Editor’s Note: The writer of this article is a member of PASS, one of the organizations discussed in the article.
Kababayan at UCI, Pilipinx-Americans in Social Studies (PASS) and Anakbayan at UCI (ABUCI) rallied in support of the Roque family — a Filipino migrant family who were the victims of a hate crime — at the Van Nuys Courthouse on March 6. The family was at the courthouse to set a date for the preliminary hearing that will determine if their case has enough evidence to have a full trial. The hearing date is now set to April 4.
The hate crime occurred on May 13, 2022, when a vehicle struck Nerissa and Patricia Roque’s car as they were waiting at a McDonald’s drive-through line. The driver, Nicholas Weber, then approached the car and hurled anti-Asian slurs in a mocking accent and threatened to kill them.
According to a Los Angeles Times article, when Gabriel Roque, Nerissa’s husband, arrived, Weber struck him to the ground and grabbed Nerissa by the throat. After a bystander subdued Weber, the Los Angeles Police Department detained and released him after issuing a citation to appear in court on June 8, 2022, for an arraignment hearing. Weber failed to attend the meeting and — after missing three additional dates — appeared in court on June 27, 2022, where he heard the charges against him and pleaded not guilty.
Due to the judge granting continuance over Deputy District Attorney (DDA) Paul Kim’s objection, which gives Weber’s defense team more time to look over evidence, the court delayed setting the date of the preliminary hearing until March 6.
Board members of UCI’s Filipino organizations filled the halls of the courthouse. John Nonato, the secretariat of ABUCI, a transnational anti-imperialist organization, described the importance of raising awareness about the Roque campaign at UCI.
“As [ABUCI], we’ve been spreading news and educating our communities about this campaign. We have also been working with other student organizations such as Kababayan and PASS to build community support for the family,” Nonato said. “As Filipino migrants, the Roques have not received support from the Philippine Consulate and have been neglected. Additionally, it has taken nine tries over the course of almost a year for the Roques to get another preliminary hearing date.”
Nonato explained that ABUCI looks to the history of campus activism and highlights the “role of students in fighting against oppression worldwide.” He further reflected on the family’s response to the public’s support.
“The events of the campaign have made clear that the community uniting and organizing together has been the biggest source of support and empowerment for the family as they continue to be neglected by the state. The neglect of and exploitation of Filipino migrant workers by the state is directly linked to the system of imperialism which [ABUCI] is fighting against,” he said.
Celina Berenguer, the external vice president of PASS, explained how the organization became involved with the Roque family’s campaign.
“I first learned of this incident through members of our organization who were involved in the Justice for Roques campaign. When I learned that newer general members were interested and wished to take up the cause for our fall ComPASSion Project, a quarterly effort within our organization to give back to the community, I decided to connect our organization with others that were involved in the campaign,” Berenguer said.
As a result, PASS and Kababayan joined Kabataan Alliance (KA), a national alliance of Filipino youth and students dedicated to supporting communities domestically and in the Philippines through educational sessions, campaigns and local projects.
“For us, this has the great potential to facilitate sustained communication with other organizations across the United States, as our membership with KA is contingent on our participation in its campaigns — including the Roque’s fight for justice,” Berenguer said.
The attack on her and her family has left Patricia, a community organizer with the Pilipino Youth Kollective (PYK) at California State University, Northridge, frustrated with the criminal justice system and the assailant.
“I want to show the reality of our campaign so far. Ever since the start of the court hearings, there has not been [anything] but delays,” Roque said. “The first three times that we went to court, we were met with nothing. We were standing in this place right here thinking, ‘Will the guy show up to get our case heard?’ But, of course, he didn’t show up.”
Over 100 people and 20 organizations from all over Southern California, including the Filipino Migrant Center, Thai CDC and Nikkei Progressives, came to show their solidarity. Roque said she felt uplifted by the community’s support. The Friday before the rally, Roque also encouraged cultural clubs at UCI to become more vocal about political issues.
“When you stay silent, or when you’re apolitical, you’re letting this cycle of difficulties, of obstacles, of hardships [continue]. You’re continuing that cycle,” Roque said.
She emphasized that Filipino campus organizations should start involving themselves with community issues rather than exclusively focusing on culture.
“At some point, these clubs are going to realize that [they] can’t do the tinikling [a traditional cultural dance] forever,” Roque said. “We [have] to be involved in what’s happening within the Filipino community now and hopefully those clubs realize that soon.”
Helena San Roque is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.