoy organizations, which were mere bystanders and non-involved at that time, became involved and participated in the funeral march and later, also participated in activities in the fight against kidnapping.
I look forward to Kaisa’s bright future in the hands of the younger generation. My wish is for the organization to undertake more community projects to involve newly arrived mainland Chinese and improve relationship with Filipinos.

Nancy Herrin (1997-2000): Against all odds, dogged determination, volunteerism, I have always marveled at the dogged determination of the Kaisa leadership. I was in awe of fellow members who gave Kaisa priority over their businesses and of academics, professionals, middle managers, ordinary employees, homemakers, and students who, sharing the idealism of their leaders, surrendered precious personal resources and family time to do volunteer work in Kaisa.
The year 1987 onwards were difficult years. But against all odds, our volunteers dreamed their dreams and worked tirelessly. Volunteerism wasn’t a fad yet but it was in each and every one of them.
How time has flown! Thirty years already and 19 years since I took my turn as president. Then I did, and now again, thank all the earlier presidents and those who followed after me – they led during the more difficult years, and inspired a reluctant me to say yes to the call to leadership.
Years 1997-2000 were what you might call the years of reaping the harvest after over a decade of planting the seeds of goodwill to earn the trust of the Tsinoy community and Pinoy society. Why else would this working wife and mother be needing to meet and greet the hundreds of generous donors of Kaisa Heritage Center almost every week? And how else would Jan. 19, 1999 have been possible – the day I nervously welcomed an auditorium of who’s who to our spanking new Heritage Center, the symbol of a dream come true… against all odds.
Today, Aug. 28, 2017, I come to the celebration of Kaisa’s 30th. And I am overcome by an eerie feeling of déjà vu. The setting is not Room 1101 of the old State Center Bldg. along Juan Luna St. in Binondo but the air-conditioned, bright and spacious lobby of the Kaisa Heritage Center in historic Intramuros.
The faces are different, most of them 30-40 years younger. I still see the laid-back demeanor and general shyness of the young volunteers to whom I have yet to be introduced. But it does not matter to them if they are nameless. They are Kaisa. They are ready to learn and to help, to follow and to eventually lead, while the old guards, long faded into the background, watch from the sides, with pride and joy. Yes, Kaisa@30 is ready to level up.

Lyonel Ty (2000-2002): Since joining Kaisa in 1987, I have experienced countless memorable events. Of these events, the most memorable is the completion of the Kaisa Heritage Center – a long-cherished wish of every Kaisa member and certainly an unforgettable achievement for all of us. While the building was finally completed during my term, its completion was a culmination of the tremendous efforts of all members and the unwavering support of the community. The Kaisa Heritage Center does not only serve as a functional structure, but also as a symbol of the Kaisa spirit, which we should all fervently aim to strengthen and preserve in the years to come.

Ang Chak Chi (2002-2003; 2004-2006): Kaisa is 30 years old and I am 25 in Kaisa. At Kaisa, I met the most humble, selfless and dedicated individuals. Where else can you find an organization where all past presidents are still active and will immediately respond when they are needed? How can you not learn humility through the examples they have set?
Here, I found my identity, learned to appreciate my heritage and understood the importance of paying back to the society that gave us and our ancestors a better life. When people ask me why I’m so passionate giving museum tours, my simple reply is “because I am telling you my story.”
Here, I grew as an individual and boosted my confidence. I was exposed to and interacted with people from all walks of life: from heads of state to ordinary people to poorest of the poor.
Here, apart from our cultural and social work, I was given the opportunity to stretch myself – doing jobs I never thought I was capable of. I emceed events, have done museum tours for 18 years and running, manage a publication, transcribed Chinese subtitles for four Filipino films, sang “Mi Ultimo Adios” in Mandarin (translation by Go Bon Juan), performed in our 20th anniversary musical stage play and supervised the production…
These are but some of the “crazy” things I experienced in Kaisa. A founding member once related to me that in the early days of Kaisa, many branded them as “crazy” people with too much spare time. But I believe they chose to take the road less traveled, to do things differently and truly made a difference.
On its 30th year, I salute all the “crazy” people of Kaisa. I am proud and honored to be one of and with you. Looking forward to see Kaisa and myself grow in the next 30 years!

Eleonor Lee-Tsumura (2006-2008): As Kaisa celebrates its 30th year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our community supporters and our staff who helped us reach this milestone. May you continue to accompany us in our journey. It is our fondest hope that Kaisa will always stay relevant to our community and our country’s needs, but at the same time be more adept at responding to changes. May we also work towards gaining more financial muscle which we still sorely lack. Lastly, I hope we can continue setting good examples in gender equality. After all Chairman Mao once said: “Women hold up half of the sky.”

