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News : National : San Francisco Last Updated: Aug 2nd, 2016 - 03:58:01

An Interview with Irma Bajar of GABRIELA USA
Written by Baruti M. Kamau, Citizen Reporter
The Barutiwa Daily Times | Aug 1, 2016, 03:52 hours EST

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Irma Bajar is the Chairperson of GABRIELA USA, the overseas chapter of the Philippine-based GABRIELA Philippines. She was born in Hawaii to Filipino parents who migrated to the United States in search of employment. Irma is college educated, and after 10 years of community organizing, she was elected Chairperson of GABRIELA USA in March 2016. In a face-to-face interview with Irma, last month, I asked her what happened in her life that impelled her to become politically active. She said that she was inspired by a film about the 2004 Hacienda Luisita Massacre in which 14 people were killed and more than 120 injured when the Philippine's military and police units attempted to disperse protesters. The Hacienda Luisita plantation workers were agitating for increased wages, better benefits and land reform.

Irma is serious about seeing the condition of her people improve. She emphasize organizing and educating the masses as central tools in engendering movement and action. I have not been able to confirm the numbers yet, but according to Irma, 6000 workers leave the Philippines every day in search of employment. And it is believed that out of these 6000 workers, 70% are women. Due to this stark number, Irma and her fellow comrades are big on insuring that these women are protected from exploitation, sexual abuse and human trafficking. GABRIELA USA's parent organization, GABRIELA Philippines, is a participant at the United Nations in drafting legislation to protect Filipino migrant workers who travel overseas in search of employment. Cherry Piquero-Ballescas in her article "Protecting our migrants" writes: "The Center for Migrant Advocacy is urging the current administration to look into the still widespread exploitation and abuse of Filipino women migrant workers, in particular those working as domestic workers, as noted by the recently released concluding observations of the 64th Session of CEDAW (UN-Convention On the Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women) on the Philippines."

Furthermore, GABRIELA USA under Irma's leadership has been forging ties with the Black American community and the LGBT community. On the Black American side, she has identified with the anti-police brutality movement by showing support for Black Lives Matter. On the LGBT side, almost two months ago, Irma through GABRIELA USA and other Filipino groups organized a demonstration on United Nations Plaza in San Francisco to show solidarity with the victims of the June 12th Orlando, Florida shooting. Omar Mateen, a former security guard, believed to be an ISIS sympathizer carried out a ferocious attack against party people at a gay nightclub known as the "Pulse". Fifty people were killed in the shooting and 53 were injured undergoing surgery. Over 90% of the victims were of Hispanic origins.

During my interview with Irma, I asked her what was her message to the youth. She said, "We must educate our youth and organize them to join the movement to fight the state's systems of oppression and violence." I concluded the interview by asking, "What do you want to accomplish with GABRIELA USA within your 3 year term?" Her response, "Expand our organization to exist in every major city in the U.S. And organize Filipino migrant women to join our membership to fight and resist U.S. imperialism."

GABRIELA USA, under Irma's leadership, has been forging ties with the Black American community.

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