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MFAS 2020: Bloom Against Adversity (during COVID-19)

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

No one expected a global health crisis that would put a pause on our everyday life. Within the MAFAsphere, we felt for every organization that had to cancel their cultural shows, retreats, and the rest of their spring semester. All our hard work put on paused remaining unfinished as we continue our semesters online. These hard times remind us how important it is to stand together as a community. As MAFA board, we would like to recognize the strength of all executive board for continuing to bring their communities together amidst this time. No one expected to finish their semester online stuck at home, but these are the times we must continue to bloom against adversity.

Midwest Filipino American Summit 2020: Sampaguita - Bloom Against Adversity was a conference centered around the legend of the Sampaguita, the national flower of the Philippines. Through the symbolism of the Sampaguita, we wanted to challenge the idea of promises and devotion. The hustle of college and work often forces us to push our passions, community, and self-care aside. What promises can we make to ourselves? To our organizations? To our community? How can we carry these promises through? Rather than stay as "promises", we wanted to bring a conference that gave the Fil-Am community of the Midwest the tools necessary to keep their promises and better themselves and their community. The conference set for this weekend (April 3-5) would have been hosted by the lovely FASO Madison in collaboration with FSU Milwaukee.

Students across the Midwest would currently be at the University of Wisconsin-Madison connecting, building, and challenging their ideas of what it means to be Fil-Am in their community. MAFA board, FASO Madison, FSU Milwaukee, and MFAS facilitators worked hard to throw this conference from 30 workshop facilitators to bringing Madison Alumni and BRWNGRLZ creator Gretchen Carvajal as a keynote speaker to an exciting Variety show with headliner Ruby Ibarra to highlighting small businesses and artists through a first-ever Sari-Sari store to everything in between. We were excited to bring the community together into one place and celebrate the 13th annual MFAS conference.

Though we could not see this conference come to fruition, we wanted to highlight the work that the schools, coordinators, and committees put in.

Meet MFAS 2020 Schools

This year's MFAS was special because it was the first time two schools came together to plan the conference. Madison and Milwaukee being relatively smaller organizations were excited to put on an event of this caliber. Leaders from both organizations were thrilled to bring the MAFAsphere together in one place and have everyone saying:

"Wisco, Wisco, Wisco, Please

We want, We Want Cheese!"


University of Wisconsin-Madison Filipino American Student Organization (FASO)

E-Board 2019 - 2020

Photo by: Molly Jacobs

Co-President Internal: Jessica Schlundt

Co-President: Jordan Nunez

Vice President: Julia Romero

Secretary: Michael Luy

Treasurer: Matthew Rodriguez

Marketing Chair: Sophia Sanchez

Fundraising Chair: Jocelyn Huey

Cultural Chair: Gracie Regala

In collaboration with:

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Filipino Student Union (FSU)

E-Board 2019 - 2020

Photo by: Isa Ramos

President: Millicent Reyes

Vice President - Internal: Cedrick Antonio

Vice President - External: Tricia Dizon

Treasurer: Nilesh Abraham

Secretary: Annie Bustos

Media Master: Serena Lee

Culture Chair: Aaran Felebrico

Events Coordinator: Julia Dela Cruz

Q&A with the Committee

1. What did planning and coordinating MFAS 2020 mean to you? 2. What were you most excited for delegates to experience during this conference? 3. How will you continue to Bloom Against Adversity during this time of COVID-19?

Jordan Nunez: MFAS Coordinator (FASO)

Hospitality & Entertainment Committee Head

Kayla Ylagan: MFAS Coordinator

Logistics & Marketing Committee Head

Marian Nicolas: MFAS Coordinator

Logistics Committee Head

(Photo by Selenna Lee Chanthida Eng)

1. What did planning mean to me: Last year was my first MFAS and I loved it so much I decided I wanted to help organize it this year. Being in my own org(woo SLUFSA) and the MAFA community has really helped me grow(and ~bloom~ hehe) as a person in general. Even though MFAS didn’t happen this year, I met a lot of people on this adventure. I’m really grateful for the people I met while planning this event and the people in the MAFA community that were planning to come or supported it. This community has really challenged me and helped me branch out and think about ideas and concepts outside of my usual perspective. This community has really given me a lot. 

