Fly Pinay Leadership Summit

I had the honor of serving as the keynote speaker for the Fly Pinay Leadership Summit which took place on March 11, 2017. It was organized by L.E.A.D. Filipino based in San Jose, CA. The title of my talk was,  “Breaking the Code by Being Fly Pinays.”




University of Geneva, Switzerland


#WOCAcademicRealTalk “On the Art of Saying ‘No'”: Attending Academic Parties (or Not)

Another title for this piece could be: “On Class, Race and Academia” OR “How I Brought Lumpia to a Departmental Party and Got Pissed.”

Some of you have started the academic year already. We just started last week. In addition to classes, what else happens in the fall? A whole bunch of academic parties.

If you’re a graduate student, your fellow students may be hosting “welcome back” parties in their homes. If you’re a first year graduate student, you’ll find that some of your colleagues are especially enthusiastic about making these kinds of events happen.

If you’re a faculty member, a bunch of academic units are likely to be organizing “welcome back” receptions, sometimes on campus, many times at someone’s house, and you’re getting invites.

What do you say?

From my perspective, your default answer needs to be NO.

It may be worth it and necessary to attend some of these events but most of the time, they’re simply not worth the time, money and emotional distress.

Let me tell you a story. But let me warn you. This is a #WOCAcademicRealTalk blog post and I cuss like a mother-fucking sailor. That’s my working class pops’ influence, so if you can’t hang then scroll on.
Before I get to the story, lemme say this: academia is white (we all know that) but its also straight up bougie.

Showing up to an academic function with the bottle of Henny you bought at Costco or the 6-pack of Coors Light that you got at your local 7-11 (something you might do for a family party or when kickin it with your homies or your co-workers when you don’t work in academia) just ain’t the bidness. You best show up with shit you bought at Trader Joes or Whole foods (in their recyclable bags no less) or don’t show up at all. And that bag better be filled with good wine, cheese and crackers. No. Not that Sweet Red Barefoot brand wine. No, not the pre-sliced cheddar (even if it is sharp) or cuz you’re feeling fancy, Muenster. No, not Wheat Thins or Ritz (even if they’re whole grain). Put that shit back. Pick up a Food & Wine magazine real quick and school yourself fast. Believe it or not, I actually subscribed to a Food & Wine Magazine and the New Yorker my first year teaching at Rutgers University because I was freaking out about having to socialize with so many bougie white academics. I grew up in a community that was a majority people of color and blue-collar/lower-middle class. Even though I eventually earned my bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Barbara (talk about bougie and white), my social circles continued to be mainly people of color who were blue-collar/lower-middle class. This continued to be true through graduate school at UC Berkeley. Sure I had random-ass jobs where I would have to interact with white folk as co-workers or as customers along the way, but the Rutgers job was my first real job. And I was on the tenure-track.

Now back to my story: one of the most traumatizing experiences I have had in my academic career was in my first year of graduate school when one of the dudes in my PhD cohort (Stanford grad, white guy, from New York and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Queens, Harlem or Washington Heights) said he was hosting a “Port Party.” I’m thinking wtf is that? He lives by the Berkeley marina or something (i.e. at a port?) and he’s inviting us to his house boat? He thinks it will be cute if we dress in nautical-themed clothes and eat seafood cuz we’re close to the bay? I was completely bewildered. I didn’t ask anybody about it (after all, I was only one of two who attended a public university at the undergraduate level, and of the two of us, only I had transferred to a 4-year from a community college). I just didn’t go. Found out later he was talking about some old bottle of port wine his trust-fund ass wanted to share with us. Ugh. I pretty much never went to any departmental parties during grad school after that and have only very reluctantly attended the ever popular Berkeley parties at the yearly American Sociological Association meetings since I finished. It’s annoying AF to watch overly ambitious grad students from UCB and other places try to kiss ass with UCB alums who are now faculty, or observe alums try to one up each other. All I really wanna do is get drunk and commiserate about academic life with the few friends, generally people of color or working-class white folk, I made. Not surprisingly, I’m one of the people that never gets the invite to those parties anyways. I always need to ask someone else what the secret info is but whatevs. Fuck Berkeley. Yeah I had some support and managed to get my PhD there but it was pretty much hell.

