Marian Guerra

Back in March of last year, my brother and I went to the Kapit Bisig Kabataan Mixer at La Mama Galleria. We sat in a room filled with Filipin@s, learning about the organization’s relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan.

One of the speakers that night was Marian Guerra. In her introduction, she mentioned she was the president of Liga Filipina, Columbia University’s Filipin@ American club. I had just started at Columbia a couple months prior, and so I quickly asked for her number before the band L Train started to perform.

After, Marian invited me to Liga Filipina events. Soon, she graduated from Columbia. Last fall, I ran into her at the Delano Manongs event. {On the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Delano Grape Strike, they screened Delano Manongs – a film highlighting the often-unsung Filipino farmworkers who worked alongside Chicanos in the farmworkers movement.}

I knew Marian had to be the first person I interviewed for this series because I consider her an everyday inspiration. She is so welcoming, so grounded, and she loves to connect the community.

We met at the Hungarian Pastry Shop near her (and my soon-to-be) alma mater to talk about community building.

Marian Guerra.jpg

I see all of this amazing work that you’re doing. Can you explain more about what you’re up to?

A few months back, a few colleagues and I launched the Filipino American Democratic Club of New York. I really wanted to get aboard on this project ever since you and I ran into each other at that Delano Manongs screening. It’s this idea of our community being invisiblized though we have offered so much – so many contributions to social, political movements, and we’ve worked so hard and are so sacrificial, and still don’t get the reciprocity or the recognition and credit for that kind of work. So I was like, ‘Okay, let’s mobilize fellow Filipino American Democrats to end our invisibilization in New York City and continue building power within our community.

The Democratic Club exists so that we can start building that bench to gain representation in local offices right now, to share and develop connections, and to see more people who reflect our values and experiences represent us in many other spaces. We are committed to building power from the grassroots up, and get more people in our community involved in electoral politics. I believe we’re the fourth largest Asian American community in New York, and a very minuscule amount of funding ever goes to Filipino nonprofits and community-based organizations in New York. That’s a problem.

I know that there’s a really strong infrastructure of political organizing in the West Coast, so you can see so many awesome Filipino legislators there doing incredible work. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta was able to launch Larry Itliong Day, a day to recognize, state-wide, this underrated Filipino American civic leader… as well as including Filipino American contributions to the farm labor movement into the curriculum into the schools. That’s something that I hope we can replicate here in the future.

I love hearing about progress like this. It can be so nice to hear because I can get so bogged down.

I feel you. When you say bogged down, do you mean that there isn’t a network in place for people like you to get involved?

I think it’s a little bit big picture, but also fast-forwarding the big picture. I always fast-forward in my head, even for personal things, that’s just the way my mind works. So I’m just thinking, fast-forward a year from now and what’s going to happen? There have been so many shootings and bombings of innocent people and there’s a pendulum forming if it hasn’t formed already. So I’m just thinking, 'What’s that going to look like a year from now?' I feel like in the span of two weeks, it’s escalated so much. It’s going to be really hard to get ourselves out.

I think people are really angry that there’s this organized backlash about something that hasn’t been criticized at this level before… which is the most egregious illustration of ignorance and disrespect of black lives in the institutions that are running this country.

I really admire the movement for continuing to stay on message and refusing to entertain the trolls who try to derail it, for them being so resilient. And while hearing the news on violent retaliations, immediately putting out there and clarifying, ‘That’s not us.’ For example, about the news today. If you look through Twitter and Facebook, you see all the Black Lives Matter organizers and allies repeating, ‘That’s not us. We’re a movement solely about anti-violence. How can that be us?’

Which is similar to Muslims also declaring, 'That's not us.'

There are so many things to juggle, so many issues to pay attention to. What I find, personally – I don’t know if you feel this way – but as an Asian American, in comparison to other minority groups, we pretty much have it okay. We have our own problems: we’re invisibilized as a race in larger conversations about minorities, we’re considered the perpetual foreigner.. But we pretty much have it okay. There's this idea of multitasking and how much of your energy you should put towards being a responsible ally… Like where do you put your attention? Because I’m new to this world of social justice. When I was in school, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

Really, that’s surprising to me!

I don’t know. I think it was because I didn’t know that there were resources or mentors I could tap into. I also wasn’t as ‘woke’ or conscious to everything as I am now because I was more focused on getting an A on this particular exam, you know what I mean? I think that’s where my inherent privilege as an Asian American exists. To many different issues, you can turn off your consciousness or attention because you don’t experience them as frequently or as intensely as other communities.

That makes me think of low-income people. Part of the reason some low-income people don’t organize is because they’re so concentrated on making rent, buying food… They’re focused on surviving. A very loose parallel to being a student, but outside of your ‘job,’ there are so many fundamental injustices that need your attention.

I’m really glad that you brought that up. Sometimes I feel a little bit disenchanted when it comes to engaging historically dis-engaged communities. But you just have to keep going on, understanding that there are so many barriers, so many challenges different groups are facing every single day. That we have to undo these things slowly, but surely. And it’s going to take a lot of time.