2. Most excited for: The more you come to events in this community, the more you get to know it. Whether it’s your first MFAS or not, it’s a community that chooses to come together. So all the work goes to what the event stands for. So it’s nice to know that there is a community that stands to Bloom Against Adversity together. I was excited for delegates to experience that community and all the workshops planned to center the theme. And I was excited about everything after :) like Ruby Ibarra. 

3. Continue to bloom: I think everyone is changing in some way or another during this time. Whether you think it’s blooming or the opposite.  It’s just how you choose to spend this time you have and what you do with your own actions. Everyone has their own opinions. It all comes down to what you decide and the kind of example you want to be in your own community. So I am learning more about that and just reflecting more in general with everything going on. So I hope everyone is learning in their own way and doing okay :)

Tricia Dizon: MFAS Coordinator (FSU) Registration & Outreach Committee Head

(Photo by Isa Ramos) 1. What did planning mean to me: Planning and coordinating MFAS 2020 meant the world to me. When I first heard that UWM and FSU were considering to co-host MFAS, I was a bit scared just because I knew as an external rep, I would have a big part in planning it. But I also felt excited to take on the challenge. It would be the biggest project that I would have taken part in and I literally went in blind. I had no idea how to organize a conference. But I think that was a good thing. I was able to learn how to work outside of my comfort zone and used the skills I have learned from my internships through MAFA and my external position. I also gained a great friendship with everyone involved in the MFAS team. 2. Most excited for: I was most excited to be head of registration. I love meeting new people in person and giving them a great first impression to start off the fun weekend. I was also excited to meet all the vendors and workshop facilitators that we recruited. One of them was an FSU alum and I was excited to see him again. Lastly, I was excited to meet up with all of the MFAS team and be together in awe of all the hard work we accomplished. 3. Continue to bloom: I will continue to Bloom Against Adversity during this time of COVID by standing with those who are like me and support me. Mutual respect is something we all need in times like this. I will also support local businesses as they are getting hit the hardest at this time.

Gracie Regala: MFAS Coordinator (FASO)

Entertainment Committee Head

(Photo by: Molly Jacobs)

1. What did planning mean to me: 

I was really nervous when we started planning MFAS. I didn't really know many people from the MAFAsphere and that task was pretty daunting to begin with. When we started planning I was fearful about everything, but then we all started to bloom together. Planning MFAS to me meant blooming against every adversity possible. It meant jumping into a crazy task with strangers and walking out with new friends. It meant pushing myself in every way possible. Most of all, it meant getting the opportunity to celebrate my culture with some of the most spectacular people I have met. Finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to the MFAS team for always continuing to add meaning to all that we were doing. Every single one of you taught me so much and left such a space for me to grow and learn. The late-night Google Hangouts will be missed and I am so glad to have gotten to know you all. 

2. Most excited for: I was most excited about the event I spent the most time planning, Philippine Culture Night. Having the delegates be able to see all our amazing student acts perform and Ruby Ibarra? Wow, it would have been incredible. It was a night that I was so stoked for people to experience. The energy at conferences when we are all gathering together is magical and FASO's PCN at MFAS would have been all this and more. 

3. Continue to bloom: While this situation is obviously not ideal, I am glad for what opportunities it is giving us all. It is pushing us to be better than we have before. The issues surrounding COVID-19 are reminders to us all that we have to be the best person we can be. I will continue to bloom against adversity by using my voice for what is right at all times, holding myself and the people around me accountable for our actions, and never letting one inconvenience stop me. Right now, we deserve to feel everything and mourn the huge things and the little things, but we also get to keep going. This pandemic is a reminder to me to keep pushing myself to be the best person I can be and to never stop blooming against adversity. 

