Celebrated Pinay activist and professor Amy Agbayani represented the Aloha State during the state roll call on the second day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18
Agbayani, an immigrant from the Philippines, announced the final Democratic delegate vote from the state: 23 for former Vice President Joe Biden and nine for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“I came from the Philippines to Hawai’i, the land of indigenous native Hawai’ians,“ Agbayani, 77, said. “Today, I want to speak to my fellow immigrants, to the essential workers on the front lines, to the service members who wear our flag, to the parents with big dreams for their children.”
“No matter where we came from, immigrants belong in our country’s long fight for justice. We belong in the America we are building together.”
It’s no wonder Agbayani was chosen to represent Hawai’i given her life-long dedication to civil rights and fair treatment of Filipino immigrants.
“Manang Amy is our Rosa Parks,” a student told the Fil-Am Courier in 2017 following her retirement.
Born in the Philippines to a school teacher and diplomat, Agbayani received a degree in political science from the University of the Philippines. She immigrated to Hawaii in 1964 and earned her Ph.D. at the University of Hawai’i, where she participated in sit-ins and protests during the civil rights era.
Understanding her privileged background, she started to notice in the mid-1960s, when the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act led to an influx of Filipino immigrants, that Filipino youth were bullied for lack of English proficiency.
She kickstarted Operation Manong at the University of Hawaii, the first-of-its-kind diversity outreach program in which university students mentored immigrant children.
The program expanded to reaching out to underrepresented communities to encourage school-aged children to attend college.
Securing funding for the program proved to be a difficult task, but Agbayani and other Filipino educators pushed for it, even threatening to sue the Hawaii Dept. of Education.
“We really had to deal with policy and make changes in the public schools to make sure [the Dept. of Education] didn’t blame the kids all the time,” Agbayani told Honolulu Civil Beat in 2017, adding that the department often blamed immigrant children for their lack of ambition.
Since the 1960s, Agbayani built herself into a formidable figure in Hawaiian politics, befriending then-U.S. Rep Patsy Mink in 1975. She then served as a campaign manager and was even appointed to the Judicial Selection Committee by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano of Hawaii.
“She became really the symbol of civil rights in the State of Hawaii. She can be very charming when she’s telling you that you’re messing up,” said former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee. “She’s one of those many unsung heroes in our state that don’t get the recognition that they should have [gotten].” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)