I’m curious. You said in undergrad you were more focused on things like getting an A in class. When did you first step your foot inside of organizing?

I don’t know. I’m still finding my footing. My first step into this, I would say… was when I was president of Liga Filipina, Columbia’s Filipino American club. When Typhoon Haiyan happened, we had this emergency town hall where we made our space available to anyone and everyone in the Morningside community. Alumni, students, people from the Filipino Club, people who are not, to talk about what we should do as allies in America. I think that was my first taste into this network-building world among fellow Filipino Americans.

Another part of it is being exposed to these leaders in my work. It’s being exposed to possibility models and understanding that, as an organizer or community builder, your growth is not necessarily linear.

I don’t know. So I’m sorry, I don’t have that one moment of being born into this person, and I don’t even know who that person is.

But you know what? That can even be more inspiring because then it’s less of, ‘Oh, there’s this one event and this is why I do what I do.’

Yeah, it’s not a formula. We’re not a superhero story, you know? I don’t have to be bitten by this civic engagement spider to be one.

Ha! I know you majored in political science. How did you employ your major in post-grad life?

I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do until I started interning at my job where we train first and second generation Americans to run for office. And what we want to do is dismantle this idea of the status quo and what an ideal candidate is. So we have awesome young women and men who have been very involved in their community and who want to take the next step and run for office. That’s what our organization does and that’s what inspired me to become involved politically.

I’m curious how your family reacts to what you do.

I think my family is very supportive of me. I think they think that I don’t do anything really. *laughs* But they’re really cute. They’re supportive in the way that Filipino moms and dads are. Of course, they probably wish that I was making more money and in something a little more financially stable…like nursing. And sometimes, I have conversations with my parents about which types of organizing is appropriate and which types aren’t appropriate. And for me, as long as it’s effective nonviolent organizing, it’s appropriate. But they’re all about the respectability politics, right? Like if you are going to be seen as too combative or radical, then don’t do that.

Yeah, there’s this idea of protection through conservatism. How does your boyfriend react?

My dude’s supportive. We have conversations about social justice issues all the time, and I appreciate his lens a lot. He’s an outspoken Puerto Rican performer and musician who grew up in the Bronx so he developed a particular worldview about how to be a good person living in New York City that’s vastly different than mine as a Filipina with protective, moderate parents.

I appreciate that he checks me. I consume all of this discourse about political correctness and responsible allyship and solidarity and not co-opting different movements and giving up space, so I’m all about that. That’s what I consume everyday when I log on. And sometimes he’s like, “Do you really feel that? Do you really believe that?” So he checks me about whether I’m 100% authentic about the particular values I identify with. My privilege is checked all the time. Because it’s easy to be the most left on any issue and tout yourself as the most progressive person on Facebook. It’s easy to say that, but in practice, it’s a lot harder. It’s a much longer journey.

So you're always inviting me to things on Facebook and I ask if you’re going to x-y-z and you’re always like, 'Yeah I’m going to this one and this one and this one!' And I’m like, 'How do you find the time?!'

I don’t have a social life! *laughs*

Or your social life is at those events? I’m sure you begin to recognize people and bond with them.

I think that’s important. I want to see more of that among Filipino American millennials in this city, like finding pleasure out of your work. I love the idea that your network to build power in your community, is also your friends. I think the reason why I like being hyper-involved is getting the ability to invite as many people I know to all of these events and programs that happen to float my way. Because before, when I was in high school or even in the beginning of college, I had no idea that this network even existed.

I feel you. Finding your network, your community, is so important.

If I were to tell you what my big personal goal for 2016 is, I think it’s just continuing to disseminate the kind of resources that I wish I was exposed to, to my peers, and getting them excited about connecting with their community. Because I never was aware of these opportunities when I was growing up.

My sister is going to college right now and her world is very different than mine. I’m constantly bombarding her with all of these different opportunities because I was never exposed to them. So that’s my goal right now: building power through awareness.


Fun Fact

Marian Guerra is an ENTJ according to an online Myers-Briggs Personality Test. This personality is nicknamed "The Commander."

I remember the first time I ever did a Myers Briggs test, I felt so insecure about my sequence of letters that I ended up taking it 2-3 times to make certain my personality type was consistent. Surprise, surprise, I found out it was like a diagnostic mood ring and stopped worrying. Of course, I’m going to identify with only some parts of this analysis while refuting others. Do people still use these for other purposes besides company icebreakers? I really hope they don’t. This was fun to do, though.

To contact Marian Guerra, reach her through:

To become involved, check out:

       Follow Asian American Millennials Unite to help mobilize the API millennial electorate this November.

      The group joins forces with the Asian American Democratic Club and the Muslim Democratic Club of New York. 

      They will host a New York State legislator candidate forum on Thursday, August 4th (before the state primaries on September 13th).

The forum will be Thursday, August 4th – this is one way to be in the room to directly engage with people who are vying for our vote. Oh, so you want to win your election and represent us? Then, come meet with the API community first, the fastest growing racial group in the U.S., but often one of the most ignored, and tell us how you will serve us and other communities of color. Only then can you get an endorsement. Accountability starts before, during, and after an election.