Millicent Reyes: MFAS Coordinator (FSU)

Workshop & Entertainment Committee Head

(Photo by Isa Ramos)

1. What did planning mean to me: Planning and coordinating MFAS meant helping give the MAFA community a weekend they would remember. MFAS to me was always a fond memory and my favorite conference to attend because of the intimacy and deep conversations we had in our workshops. It was more tight-knit than other conferences I attended and we discussed issues in our community on a deeper, more personal level. I wanted to strengthen my leadership skills by being a MFAS Coordinator this year in order to provide my same experience for this community - especially with our theme of blossoming against adversity. As minority students, we face many hardships we must overcome in order to bloom into the leaders we’re destined to be. Coordinating MFAS to be a conversation on how we can get there was one of the most rewarding processes I was a part of this year and something I’ll never forget.

2. Most excited for: I was most excited for delegates to experience our interactive workshops and connect with leaders around the Fil-Am community that was facilitating them. We had a great lineup of unique and different experiences that delegates could be a part of this year, and I was definitely looking forward to seeing those connections spark, asking students to reflect on their adversities, identities and how as Filipino-Americans we can blossom through anything. I was also looking forward to our amazing and inspirational headliner Ruby Ibarra!

3. Continue to bloom: In this uncertain and definitely scary time, I will continue to bloom against adversity by being a voice for change against the xenophobia many Asian-Americans are facing at this time by continuing the conversation during Sampaguita Week. I will also be an advocate for providing a safe space for my family at UWM FSU by finishing the year off strong and safely, practicing social distancing and giving our members the best end of the year we can with these changes to our lives. In times uncertainty such as this one, I hope I’m able to give my community - and be a part of - something unwavering: our collective love for the Filipino-American community and it’s culture!

Abby Mendoza: MAFA VPI

MAFA Intern Committee Head

1. What did planning mean to me: This was my senior year, and to come full circle in helping plan it since my first MFAS as a MAFA intern sophomore year meant a lot. There were many things in store for the interns that I wanted to show to the MAFA community, but this does not mean it is the end. To the MFAS committee, MAFA interns and Fil-Am community, ang sumpa ko sa inyo, my promise to you, is that we will get through this.

2. Most excited for: I was most excited for the Sari Sari MAFA Market! Creatives and small businesses from the community were invited to showcase their work, sell their products, and promote their organization's merch during a market portion of the conference. I was very excited to work with amazing people and coordinate a part of the weekend that would truly highlight our people's talent and hard work. As a painter myself, I was even going to promote some of my own work!!

3. Continue to bloom: The two biggest words in my mind lately are strength and solidarity.  This pandemic has exposed many faults in the system but also overtook important current topics such as the US elections and Duterte's oppressive rule.  It also changed many plans of students such as myself who were graduating and/or in the middle of PCN season.  This hard work does not go unnoticed.  This time is the perfect opportunity to continue celebrating accomplishments, thank frontline and essential workers, and push creative ways to share our work. Even if things continue virtually, what is important is that we came together and still made it happen.

Nilesh Abraham: FSU Treasurer

Finance Committee Head

1. What did planning mean to me: I thought it was super cool we were able to work with 2 other Filipino organizations in putting on this conference. This was my first time helping plan something big to this extent, but I learned so much about teamwork, communication, and working united in accomplishing a goal. 

2. Most excited for: I think I was most excited about having all these different Filipino organizations come together and interact with each other. 

3. Continue to bloom: There's been a lot of violence and racist attacks on Asian Americans after the spread of the virus. To bloom against adversity is to condemn the racism and stand with out brothers and sisters who are being targeted on for being Asian.

Matthew Rodriguez: FASO Treasurer

Finance Committee Head

(Photo by Molly Jacobs)

1. What did planning mean to me: This year’s MFAS 2020 planning committee is special because of the FASO x FSU collaboration! Despite the individual shortcomings of both orgs, we were able to come together to plan what would have been a successful conference. The amount of support from both orgs helped me ~bloom through adversity~ resulting in some great grants and donations. I definitely could not have done it without my fellow co-finance chairs.

