The Seattle Filipino Community Center opened its doors and arms to welcome the first University of Washington president to speak at the center since the negotiation of the building’s purchase in 1965.
On February 8, Ana Mari Cauce spoke about the importance of diversity in an academic environment, as well as its role in fostering innovation.
In preparation for Cauce’s speech, tables were laid out, and a banquet was set off to the side of the auditorium. Large trays of lumpia, noodles, and dessert were served to the attendees as the Filipino American Student Association vice president, Claudette Sambat took to the podium to begin the ceremony.
Sambat introduced speakers from the various local Filipino organizations, who took turns welcoming Cauce and stressed the importance of Filipino culture, identity, and presence within the University of Washington, as well as the Seattle area at large.
Donny Rojo has served on the Northwest Filipino American Student Alliance (NWFASA) as an alumni advisory board member for the University of Washington between 2012 and 2013. “We have cultural challenges but also being in a system that’s unfamiliar, that is benefiting other people, it is challenging for Filipino American students,” Rojo said. “We have to work a lot harder in that system to be successful.”
Rojo worked alongside fellow members of the Filipino Community Center for about three months to organize the welcoming dinner for Cauce.
Alan Garcia, president of the Filipino Community of Seattle, stressed the sacrifices parents of immigrant families make in order for their children to seek opportunities unavailable in their native land.
“We Filipinos value education,” Garcia said. “From the time that we are born, our parents put it in our minds that we need to finish our studies so that we can progress in life. Our parents work hard to send us to higher education for the reason that this is the only thing that they can give us which can last a lifetime. In return we do the same for our children.”
Cauce, an immigrant herself, came to the United States at the age of 3 with her family after escaping political turmoil in Cuba. Cauce recounted her family’s financial struggles while she was growing up, a story that is familiar among first-generation immigrants.
The low numbers of Filipino Americans on the university faculty as well as the student body was a key concern among people in attendance.
“I absolutely understand. I get it, that having diverse faculty is very important for a number of reasons,” Cauce said in response to the concern. “One of them is just the role modeling. Seeing people in positions where you can see yourself. If it changes how any kid out there sees their possibilities, I think that is a great thing.”
In her speech Cauce said: “I believe with all of my heart that you can’t have excellence without diversity. … When I came here there was one Filipino American faculty member and now we have three. That’s not a huge leap forward but what I’m saying is that I think we can continue to do better.”
Speaking on diversity within the University of Washington, Cauce said: “Yes it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do. … Innovation takes place when you have different disciplines, different people, different cultures. When they collide, that’s when you get the sparks of innovation.”