Melissa Roxas, kabilang sa 100 Most Influential Fil-Am Women

December 14, 2011

Melissa Roxas, Fil-Am na biktima ng toryur, pinarangalan para sa patuloy na pagsisilbi sa interes ng mahihirap at inaapi (PW File Photo/Jay Davis)

Kamakailan, pinarangalan ang Filipino-American na si Melissa Roxas na kabilang sa 100 Most Influential Filipina American Women. Handog ng Filipina Women’s Network (FWN) ang parangal na iginagawad taun-taon, simula 2006, sa mga Pinay na namumukod-tangi sa kani-kanilang larangan dahil sa ipinamalas na katangian ng pagiging lider at iba pang makabuluhang nakamit.

Nakilala sa Pilipinas si Roxas bilang isa sa mga biktima ng paglabag sa karapatang pantao ng nagdaang administrasyong Arroyo. Noong 2009, habang nagsasagawa ng medical mission sa Tarlac, dinukot siya at dumanas ng matinding tortyur sa kamay ng militar. Dalawang taon ang makaraan, tila nalampasan na ni Roxas ang malagim na yugtong iyon ng kanyang buhay, at patuloy sa pagsisilbi sa interes ng mahihirap at inaapi.

Kasama ni Roxas na pinarangalan ang mga Pinay mula sa iba’t ibang industriya at propesyon sa Estados Unidos. Tanging si Roxas lamang ang human rights activist na napili ng FWN 100 Nationwide Search and Selection Committee. Kinapanayam siya ng Pinoy Weekly hinggil sa natanggap na parangal:

Pinoy Weekly (PW): Who nominated you and what award did you receive? What were you awarded for?

Melissa Roxas (MR): I received the Policymakers and Visionaries Award which recognizes Filipina women leaders who have made or are making a difference in U.S. government policies or laws that impact business, industry and society and who enrich the lives and careers of others by sharing the benefits of their wealth, experience, and knowledge.

PW: What experiences come to mind from your background that has helped other Fil-Am women within the Los Angeles area, US, and the Philippines?

MR: I have traveled to different parts of the U.S. (and Canada) to give human rights workshops and talks about the human rights situation in the Philippines and about the human rights violations that continue to happen including killings, disappearances, torture, militarization, illegal arrests, etc.

This important issue is unfortunately not talked about very often or widely known, even amongst the Filipino community.  There needs to be more advocacy and more action to expose the human rights violations in the Philippines, especially because millions of dollars in U.S. military aid go to the Philippine military and government every year.  Our taxpayer dollars are going towards funding the Philippine military who is guilty of committing these heinous human rights violations.  As concerned citizens, we should be aware of this and take action.

PW: Where and when did you start to become motivated and feel the need to fight for human rights?

MR: There are several things in my life that eventually led me to focus more on social justice work in the Philippines.

From a very young age, I felt compelled to do community work especially working with the poor and oppressed communities.  I have been a human rights advocate for over 15 years of my life, working in various under-served and under-privileged communities.  I was particularly interested in the medical field and access to health care. Among other activities during college, I studied abroad in Chile where I worked with and did research on the Mapuche community, a marginalized indigenous community in southern Chile.  I learned about the challenges they faced in accessing affordable health care and their efforts to create their own intercultural community health centers.

After college, I started traveling back and forth from the Philippines doing human rights and health care work.  I became more politicized and dedicated my time doing more social justice work.  Along with the late artist Papo de Asis and a friend, Jennifer True, we formed Habi Arts which became a founding member organization of Bayan USA, an alliance of progressive Filipinos in the United States that advocate for genuine freedom and democracy in the Philippines.  As the first regional coordinator for Bayan USA in Southern California, I helped coordinate campaigns for local issues like immigration and workers rights, and we also led campaigns for human rights in the Philippines.  I also participated in international human rights missions to the Philippines.  I decided to spend more time in the Philippines doing health and social justice work.  It was during that time in the Philippines in May 2009 that I was abducted and tortured by the Philippine military.  I continue to speak out against human rights violations and I continue to call for justice, not only for me, but the thousands of other victims of human rights violations in the Philippines.

PW: How can today’s Fil-Am woman be influential while surrounded by patriarchal traditions and First World problems?

MR: As women, in order to break the chains of our oppression under these patriarchal conditions, it is imperative that we actively participate in changing society to bring down these systems of oppression and exploitation.  Patriarchy is allowed to exist because we live in a world where the powerful 1% of the population has control over the economy, politics, society and culture; these serve to maintain their dominance and contributes to the negative images of women and the view of women as objects or commodities.  Women of color carry double or triple the burden because we bear the brunt of this exploitation.  Even the phenomenon of migration is a product of this current system, especially in the Philippines where the labor-export policy program promoted by the Philippine government has led to Filipina women being exported to different parts of the world and exploited for their cheap labor, making them vulnerable to abuse.  As Fil-Am women, we need to be aware of these issues and not forget our roots, that our families came here to the United States because of these conditions and this history.

As Fil-Ams, we have to know our history and know where we came from and why the world exists as it does today. We have to actively participate in making change happen in the world to fight against exploitation and oppression anywhere it happens.  It is only when we do this can we truly be liberated as women.

PW: Name one person you met at the Filipina Women’s Network 100 Most Influential Filipina Women awards ceremony.  Explain why you find her influential.

MR: It is hard to mention only one because I was in a roomful of women who are amongst the most respected and accomplished in their fields.  I think what they had in common was their passion and commitment to their work.  Many of the women had to overcome discrimination in fields mostly dominated by men and many described the various challenges they faced as women of color.  The women who especially inspired me at the event were the ones that are able to combine success with giving back to the community.

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