The FSA makes history as UMass’ first Filipino RSO

“One of the most important things to me was to have a Filipino community.”

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By Lucas Ruud, Collegian Staff

The Filipino Student Association officially became a Registered Student Organization on Nov. 17, 2021, making history as the University of Massachusetts’ first RSO for Filipino students.

For Asian students at UMass, the Asian American Student Association is a large cultural RSO that welcomes students from all Asian cultures. The group frequently holds events and allows members that share a cultural identity with each other to form connections, like those made by members of the Filipino community.

“All of us met through AASA, we actually got grouped together in our ‘AASA families’ because we were all Filipino,” said FSA Vice President Audrey Gabriel. “In a place where it’s really hard to find that shared culture and background, it’s kind of like built in cousins, it’s really nice.”

Gabriel was surprised to find that there was a large number of Filipino students interested in forming a cultural RSO. “I didn’t even know that there were this many Filipino students at UMass,” she said.

“I’m first generation myself. I came here from the Philippines and I didn’t have a lot of Filipinos around me in high school. Whenever you do find a Filipino person… it’s instant community,” Gabriel continued.

Lizette Sta. Maria, the co-president of the FSA, had a similar experience.

“I was born in the Philippines,” said the journalism and communications student. While she came to America when she was two years old, she always felt a strong connection to her culture and frequently visited the Philippines with her family. “It’s what makes me, me.”

After gathering interest and potential leaders for the group, early plans for the FSA began to form.

“It was definitely years in the making,” Sta. Maria said. When she was searching for universities as an incoming freshman, she was disappointed to find that there wasn’t a group for Filipino students at UMass. “One of the most important things to me was to have a Filipino community,” she recalled.

“I originally was going to transfer, as I really wanted to go to a university that had a Filipino club,” said FSA Co-President Elaine Felizardo. “I attended a Filipino school on Sundays growing up and I wanted to continue to have that community in my life, as my culture is something I am proud of and wanted everyone to learn and know about.”

Ayela Sta. Maria, FSA’s social media coordinator and Lizette’s sister, shared similar sentiments. “Growing up in my hometown, I never really had a community to be able to share my culture with, it felt like only my sister and I were able to express our culture,” she said.

With the interest for a Filipino cultural group established, members worked tirelessly through two application processes to get their RSO approved.

“It was sort of heartbreaking,” Sta. Maria said, regarding the denial of their first application. “It  did take so long to get to this point. There were so many technicalities, it almost felt like [the SGA] didn’t want us to form the community.”

Eventually, Gabriel was able to lean on her SGA experience to help the group get through the lengthy application process. The group was granted status in mid-November of 2021.

While the group already had multiple successful events before they were officially an RSO, the FSA is hopeful that their new status will provide them with new opportunities to expand their group and the presence of Filipino culture at UMass.

“Look forward to more events, and bigger ones as well. We hope to have more activities, dance workshops, language teaching and events that welcome everyone,” Felizardo said.

Lucas Ruud can be reached at [email protected].