We’ve Got Our Tickets to Ride
Words and Photos By Francis Johann F. Verdote
Mired by immigration problems and unfair treatment in the workplace while making ends meet and supporting families in the Philippines, the Filipino-American community has adjusted to the individualist culture prevalent in American society. However, through innovation and resourcefulness, the Pilipino Workers’ Center of Southern California (PWC) has broken through the individualist façade the Filipino community has adapted to in Los Angeles, and slowly regained a sense of community, trust and camaraderie among community members.
Since the establishment of PWC in 1997, the Center provides the essential services our community needs. As PWC fights for the rights and welfare of Historic Filipinotown (HI-FI) residents, the staff still has time to think of ways of increasing their membership and making alternative education more fun. Aside from assisting workers in reclaiming lost wages and immigration queries, the Center has included food distribution to its program to alleviate the burgeoning problems of the low-income and immigrant-based membership.
At some point, youth and students (high school and college) flourished in PWC and reinvigorated a mostly worker-centered non-profit organization. This led to PWC and their youthful members to organize a handful of gigs that entertained and gathered countless teenagers; the shows were also set up to raise community and social awareness and raise funds for PWC and flood victims in the Philippines.
With a Little Help from Their Friends
Originally, PWC and its youth group, PDUB Productions, started the walking tour with UCLA’s HyperCities assistance. The aim of the walking tour is to increase the Fil-Am community’s visibility in LA, while raising consciousness and awareness of our community’s pressing issues. The tour uses a handheld GPS device that participants use to track their location and listen to stories shared by community members, scholars, and politicians.
With chance, fate, or sheer determination of improving our community, PWC purchased an authentic Sarao jeepney from a family in Seattle.
Some of PWC’s friends revitalized the newly purchased jeepney. The jeepney became street legal, with DMV’s approval, after months of fixing the jeepney.
With HyperCities’ mapping and GPS technology and the jeepney’s street legal status, the PWC-sponsored jeepney tours are now two miles an hour faster than the walking tours. The participants will enjoy the tour and breeze as the jeepney driver drives them around HI-FI while listening to the narrator and the videos.
Plus the fact that the participants can wave like Queen Elizabeth or the Pope at the awe-struck, smiling people in the streets of Los Angeles. And with PWC’s on-going jeepney tours, HI-FI’s visibility problem may have been solved.
All You Need is Love… Revolution
More than the enjoyment of riding an authentic Jeep Willy’s military vehicle converted into a public utility jeepney, the August 11, 2012 jeepney tour is a fundraising event for the Pilipino Workers’ Center.
The funds raised from the jeepney tour will support PWC’s programs, campaigns, and projects.
PWC has an on-going food distribution program that happens every Friday and Saturday. A couple of volunteers help pick-up the food and pack it in boxes. Then other volunteers assist in the distribution during PWC’s weekly meetings with their mass organizations, the Association of Filipino Workers and the Los Angeles Workers in Action.
Beyond the weekly meetings the staff conducts with members and other non-profit organizations, PWC staff are busy coordinating a national campaign that will improve the living and working conditions of domestic workers in the United States. Many members of PWC’s mass organizations are caregivers, housekeepers, and nannies; all occupations are classified as domestic workers.
PWC staff is also busy with their low-income housing project in Hi-Fi.
With their hectic schedule, PWC still managed to organize the jeepney tour fundraising. Thanks to the dedication of the board members, volunteers, and staff, the event was a jeepney tour filled with fun, education, community, and a lot of COOLHAUS Ice Cream Sandwiches.
From Me to You
The metal sculptures, colorful bodywork, and spray-painted art are jeepney trademarks, and flamboyance may just be the perfect word to describe Philippine jeepneys.
Some people may deem jeepney artwork as tacky and gaudy; that is if your taste in art is highly elitist. Some religious folks might profess it is sacrilegious and blasphemous to see religious emblems displayed together with stickers or news clippings of naked women. But in a hyper-collective culture such as the Philippines, where gossip is the air people breathe, the colorful public utility vehicle stands out as an individual representation of a driver.
The Philippine jeepney roaming the streets of Historic Filipinotown is a new Los Angeles gem. Many Filipinos and non-Filipinos show appreciation through the pictures they take, the smiles they share, and the exchange of waves with the passengers.
The jeepney tour will teach passengers new and unknown facts about Filipino and Filipino-American history. The tour guide will share insightful clips and the driver will take you to areas in Hi-Fi you would often neglect. Beyond the new facts I have learned and the allusions I made to the Beatles, the tour taught me that PWC’s faded orange jeepney is a symbolism of the Fil-Am spirit: it thrives to exist and traverse the diverse streets of Los Angeles. And similar to Francisco Guilledo’s, a.k.a. Pancho Villa, innovation in the boxing world, the jeepney is a testament to our ability to adapt, and yet remain Filipino.