SIPA: Pinoys United in LA

by Gayle Gatchalian/AJPress
Amid the bustle of Historic Filipinotown stands a quiet guardian of the Filipino-American’s best interests—SIPA, or Search to Involve Pilipino Americans. This 36-year-old organization has taken the mission of service to heart, unselfishly providing for the diverse, multi-ethnic youth and families residing in the area as well as Filipino Americans all over Los Angeles County.

Generations upon generations of Filipino migrants have made Historic Filipinotown the place to start their new lives. However, hope and a promise of a better tomorrow is tempered by hardships like poverty, inadequate housing, insufficient childcare and substandard schools. There was an urgent need to provide a space where helping his fellow countrymen is but a footstep away. So in 1972, SIPA was born.

The name SIPA was actually taken from a two-day conference held in Camp Oak Grove, San Bernardino nearly forty years ago. The conference sought to incite conversation about the issues that face the substantial Filipino-American community in the United States. “A diverse cross section of groups and individuals founded SIPA,” shared current SIPA Executive Director, Joel Jacinto. In addition, the Filipino Christian Church was instrumental to the birth of SIPA, as well as “Uncle” Roy Morales, Al Mendoza, activists, scholars, university professors, parents and the youth themselves.

A passionate determination to advocate health, welfare, and political and cultural empowerment in the community fuel the spirited staff of SIPA. Mr. Jacinto has been with SIPA for 17 years. “To me and the people that work here, it’s not a job. It’s stewardship.” They all share a sense of “contributing to the greater good of the Filipino-American community” which Mr. Jacinto admits is a “tremendous responsibility”. Nevertheless, it comes with a “tremendous fulfillment and satisfaction” that keeps him and the crew coming to work every day.

And with their every day comes a step forward in achieving superb quality of life for the Filipino. “We try to work with the youth and families in a holistic manner, because we realize that family is a great part of the young person’s life” noted Mr. Jacinto, alluding to the strong family ties characteristic of the Filipino. A continuous stream of health and human services, community economic development and arts/cultural programs steadily work to achieve their noble objectives. Their efforts are aided by strong community relationships and partnerships with established Asian American and Filipino groups in the area, governmental and corporate sponsorships.

Their goal is clear: “to provide innovative programs that will inspire and empower youth to make smart choices, bring families together, and ultimately, revitalize the community.” SIPA promotes education, leadership and cultural and financial self-reliance in order to make an active, vibrant community with empowered individuals as its members.

The health and human services aspect of SIPA focus on the personal well-being of the Filipino-American. They have counseling for individuals, families and groups, case management, community education and after-school enrichment activities for the children. All these services contribute to a realizing a capable self within each and every person, enabling them to take charge of the good future they aspire to.

The Economic Development services address the more practical needs of the struggling Filipino-American. “We’ve ventured more into the types of services that deal with economic self-sufficiency,” revealed Mr. Jacinto. SIPA’s projects include affordable family housing projects and small business development programs. It is their belief that one of the best ways to help families is to teach them to do the best they can with their resources. But of course, they also try to provide a platform upon which these families can make their new beginning. As of last count, three housing projects have provided 138 units of affordable housing.

One of their most impressive, on-going successes is the Temple Gateway Youth & Community Center. SIPA converted the 5,000 square foot area it owned and built a structure that now houses a multi-purpose auditorium featuring an indoor theater; two youth activity rooms; two multi-use athletic courts for basketball, volleyball and other sports; a weight-training room; and more.

Currently, SIPA is undergoing one of the biggest projects they have ever undertaken. In alliance with several government agencies and corporate business interests, SIPA is building a “mixed use-mixed income” project on an old dairy site. 20,000 square feet of abandoned space will become a vibrant destination site for Filipinos. This project combines community and retail in one area, with housing atop commercial. The City of Los Angeles is espousing this type of construction and city council president Eric Garcetti has thrown his full support behind this project. It was also through Mr. Garcetti that Historic Filipinotown was officially designated in 2002 and has been a “consistent enabler to the Filipino community”, says Mr. Jacinto.

Something is always brewing in SIPA. From March to June of 2008, SIPA offered KELP or Kultural Enrichment and Language Program, an intensive program for children in the first to third grade. Teaching Filipino language, arts and culture was the central theme of this program, one that followed the curriculum standards adopted by the California State Board of Education. But its purpose was multilateral- aside form obtaining a “deeper awareness and understanding of cultural heritage” and “strengthening one’s own identity as Fiipino Americans”, this program was designed to stimulate the child’s curiosity in learning about the world around him or her. Exposure to a culture that is different from what they face everyday, the KELP effect is enlivening a desire in the children to go beyond what is immediate and accessible. Mr. Jacinto described this program as “transformative”, because children can engage and be participants in the Filipino culture.

Sessions @ SIPA is another one of the timely and needs-sensitive programs offered by this organization. Synthetic music production and song experimentation enjoys a sure rise in popularity through the prevalence of hip-hop, rap and dance music. Tapping into this widespread youth interest demonstrates SIPA’s vigilance of what concerns the young today, and their uncanny ability to capitalize on it. Every Monday, from 6 to 8PM, instructors are available to teach scratching, mixing and making beats to all those interested.

And if one’s interest lies along the lines of computers and the World Wide Web, the Community Arts and Technology Center can step up to answer the call. The Center boasts free internet access and use of word processing and media arts software to the savvy and classes, workshops and even one-on-one tutorials to the novice.  It opens its doors every Monday to Friday, from 10AM to 2PM.

After the music and the websurfing, what else can we expect from SIPA? Well, in line with the Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month comes the Music LA program. It is an 8-week course that introduces the bamboo instrument Angklung. Participants will learn how to play this piece of percussion while learning about Pilipino music through the ages and all throughout the archipelago.

Why such a focus on the youth? “As the generations go, we will be forced to answer the question what, if any Filipino culture will be retained at all,” said Mr. Jacinto. Many of the KELP attendees spoke little to no Tagalog and had very little exposure to Filipino culture. SIPA is here to champion cultural preservation and empowerment for all.


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