So, one thing I did, a kind of  “act of resistance” on my part (thru food) was to attend the graduation party the year I graduated. I decided to go HAM and bring something totally ethnic: Pancit and lumpia. I knew it would either be novel and appreciated by the worldly-feeling bougie white folk in the department who have some familiarity with Filipino food or just totally foreign to the whiter than white folk. I guess I gave Berkeley people far too much credit cuz I thought it would be a hit. They are just so damn white. I had to explain it. Break down the ingredients, talk a little about the Philippines (how we’re the “Latinos of Asia” wink-wink-nudge-nudge Anthony Ocampo) that sort of thing. Meanwhile I’m thinking to myself, are you fucking serious??? Filipinos are one of the top ethnic groups in Alameda-fucking-County (of which the city of Berkeley is part) and the state of California more broadly. Don’t you fucking know us??? Haven’t you at least had a fucking Pinay nurse wipe your ass over at Alta Bates and actually engaged with them as people??? Haven’t you exchanged words with the airport security folks at SFO??? It’s like friggin Ninoy Aquino International Airport up in there. Really??? I mean, really??? Oh and you’re an expert on race and stratification? Get the fuck outta here. Smh.

Now what is the moral of the story: say NO to academic parties.

As graduate students, it IS vital that you build community with people at your institution. I couldn’t have survived Berkeley without a few key colleagues that I trusted and loved. But I didn’t meet them at some random party. I met them while doing course work. In class I carefully observed, listened to, and assessed other students and when I recognized an ally, I approached them individually and invested time in building with them. I wasn’t alone after that. You don’t need to attend those parties. Trust me, the folks who are all about that life, are sometimes the ones who just don’t make it (it’s true of “Port Party.” He dropped in year 2). Maybe they’re accustomed to the schmoozing and hobnobbing that can get you ahead in other professions (not that it isn’t true in academia) but at the end of the day, what will matter is that you finish that dissertation. That’s it. Tbh, I would even avoid departmental colloquia because I simply couldn’t tolerate how other graduate students would use the Q&A sections to grandstand. Uh, no. It’s not about you, boo. And you know what? Even though I was often intimidated by those folks–their confidence, their seeming command of key theoretical debates in the field, etc. etc. They didn’t finish either.

Now tenure-track faculty: what to do? I still say no. Trust me. Enough faculty of color who have been denied tenure or promotion will tell you this: you can be friendly AF and socialize with your white academic colleagues on campus, in their homes and even in yours and they will still say that you simply aren’t “a fit” (wtf does THAT mean?) even when your academic record clearly shows that you deserve tenure and promotion. You can try to dress the part. You can try to act the part. In fact, you may even be one of those people of color who is perfectly comfortably in their settings due to your class privilege or how you grew up. But as my pops used to say: “No matter what you try to do, you will ALWAYS be Filipino. You can’t wash off that brown.” Now, there are times when you have to suck it up an attend these events. I would say that you should start with the on-campus events. There, everyone will have a name tag (so introductions aren’t so awkward) and since they often draw from across the university, you may find potential friends and allies from other units. Connect and build with them fast. Your well-being as a person and as a tenure-track faculty member will depend on it. Remember, tenure is not only determined by your department. It goes to other levels and it helps to have friends in other places. If you have to say yes, say yes to events that are sponsored wholly or in part by student affairs units. While universities don’t often hire and retain faculty of color on a permanent basis, many student affairs units are staffed with people of color. These folks typically have solid politics and some serious institutional memory. They can be a wonderful resource to you but more than that, they will be friends for life. Those departmental events? If you can’t use the “Oh, I have other plans,” “Sorry, I/my child am/is ill,” excuses anymore, then what I used to do was arrive just on time (or early…no POC time) and bounce early or make my way to the corner and chit-chat with the administrative staff (who are always women, have been dumped on by your senior colleagues, would welcome a faculty member they can relate to, and may be people you can better relate to anyways…btw they can be important allies too). Otherwise, I treated academic social events (on- or off-campus) as a kind of institutional ethnography, a means of better understanding the beast that is your institution and mapping out strategies for surviving and thriving.


