By: Charlyn Arellano
Students and staff alike at the University of Calirfornia, Irvine, are feeling the effects of the budget cuts. It is notable that, among this general population, there are sub-groups who are suffering from the budget cuts for their own respective reasons. Justine Calma, the external co-chair for UC Irvine's Filipino cultural organization Kababayan, acts as spokesperson for the Filipino [student] community at UCI and beyond.
Q: UCI's student government is tightening its budget in response to these financial cuts affecting the entire UC sytsem. How is Kababayan affected?
A: Kababayan is an organization. We don't have necessarily have bills to pay. We can exist as an organization on campus without having a lot of financial backing. However, then we begin to consider the hardships for ASUCI. If ASUCI's budget is smaller, they won't allot much [money] to us. Our programming is harder. For example, we go to Knotts Scary Farm and overnight retreats as a club. Because of the cuts, we would have to have our members pay more to participate in these activities. Ultimately, the members won't want to come out.
Q: On a personal level, what do you feel are the most basic effects these buget cuts are having on students, Filipino or otherwise?
A: I have friends who have had to move back home. They can't afford living expenses. I had friends who have had to drop out of school. It's sad to see. All of these people who had to leave UCI behind really wanted to be here-- but they simply can't afford it.
Q: Do you feel that there is a difference in the manner Filipino students are feeling the effects of the UC budget cuts versus those of other races?
A: If you look at students of color in general, they tend to come from diff socio-economic background. We look at Asians as a model minority. That's kind of a falsehood. Within the American-Asian community, FIlipinos have separate issues affecting their community. [As an ethnic community], we have the lowest rate of going to college. We have highest rate of teen pregnancies. We have highest HIV rate. These indicators show are lost when you consider us part of the model minority. We are an immigrant community. Undocumented students don't have legal status as legal residents. They can not apply for licenses, no financial aide for college. This is a problem plaguing the Filipino [student] community.
Q: Considering the state of the Filipino community as you described, what is the importance of financial aide, which is also being affected by budget cuts, to Filipino students?
A: Many Filipino students rely on financial aide and federal legislations like the DREAM Act to go to school. With that in mind, it is difficult for many students within the Filipino community to go to school in the first place. The budget cuts are making it all the more difficult.
There exists the DREAM Act. Students can attain legal status if they go to school. "The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The "DREAM Act") is a piece of proposed federal legislation that was introduced in the US Senate, and the US House of Representatives on March 26, 2009. This bill would provide certain illegal immigrant students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, arrived in the US as children, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency. The students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. Within the six year period, a qualified student must have "acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or [have] completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States," or have "served in the uniformed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, [have] received an honorable discharge." (Online source.)
Q: Asian-American-related courses, such as Tagalog, have been cut from the offered course load throughout the UCs over the years as a result of budget cuts. What is Kababayan's stance concerning this?
A: We've been fighting for FIlipino studies, even before me [and the current Kababayan board]. If you talk to organizers 30 years old they'll say that they had fought for it too. Tagalog used to be taught on the UC Irvine campus. The class was then taught at UCI via satellite from UCLA. Eventually, the entire program was cut in its entirety. Filipino-American literature classes are still offered at UCI. These classes are important because UCI has the highest student population of Filipinos throughout the UC system. Tagalog is the second most spoken foreign language in California, following Spanish. By 2013, the Filipino community will be the largest Asian ethnic group in California.
Q: Taking on a personal perspective, what is the importance of fighting for these Asian-American/Filipino-geared courses here at UCI?
A: I feel like we lose our language more [than other Asian-American students]. You hear about friends who've gone to Chinese school when they were little. [Filipinos] are taught to assimilate. We love everything American in the Philippines. When families move here, they don't always teach their children old language.
Q: What can Kababayan and the general Filipino community do to become involved with the UC Budget cuts in the future?
A: We do everything we can as leaders of the organization to bring info. It's up to individual responsibility to see how it is affecting us. Come out to educational discussions, rallies. We are a public univeristy. This instiustion is created for us and we should take advantage of this.
Q: What is the message that you want the Filipino community here at UCI, as well as those in other UC communities, to take from Kababayan's participation in protesting the budget cuts?
A: The budget cuts are a huge problem for a lot of people. When we're struggling through this alone, it's a lot of individual battles. But when you come together as a community, you have the power to make change and not feel alone. You have more strength and ability to make change.
As a personal reflection, the interview with Justine was an indication of how impassioned UC students, Filipino and otherwise, can become when well-informed about the true nature of the budget cuts. Interviewing Justine cast an emphasis on the importance of students being educated by both superiors and peers concerning the financial issue in question. Knowledge, then, reigns supreme in the arena of UC budget cuts. Victory for UC staff and students, as Justine has conveyed throughout the interview, is made available by spreading the truth about the nature of the UC budget cuts, and ultimately coming together under a common cause built by facts and figures.