Student organizations celebrate Filipino History Month


Gertrude Pallilo

Gertrude Palillo (far left) pictured with her Kalahi Pamilya members at the Involvement Fair. Photo courtesy of Gertrude Pallilo

October is Filipino American History Month, a time to commemorate the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the United States, and a time to celebrate what it means to be Filipino in America. The Chicago metropolitan area is home to over 130,000 Filipino Americans as of the 2010 census, and the population is continuing to grow as the fourth-largest ethnicity immigrating into Chicago. As our presence grows in Chicago, our presence at DePaul follows suit.

Because of its sizable and growing Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander population, DePaul is eligible and currently in the process of applying to the Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) program, which provides grants and related assistance to AANAPI-serving institutions.

And yet, many students and faculty members had noticed when they first arrived that DePaul did not have any organized spaces geared specifically toward the Filipino community — it wasn’t until 2019 that a Filipino student organization was founded. So it comes as no surprise that these students and faculty members took it upon themselves to create these communities for themselves and others who share their Filipino identity, and this month they are celebrating those trail blazers at DePaul.

DePaul’s Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Cultural Center Coordinator Jane Baron, grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to the Chicago area when she was 10-years-old. Throughout her time at Loyola University Chicago for undergrad and then as a graduate student at DePaul, she recalls spending many of her formative years in predominantly white spaces. Baron found few Filipinos in positions of mentorship and had trouble discovering communities that shared her cultural identity.

“In high school, it was bringing lunch that was more ‘American,’ you know?” Baron said. “It felt like needing to hide parts of who I was in order to find that sense of belonging.”

During her time at DePaul from 2017 to 2020, Baron noticed that it was increasingly difficult to find spaces.

“In classes, we didn’t really talk about different identities that I hold,” Baron said. “That was something that I noticed at DePaul, and even when I was in undergrad.”

Gertrude Palillo, the senior advisor and former educational chair for Kalahi, DePaul’s Filipino Student Association, echoes Baron’s concerns about DePaul’s lack of organized events for the Filipino student body.

“I’ve never seen a dedicated event from the school celebrating Filipino American Heritage Month specifically,” Palillo said. “It wasn’t until Kalahi started did we begin organizing events for students to celebrate the Fil-Am (Filipino American) community and uplift Fil-Am voices both past and present.”

Palillo, originally just a member of DePaul’s Asian Cultural Exchange (ACE), noticed DePaul didn’t have a Filipino-specific student organization when she arrived as a freshman. After helping establish the basis for Kalahi as one of its first executive board members in 2019, Palillo has since worked to help facilitate a place to rebuild community by holding weekly meetings and raising awareness for Filipino events throughout the city, always encouraging members to attend.

“Helping with the creation of Kalahi will always be a memorable experience for me because being a part of this club is the most I’ve ever been immersed in Filipino culture,” Palillo said. “I grew up not knowing many Filipinos other than my extended family, so suddenly being able to be a part of Kalahi and meet Filipino students around my age has been an amazing opportunity and experience. It’s really broadened my understanding of the Philippines and helped me reflect on what it means to be Filipino American.”

Similarly, Baron has taken strides in the journey to make DePaul a truly AANAPI-serving institution. Being a Filipina faculty member has compelled Baron to be a mentor to young Filipinos, and she strives to create what she lacked growing up: a community where students can openly talk about their identity.

“People are excited to have a staff member who identifies as Filipina,” Baron said. “A lot of students that I’ve interacted with are used to being in predominantly white communities, go to classes that are led by predominantly white professors and teaching assistants. And so I think that I found community right away as a staff member because the students are eager to find that community as well.”

As a member of DePaul’s staff, even when Baron isn’t interacting with Filipino students, one of her goals is to infuse some of her most cherished values into the workplace. She strives to facilitate connections deeper than those at surface-level and takes pride in finding the greater good in small moments.

“I think that I bring a lot of values from the Filipino/Filipinx community,” Baron said. “It’s very community-based, and I think that’s what I try to bring into work and into the center, whether that’s talking, sharing food, saying ‘hi’ to people, or feeling like you’re connected to someone. Even if it’s someone you just met, it’s being able to connect with them on a personal level.”

To many Filipino students, including myself, Filipino History Month is about feeling closer to their roots through whichever aspect of our culture that best resonates with us. To Filipino-Hawaiian student Hokupaa Melim, that means learning through one of his favorite pastimes — cooking.

“I’m finally learning how to make adobo — properly — from my Nana,” Melim said. Adobo, a tangy, garlicky, slightly sweet, slightly spicy and fall-off-the-bone chicken dish, injects warmth into the hearts of many in the Filipino community.

“It’s a dish that I would eat a lot as a kid, and it makes me feel very nostalgic,” Melim said. “Learning how to make it is kind of a tribute to my Nana and my Filipino-ness.”

Outside of helping organize Filipino History Month events, Baron and Palillo are also finding ways to connect with their roots daily, both small and large.

“For me a lot of what brings me comfort is wearing a lot of the things that remind me of the Philippines,” Baron said. “The Filipino sun is an important symbol, so I have a lot of accessories, like earrings, with the Filipino sun.”

Palillo added how she’s involved in other Filipino organizations outside of DePaul.

“I’m also a member of the Chicago Committee [for] Human Rights in the Philippines, a grass-roots organization of Filipinos and non-Filipinos that support genuine democracy and peace in the Philippines,” Pallilo said. “I’ve been making time in my schedule this month to help out with more events and encourage Kalahi members to participate.”

No matter how we are celebrating, it’s clear that October is a vastly important month to all who are a part of the Filipino community. This month, try to make it a point to attend one of the many events for APIDA, which can be found on Instagram @APIDAUprising, or Kalahi, which can be found on Instagram @kalahidepaul.