Ganny Tan (2009-2011; 2015-2016): I was asked to write something significant that happened when I was Kaisa president. Immediately, I thought of the major relief operation that I handled, barely 30 days into my term as president. Typhoon Ondoy crashed on Sept. 24, 2009 and signal No. 1 raised over Metro Manila. On Sept. 26, heavy rains caused severe flooding as high as 17.91 inches over Quezon City, and by the afternoon, a state of calamity was declared in Metro Manila as well as 25 other provinces.
Never had Metro Manila experienced such severe flooding before. As if Ondoy wasn’t calamitous enough, another typhoon, Pepeng, came and left the whole central and northern Luzon a big mess. Kaisa participated in disaster reliefs for typhoon and earthquakes before and without hesitation, we launched our relief operations immediately. What I did not expect was that this operation would last for months. Generous donations kept pouring in and hundreds of volunteers came to help. Even the Hong Kong government endorsed by Amity Foundation entrusted us with relief funds worth HK$500,000 that enabled us to extend our relief operations farther to the north.
Kaisa Heritage Center became a crisis center for the preparation of relief goods and served as temporary storage as well. Container vans provided by a neighbor were full of relief goods which were delivered every day from KHC to disaster areas.
The most unforgettable experience was the night of Sept. 29: Typhoon Pepeng had entered Metro Manila at midnight, and we were still in the ghost town of Montalban distributing relief goods. Having gone through this experience, Kaisa was more than prepared to handle an even greater relief and rehabilitation operation in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda hit. Those relief operations, being of help to fellow suffering neighbors, are some of the most memorable experiences that I treasure.

Anabel Chua-Lim (2011-2013): Kaisa is now 30 years old. Wow. That is a pretty long time in organization age. I remember when I first set foot at the Kaisa office at the State Center in Binondo to attend the orientation for new members. It was May of 1995. What I will never forget about that office was when we got locked in during one of our extended meetings at the office. Good thing, someone was able to inform the guard on duty at the ground floor to turn on the elevator. Someone had already locked up all the access doors to the stairs. It is funny now looking back.
Now, 22 years later, I am still with Kaisa and continuing to volunteer in its Alay Medisina program. This program of giving medical assistance to indigent patients of Philippine General Hospital, which Kaisa has done for almost 30 years, has truly helped a lot of people. Some of the best people that I know were fellow volunteers. I have done other things at Kaisa like relief operations and housing projects. What I really appreciate through all my years with Kaisa was the trust and support that many people from the Tsinoy community and elsewhere have given Kaisa, which enabled us as an organization to initiate and accomplish all our big projects – Bahay Tsinoy, the Heritage Center, the building itself, our relief operations and the projects we did that continue to benefit the people we reach out to, the Bangkabuhayan project where we gave 350 boats to fishermen who lost their boats during the rampage of Typhoon Yolanda, the thousands of relief goods we were able to bring to flood victims when they needed it, and our joint project with GK which started in 2003 has helped produce 500 houses in various communities.
When I was president, we did the Fourth Tsinoy National Convention. Those are just some of the better known projects we undertook and looking back, it almost seemed it was impossible to accomplish all of this when we were still planning to do it. But people at Kaisa just seem to have a knack for doing stuff just by working together. But what I truly appreciate about Kaisa is the opportunity to be part of an organization that was able to channel hope and help to plenty of people and at the same time, be a bridge for better understanding between two cultures.

Meah Ang See (2016-2018): Kaisa has come full circle. Thirty years ago, my mother was the founding president. Now, it is my turn to serve as president.
I was already part of Kaisa when it was founded in 1987. I was 10. Thirty years later I am at the helm. It is daunting to say the least. There is a 30-year-old reputation to uphold. There are two generations to straddle. Kaisa is one of the few organizations in the Tsinoy community whose past presidents and elder members are still active volunteers. They are our mentors and advisers. They are the sane and orderly voices when things are falling apart. Both of these generations are invaluable to Kaisa.
At our anniversary celebration last Aug. 27, I chatted with Kaisa member Chester Sy. He is planning to take up further studies abroad, and maybe settle somewhere else. It saddened me a little, but he followed it up with, “Achi, I want to do something really worthwhile before I leave.”
I asked him to draw up a list of things he would like to do, and submit it as a proposal to Kaisa. While drawing up his ideas, I told him not to limit himself with “reality” yet. Don’t think about things that might not pan out because of some reason. As the song by Kamikazee goes, “Libre lang mangarap (dreaming costs nothing).”
I told Chester, “This is where Kaisa comes in.” We can train him and his friends whatever skills they still need to fulfill their project. We can use our organizational expertise in helping them draw out their plans and see them to fruition. If needed, we could find sponsors for his dream project.
There are 30 years worth of organizational experience, and more than a century’s worth of collective individual volunteering experience within Kaisa. What he dreams of can become a reality.
Ten years ago, Kaisa officers and members sat down and crafted the Kaisa Vision 2020: Kaisa is a leading resource organization that advocates the proactive and sustainable participation of the Tsinoy community in local and national development.
It is the age of the millennials and GenZ. It is time for them to take over. I envision Kaisa to be a mentor to these young idealists and help them fulfill their dreams for this country we call home.
We have come full circle in 30 years. It is time to make new circles.
Editors Note: Andrew Arriola was president from 2008-2009 and Angela Yu was president from 2013-2015.

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