2. Most excited for: I was really excited for FASO’s sakuting cultural dance, since we had a few unique moves to flex. I always look forward to the workshops to remind ourselves of our roots.

3. Continue to bloom: This global pandemic has impacted the societal image of Asian-Americans. Racism, xenophobia, and discrimination are rampant in social media and even during visits to the grocery store. Millie and I are going to be hosting a roundtable discussion on April 15th about these experiences, their implications, and possible response mechanisms. Stay tuned for the time and link to the discussion!

Josh Buyawe Rousseau: MAFA Treasurer

Finance Committee Head

1. What did planning mean to me: MFAS was my way of reaching out to the community and helping promote cultural and individual growth and education. Many of us, including myself, have struggled with creating that connection with our culture, heritage, and past, which is why it meant so much to me to be able to work on a project such as this. I've seen so many great individuals turn into something greater as a result of this community and these people, I believe it was just my turn to help people realize what and who they could become; to help them bloom.

2. Most excited for: I was most excited for our Sari Sari store. It was something new and different, instead of the Barkada games we were going to replace it with this collaborative space where not just individuals and organizations, but businesses and sponsors as well, could all interact and network with each other where they might otherwise not. It also gave an opportunity for PSA's to show off and even sell their merch which I know I would have bought a lot of.

3. Continue to bloom: During this time of adversity, I intend to make the most of what I have to continue to bloom and grow in my culture. For me, that means practicing my Tagalog more and going back to my Lolo's old recipes and trying to cook for my family. It may not seem like a lot but being in quarantine has really given me a lot of time for me to shift focus from solely on school and academics to my family and my culture.

Nai Caridad: MAFA President

MAFA Intern Committee Head

(Photo by Selenna Lee Chanthida Eng)

1. What did planning mean to me: Planning and coordinating MFAS was so fun. Although I did not have a specific role, I was really encouraged witnessing true collaboration between MAFA, FASO, and FSU. Seeing the progress made each week with each committee was a treat.

2. Most excited for: I was most excited to see the delegates experience each other. There were a lot of new friendships and relationships that were formed throughout MAFA and I was looking forward to everyone being in community together one more time.

3. Continue to bloom: I will bloom against adversity by staying home, staying safe, and checking in with all my friends and loved ones. COVID-19 will pass. We will bloom against adversity together.

Madeleine Azcueta: MAFA Secretary

Workshop Committee Head

(Photo by Selenna Lee Chanthida Eng)

1. What did planning mean to me: MFAS 2020 meant so much to me because it brought together two amazing schools I appreciate so much. MAFA is a space for collaboration and having my undergraduate career end with two schools (especially FSU <3) furthering this mission warmed my heart. Being apart of this process made me appreciate more what student organizations give to us: Pinoy pride, a family, and an opportunity to be engaged in our community and contribute to our Fil-Am history.

2. Most excited for: Being a workshop head, I was excited to bring alumni, friends, and organizations to educate the MAFAsphere. Facilitators I was most excited for Abakada Clothing Company, Meat on the Street, FYLPro/YouLeaD Immersion Program, Kabataan Alliance, Anakbayan, UniPro, and Subtle Filipino Traits. I was excited to work again with Kollective Hustle & Romeo Marquez Jr in highlighting my state, Wisconsin. At the end of the day, I was most excited for the MFAS committee to come together, after months of planning online, and celebrate our accomplishments.

3. Continue to bloom: I am saddened that we could not bring MFAS 2020 to the MAFAsphere this year, but I will continue to bloom in the knowledge of how strong our community is. It was a blessing getting to be apart of MAFA board and seeing young leaders rise in their communities. I know that even though it was hard for executive boards across the Midwest to cancel their events, we continue to foster strong relationships. It is important we continue to stand in solidarity during times of ignorance/hate/lack of compassion. All we can do in this life is push through adversity for a better tomorrow.

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