People and Community University

Filipino American students embrace, share their culture

With 90 registered members, the Filipino Student Association works to promote and provide a space for students and faculty and staff members to experience the culture of the Philippines.
The Filipino Student Association hosted “History Through Food: Chinese Filipino Cuisine” in partnership with the Wellness Center Learning Kitchen.
The Filipino Student Association in October hosted “History Through Food: Chinese Filipino Cuisine” in partnership with the Wellness Center Learning Kitchen.

The Filipino Student Association (FSA) was established at the University of Miami in the early 2000s, and it is focused on sharing the Filipino American heritage and culture with the campus community and emphasizes inclusivity and diversity. 

When Madelene Shewmaker enrolled in the University last academic year, she was heartened to discover that the University had an organization dedicated to her culture. And now, she is doing her part to ensure that FSA is making strides to grow and create a meaningful space for others to learn and experience what her Filipino heritage has to offer. 

“Being a member of this organization has given me opportunities to engage with my culture in ways I would have never imagined,” said Shewmaker, who is now the vice president of the group. “And it has helped me to embrace and accept being a Filipino American into my identity even further.” 

Last month, designated Filipino American History Month, Shewmaker and her peers celebrated with musical events, food, and other activities to make members of the Coral Gables Campus community more aware of the commemoration, which marks the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the United States. 

“Introducing Filipino American History Month to my family has helped all of us, especially my younger sisters, understand just how special it is to be Filipino Americans and how blessed we are to have such an incredible culture,” Shewmaker added. 

Gabrielle Yamar, the organization’s president, wants members of her campus community to know that FSA is inclusive and invites all to check out their club. 

“We are big on family,” Yamar said. “Filipinos are very welcoming people who want to share our culture, traditions, and food—especially—with everyone.”

Madelene Shewmaker/Gabrielle Yamar/Katrina Cocson/Danae Lally
From left: Madelene Shewmaker, Gabrielle Yamar, Katrina Cocson, and Danae Lally

On October 8, FSA hosted “History Through Food: Chinese Filipino Cuisine” in partnership with the Wellness Center Learning Kitchen. The event focused on the shared history between China and the Philippines, while teaching attendees about indulging in Chinese and Filipino delicacies. 

“Filipinos value togetherness and support each other as best as we can,” Yamar said. “We are all about ‘bayanihan’ [pronounced buy-uh-nee-hun]—a Tagalog word to describe the spirit of civic unity and cooperation.”

Katrina Cocson, the communications chair of the organization, said that she believes Filipino history intersects with many other cultures. 

“From the food that we make with Chinese and Austronesian influences, to the folk dances influenced by the Spanish, to the work that Filipino American farmers have done alongside Mexican farmers in the labor movement in the U.S., growing up I barely was informed from school or media about my own culture,” Cocson said. 

She added that celebrating Filipino American History Month allows her to not only teach others about Filipino culture, but it also serves as a time to reflect and learn more about herself. 

Treasurer Danae Lally, who is not Filipino, but Chinese American, said she became involved with the organization to support her friends whom she met through the Asian American Students Association. 

“I love the FSA community and learning about Filipino culture,” Lally said. “Filipino American History Month is important in highlighting Filipino culture to make people aware of the rich history of Filipino Americans.” 

Learn more about the Filipino Student Association on Engage.