On October 28th, we celebrated the founding of GABRIELA Seattle, a grassroots organization of Filipina women that advocates for the rights and welfare of Filipina women in Seattle and in the Philippines.
Our name comes from revolutionary Gabriela Silang, a fearless leader and fighter during the armed resistance against the Spanish colonizers. She was an icon of the Philippine revolution, and even in today’s society, she continues to serve as a wellspring of inspiration for young women and girls, challenging and breaking the typical image of women in a feudal-patriarchal society. She proved that women are a formidable force for social change. Her legacy reminds us that women’s contributions to society must be recognized and valued.
Just like our namesake, GABRIELA is fighting for national democracy and liberation in the Philippines. While many believe that the Philippines is an independent country, this is only on paper. To this day, our country is heavily controlled by foreign countries and multinational corporations, and the U.S. continues to treat the Philippines as a neo-colony.
The U.S. continues to build more military bases on Philippine soil, calling the shots on trade and military policies. For the Philippines to truly be free, our sovereignty must be respected, and the Filipino people should directly benefit from the land and resources. We also stand alongside other national liberation struggles — such as Palestine and native peoples who are fighting for their land and self-determination — because we know our struggles are linked.
GAB work first started in the mid ‘90s and early ‘00s, primarily as a solidarity organization for the Philippine Women’s Movement called Friends of Gabriela, which later became the Gabriela Network. However, nationally, Gabriela Network had an orientation as a solidarity organization primarily targeting non-Filipino women. Some chapters, including us in Seattle, didn’t see ourselves as a solidarity organization, but as a mass grassroots organization of Filipina women fighting for the liberation of our people and homeland.
Pinay sa Seattle was founded on Oct. 28, 2006, a day commemorated in the Philippines as Philippine Women’s Day of Protest, during the height of the Marcos dictatorship in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Meanwhile, groups in the U.S. continued to build a mass movement of Filipina women’s organizations, advocating for national democracy in the Philippines, and founded GABRIELA USA in 2009. Soon after, Pinay sa Seattle adopted a new name: GABRIELA Seattle.
Why did you join GABRIELA?
“Sumali ako sa Gabriela Seattle dahil naghahanap ako ng grupo ng mga Pinay na tumutulong sa ibang migranteng manggagawa at pamilya sa pagtuturo sa kanila tungkol sa kanilang mga karapatan bilang migrante dito sa USA.”
— Cherry J., Membership Officer
“I joined GAB in November 2008, five months after watching a cultural performance of a poetry piece by GAB members at the Pagdiriwang festival where they told the story of a Filipina named Nicole who was raped by a U.S. marine in 2005 in Subic Bay.
It was the first time I heard of her, and the first time I saw a group of Filipino women use art to make a political statement. It was intriguing to me as someone involved in performing arts all my life, who also longed to be more involved in the Filipino community. When I joined GAB, I co-directed and performed in their Diwang Pinay theater production in 2009 and have been active ever since.
It became my political home, as I drew connections of systemic violence and oppression of Filipino women to the root causes of widespread poverty and forced migration of Filipinos. And I saw my role in the struggle for national democracy in the Philippines.”
— Precious Arney, Secretary General
“In 2011, I attended a fundraiser dance party on Capitol Hill. It was there I met some of the Pinay sa Seattle members. They invited me to a report back of a recent exposure trip in the Philippines at Jackson Theater. BAYAN members had returned from a fact-finding mission in Mindanao, to uncover the truth of the extrajudicial killings of Juvy Capion and her family members who were resisting large scale mining in their community.
I was hooked after that because environmental justice was important to me and I wanted to see justice for the indigenous farmers fighting for their land. I signed up for an orientation shortly after that and the rest is history.”
— Jill Mangaliman, Chairperson
“I joined GABRIELA because it was a space that answered a lot of questions for me, in terms of understanding my place in this world. It helped to bridge gaps in understanding and knowledge why so many of our people are forced to migrate. It helped me understand my place in the world as a Filipina, that I migrated over with my mom and felt like I had lost out on learning my language, my history.
GABRIELA was a venue for me to reclaim that part of me that was stripped away because of our colonial history. It means a lot. It’s very personal. I think what GAB offers is a solution for the many women who face. I appreciate that about GAB, being part of a larger movement and a collective.”
— Donna Denina, Founding Member
What’s next for GABRIELA Seattle?
Precious Arney: For the next year(s), I want to see GAB locally to grow with more Filipino women made up of workers, migrants, mothers, and youth. I hope that more Filipinos take up the call to fight for self-determination and liberation for our people, utilizing their skills, talents, and own personal experiences through organizing – carrying on the tradition of resistance of Filipinas who came before us such as Gabriela Silang and Lorena Barros.
Cherry J.: “Gusto kong makakita ng mas maraming miyembro na sumali at makita ang mas maraming kabataan na myembro sa komunidad ng NDMO partikular sa Gabriela dahil mas nakatuon kami sa mga isyu ng inaabuso at trafficked na kababaihan sa buong mundo at sa tingin ko ito ay isang magandang ideya para matutunan nila na may mga tao na talagang nabubuhay sa mga ganitong uri ng sitwasyon.”
Donna Denina: “I want to see the organization keep growing. I’d like to see us continue on the legacy organizing for another 17 years, and beyond. We know that the issues and problems of Filipina women won’t go away overnight. But what we can do is continue building GABRIELA chapters to more and more women, introduced and exposed to the systematic issues and the root of their problems, so they can find a path to their own liberation. That’s my hope for GABRIELA on this momentous occasion.”
Jill Mangaliman: “I’d also love for us to continue to strengthen our campaigns so that we can build up the fighting spirit of our community to organize together for our rights and basic needs. Our campaigns follow the call to Defend Filipino Women, Defend GABRIELA. We are rising up against the corrupt and neglectful Philippine government for all the women activists and land defenders who have been unjustly detained and killed by U.S.-backed military and police forces. Our organizers, myself included, have been put in danger by being terror-tagged. Others have been killed, as in the case of Jude Fernandez, a union organizer with Kilusang Mayo Uno.
GAB is also advocating for a Pro-People’s Budget, one which addresses the funding priorities of overseas Filipinos instead of more funding for police and military. Locally, we have taken up the Justice for Jollibee Workers campaign. Nine Jollibee workers at Journal Square, New Jersey, were wrongfully terminated in retaliation for organizing for higher wages and better working conditions. Now, former and current Jollibee workers and community members are fighting to defend the rights of all Jollibee workers. A recent victory was that the National Labor Review Board sided with the illegally-terminated Jollibee workers and ordered Jollibee to reinstate the workers, give back pay, issue a public apology, and protect their right to organize. We have been flyering and spreading awareness about this campaign at the Tukwila and Tacoma Jollibees, garnering support from customers and making sure that local workers know they have the right to organize and the community has their back.”
GABRIELA Seattle will continue on to inspire and organize more Filipina women to rise up. We are excited for 17 more years of organizing, and even more hopeful for our collective liberation. Join us on Saturday, November 4th at Beacon United Methodist Church to celebrate our 17th anniversary. Together with the United Women of Faith, we’re hosting a family friendly event to honor our women heroes and martyrs.