My official academic bio (in less than 300 words) as of 2016.

Dr. Robyn Magalit Rodriguez earned her PhD in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley and is currently an Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis. Previously, she was on the Sociology faculty at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.


Rodriguez is an Asian migration expert, approaching it from local, national and transnational perspectives. Her writing has focused on the Philippine labor diaspora. Rodriguez’s first book, Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), has received many accolades including an honorable mention for best social science book by the Association for Asian American Studies. However, Rodriguez has a firm grasp of the broader issues migration from, to and within the Asia-Pacific region engenders due to her scholarship and collaborative work. The key topics her research explores are the political economy and governance of labor migration, on one hand, and the question of rights and citizenship for migrant workers on the other. She is currently editing an anthology tentatively entitled, “21st Century Coolies? Today’s Asian Labor Migration.”


Author of four books and over thirty book chapters, academic articles and journalistic pieces, Rodriguez is a highly sought-after speaker. International organizations like the United Nations and the International Labor Organization as well as academic institutions including Oxford University, the University of British Columbia, Cornell University and many others have invited her to speak on her research. Rodriguez has also addressed migrant-serving NGOs and self-organized, grassroots migrant groups based in Hong Kong, Montreal, Vienna and Mexico City to name but a few.


Dr. Rodriguez heads the Transnational Asia Initiative, which aims to make UC Davis a center of excellence for Asian labor migration research given the university’s geographic and demographic attributes as well as its institutional history.










Filipinos and Affirmative Action

It’s #TBT. Given the June 23rd, 2016 #SCOTUS decision on #AffirmativeAction and the fact that we’ve just concluded graduation season (including the celebration of #FilGrad at different university campuses) I think its important to revisit the issue of affirmative action for Filipinos. What has been worrying me lately is that folks are celebrating Filipino graduation as if it’s just some “ethnic pride” or “cultural” thing. The fact is, many of us organized Filipino graduation as a political act and more specifically, we organized Filipino graduation as a means of resisting the passage of Proposition 209 which eliminated affirmative action programs in public institutions like the University of California.

Many if not all Filipino graduations were first organized in the mid-1990s. I was a student at UC Santa Barbara during that time, was heavily involved in the fight against Prop.209 and one of the organizers of the first Filipino graduations there. For me, Filipino graduation was not just a celebration of the completion of our degrees, it was also a way to take a stand and insist that our people belonged in the University of California system and recognize that affirmative action programs were vital to getting us there. To take away affirmative action was to exclude Filipinos, along with other brown and black communities, from a university education. And it did.

Even though I have critiques of affirmative action (I basically don’t think it goes far enough…but that’s for another time), I believe it is high time for the California to rescind 209.

Today, I’m posting a speech I gave at UC Davis’ Filipino graduation in 2011. I had just been offered a position by the Asian American Studies department. Though I wasn’t officially on the payroll yet, the students at the time were excited that Filipino faculty members (Sarita See was hired with me) were finally being brought in to teach Filipino Studies after a long absence from the curriculum. I miss them. I feel as if many of the current Filipino students at UCD really don’t appreciate what it means that Filipino Studies is even offered at their university (again, that’s for another time). Anyhow, in the speech I speak about affirmative action and the Filipino community and I remind graduates that Filipino graduation is above all a celebration of collective, not individual, achievements.

Here it is:

I am greatly honored to have this opportunity to speak to you today as the incoming Filipino studies scholar to join the Asian American Studies department here at UC Davis after a rather lengthy period of time without one. I want to thank those of you amongst the graduates who supported my candidacy. I am here because of you. I am finally, finally actually able to be what I wanted to be when I grew up: a scholar who researches and publishes on issues concerning the Filipino community and a teacher who can offer up that knowledge to Filipino students especially ones with whom I share a similar background. As a person who grew up in the Bay Area in a predominantly Filipino community […]this job is especially important to me. Maraming salamat.

I am especially honored to be here as one of the founders of Filipino graduation at UCSB where I earned my undergraduate degree ( I am proud to say that it is in its 16th year […]), it’s an honor to be here moreover having been a participant of Filipino graduation. The stole I wear now is from graduation when I earned my PhD at UC Berkeley in 2005. As both a founder and participant in Filipino graduations past, I am all too aware of the importance of a ceremony that marks our individual and collective achievements as a community. Filipino students across the University of California have never had it easy neither in terms of recruitment (I’ve learned for instance, that only 3% of the UC Davis campus is Filipino) nor in terms of retention (Filipinos have amongst the lowest retention rates on this campus). I know that these trends are generally true for the other campuses.

Indeed, in today’s talk I’d like to reflect on the significance of celebration specifically a Filipino graduation (as opposed to or in addition to the general graduation ceremonies that are celebrated this time of year) and I’d like us to reflect on this significance from a sociological perspective [given my background and training].

Since most of you haven’t had the good fortune of having me in the classroom […] I’m going to use this speech as kind of Soc. 101. […] Well, the basic definition of sociology is that it is the science of society, the study of social life. Amongst the kinds of big questions a sociologist might ask is what explains the inequalities between countries? Why is the United States as wealthy as it is, for instance, and why the Philippines so poor? My own research, as elaborated in my recent book, “Migrants for Export” [sorry guys, had to do some product placement…support Filipino scholarship and read the book…buy it on Amazon] has examined why and how it is that the Philippines, a tiny archipelago in the Pacific has managed to the number one labor-exporting country in the world. Labor migration from the Philippines is unmatched by any other country as thousands of Filipinos leave the country on a daily basis for work in hundreds of countries across the planet […] at the core of what it means to thinking sociologically is to understand the intersection of biography and history. The intersection of biography and history […].

Now let’s break that down a bit: Biography: well, that’s easy enough. We all know our own individual biographies and we are living them out on a daily basis. We all know and can reflect on our individual lives. Today we are celebrating each and every one of your achievements as students here at UCD. Later, you will have a chance to go up one by one to get special recognition as unique individuals who, through your own hard work […] will be able to walk across this stage degree in hand. Yet today is FILIPINO graduation. We are coming together as Filipinos, collectively, not only to celebrate our individual accomplishments, but our collective accomplishment. Indeed, it is during an occasion like this when the sociological perspective becomes important. [Remember the sociological perspective…] is the intersection of biography and history. The intersection of biography and history.

Today’s graduation could not have been more well-timed, especially given the theme of today’s speech, as it also falls on the occasion of the Philippines’ independence from the Spanish. What is important about that historical event as we reflect upon it today is that it was in the build-up and struggle toward independence that the very idea of the “Filipino” was born. Once a disparate people divided by language and custom, the Filipino was constituted as a collective identity. It is important to remember on this day, here at this graduation, that we are not Filipinos merely because were born in the Philippines or are descendants from people born in the Philippines, but we are Filipinos in large part due to the collective and valiant efforts of our ancestors, women and men, to imagine ourselves, despite our many differences as one people with a shared future. It is through struggle that came to define ourselves it is through struggle that we can to define our futures.

If June 12th marked independence from one colonizer, it also inaugurated the beginnings of colonization by another: this time the United States. Though we as a community don’t often like to acknowledge the fact of U.S. colonization and many of its negative effects on contemporary Philippine society and indeed, its effects on the experiences of living in the United States at present, nevertheless, to understand why we find ourselves as one of the top immigrant groups to the U.S. why we find ourselves in California (in the cities of Union City, Daly City, Vallejo’s Stockton, Sacramento, etc) of this state, in this very room is as a result of U.S. colonization in the Philippines from what some might consider its benefits to the Philippines (like the expansion of public education ) to its exploitation of the Philippines including its natural resources and perhaps more pertinent to the history of Philippine immigration to the U.S., it exploitation of Philippine labor. If today, the fields that line highways 101 or 5 are populated by workers from Mexico, at the turn of the twentieth century and to some extent even to this day, Filipinos were the laborers working those fields. If today, Mexican immigrant workers are considered by some to be pariahs, in an earlier period, Filipino immigrant workers were pariahs. We were accused of taking jobs away from native-born Americans, we were accused of depressing wages, we were accused of contaminating American culture with our depraved ways. Much of what is being said of Mexicans today was said of our people in the past. It was in response to the exploitation of Filipino farm workers into the 1960s and in response to the invisibilization of the Philippines and the Filipino immigrant experiences in American history books, that students engaged in the “Third World Strike” which took place at the San Francisco State University and also involved students from the University of California Berkeley in the late 60s. Many of the student activists engaged in mobilizing for the campus strike were simultaneously engaged in supporting the labor struggles of Asian and Labor immigrant workers [more specifically Filipino and Mexican immigrant workers] in the United Farm Workers (UFW). The students were joined by their progressive faculty, campus workers and the broader community in making three sets of demands: 1) the admission of greater numbers of students of color, especially working class students; 2) the introduction of courses that both reflected the experiences of students of color and would provide the skills to help their communities; and 3) related to transformations in the substance of education, the increased community control of higher education to ensure that it serves the interests of broader constituencies. The “Third World Strike” would ultimate lead to the institutionalization of department of Asian American studies, like the one in which I will teach, the very department that has played an important role in shaping many of you who are here.

What was at stake for the activists then, and what is relevant to us gathered here today, is that those activists recognized that the University is hardly a place where true academic merit is what determines admission and graduation, recruitment and retention. They recognized that what was often true is that University education was increasingly being reserved only for the privileged few. Rather than being a vehicle for opportunity, higher education was a mechanism for reinforcing inequalities between groups, with minorities groups in particular, suffering the most. In addition to the institutionalization of Asian American Studies programs, the strike and similar struggles around the country led to the introduction of affirmative action programs. Programs that were aimed not at giving some groups undue advantage, but recognizing that the playing field is NOT EQUAL and that there ought to be measures to better ensure equality of opportunity. Those struggles would lead to the eventual flourishing of Filipino studies scholarship, and the increasing of Filipino students at the UCs.

When affirmative action programs were eliminated in the 1990s with Proposition 209, however, Filipino enrollments dropped dramatically. In the immediate wake of 209’s passage, there were NO Filipinos enrolled in UC Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Law School. The visible absence of Filipinos in the state’s most prestigious institutions is incredibly apparent. It is not to say that Filipinos aren’t good enough. That’s the vital lesson that the strikes and indeed a sociological perspective teaches us: it is the unequal and uneven relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. that has played a key role in shaping our communities’ trajectory, irrespective of our individual merits. The legacies of this relationship matter […] Our individual fortunes and misfortunes are never fully our own, we are tied to longer histories and the social structures they produce; these histories shape and constrain the possibilities for our futures. And it is the recognition of the kinds of struggles we collectively face at the University of California that the need for Filipino graduation emerged. And it is in light of these struggles that we must all the more celebrate, in a special and distinct way, all that you have accomplished.

To conclude: the message I hope to leave to this year’s Filipino graduates is this: though it is rather cliché to say this, what we do fail to recall is that another term used to describe graduation is commencement. That is, “the beginning” or “to start.” The degrees you all will be holding your hands are not some guarantee of some perfect future that you may imagine for yourselves like some high-paying job […]. In fact, what the immediate future will hold for you is much uncertainty and insecurity. You may find yourselves disappointed. You may find yourselves struggling. Yet, what our collective history as Filipinos offers us is a testament to the promise and possibility that comes through struggle [especially collective struggle]. It is in struggle that we come to a sharper and clearer sense of ourselves, it is in struggle that we forge visions and carve out opportunities for a better future toward which we [can all] strive. Today is the beginning of your struggle but rather than daunt us, it should embolden us. As the brave youth of a few short decades ago declared in the streets of the Philippines in the face of one of the greatest obstacles to their collective futures, the Marcos dictatorship declared: Makibaka Huwag matakot: struggle, don’t be afraid.