Jhenine Cordero (left) and Dominico Vega (right) talking to a dozen community members about the issues affecting North Hills. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

To unite the community of North Hills against issues including homelessness, crime, low wages and food insecurity, Filipino organizations in the valley have come together to launch a new campaign and are inviting anyone from the community looking to make change.

In a small classroom located in the North Valley Caring Services (NVCS) Food Pantry, a little over a dozen community members gathered Nov. 9 for the soft launch of People United to End Displacement and Economic Crisis, or PUEDE. Several participants were members of organizations, including Migrante Los Angeles and Anakbayan-San Fernando Valley, that had previously come together to demand justice for the Roque family, who were the victims of a hate crime in May 2022.

Nicholas Weber rear-ended their vehicle in a North Hollywood McDonald’s drive-thru and hurled racial slurs at the family before pushing the father, Gabriel Roque, to the ground and wrapping his hands around the mother’s, Nerissa Roque’s, neck. The family and community organizations that rallied around them spent more than a year trying to get justice, but were left disappointed time and time again by numerous court delays and the hate crime enhancements being removed from the assault charges.

Unwilling to take the case further without the enhancements, the family settled on a plea deal this August and Weber was sentenced on two felonies and one misdemeanor. He is required to complete 80 hours of anti-bias programs and an 18-month alcohol program.

After the case ended, the organizations refocused their efforts in North Hills due to the concentration of Filipinos living in the area. They volunteered for NVCS and, seeing how many people were coming to receive services, they started to hatch an idea to do something themselves.

“There’s many low-income working class, vulnerable people in this community, and they’re not getting services from the government. They’re getting services from nonprofits or homeless outreach services,” Jhenine Cordero, a member of Anakbayan-SFV, said. “We developed a campaign idea sometime last month and decided to bring it to the people tonight before we head up to the APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit].”

Although the organizations involved with the creation of PUEDE are Filipino, they want the campaign to be open to anyone from the community to feel free to join, hence the name – puede is a word shared between Spanish and Tagalog, a Filipino language.

The purpose of the town hall was to hear from the community what issues concern them and what they hope to improve.

“I noticed that there’s that lack of community … in the United States in general,” Angelica Luna said. “In foreign countries, people tend to be more in tune with the community and their neighbors. … There’s not that neighborly connection [here]. I think it’s important to bridge the gap because we all struggle with the same thing.

“We all have so many similarities but just don’t know it. I think it’s important to talk to each other.”

One community member, named Karen, brought up the topic of gentrification, saying that it’s affecting Panorama City and North Hills and added that it won’t be long before more low-income families will be kicked out of their buildings.

“Now is a crucial time for us to really get organized,” Karen said. “We’re not going to let you move into our neighborhoods and destroy them. We’re not going to let you take our culture from us.”

Cordero said the issues that affect North Hills are all rooted in poverty and how they were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She went further and mentioned how the pauses on student loans and rent payments ended as if the people the pauses were meant for suddenly had the funds to start paying them back.

Cordero homed in on two issues in particular: pollution and crime. She learned that one of the concerns of neighbors was the lack of clean streets to walk in. Although she learned from members of the North Hills Neighborhood Council that they are trying to educate the public on properly disposing of trash, the area still isn’t a safe area to walk around in. For the latter issue, Cordero emphasized that it’s often caused by a lack of resources and a feeling of desperation.

“I want to be clear that we emphasize the lack of resources because we’re not calling for policing as a solution to the violence in the community,” Cordero said. “We’re calling for actually feeding people affordable and healthy groceries, calling for financial assistance, not just whatever Social Security offers.”

Dominico Vega, another member of Anakbayan-SFV, added to Cordero’s latter point by saying that there aren’t a lot of jobs in the valley in general, and those jobs that are available tend to be minimum wage.

“There needs to be more jobs here that actually pay well so that people don’t have to be pushed out,” Vega said. “Food insecurity is a big deal. The rising cost of rent is a big deal, all because of the fact that people don’t have proper work.”

Another major topic was communities being forgotten and neglected by those in power. Two examples brought up during the town hall were Los Angeles City Councilmembers Monica Rodriguez and Imelda Padilla, whom Vega said ran on platforms that claimed they would make the valley a better place, but such improvements have yet to materialize.

“We have a right to demand of these elected officials who claim to represent us to also ensure that they’re actually caring about us and care for our neighbors,” Vega said. “We have these people who should really be held accountable for the promises that they made and the platforms that they stood on and the votes that we the people have given them.”

He also added that the topic of neglect not only applies to local officials but those in migrants’ home countries, where state officials seem content with people getting displaced rather than solving the issues that are causing them to leave.

It’s on that note that Vega brought up the APEC summit in San Francisco, which began on Nov. 11, where heads of state are meeting with corporations – including Microsoft and Amazon – to “sell our people out.” The summit has garnered controversy, as opponents say the companies involved have a legacy of causing environmental harm and APEC’s trade agenda negatively impacts millions of workers and migrants across the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region.

“That’s why this town hall is so important and why we need to have more discussions like this in even bigger rooms with even more people so that we can bring those demands and fight against things like APEC that are really determining our lives and we don’t have a say in it,” Vega said.

While there isn’t a specific plan the campaign is working towards as of yet, those running it encourage others to spread the word about PUEDE to recruit enough people to organize and make a positive change in the community.

“[PUEDE is] very specific to North Hills, but we invite anyone from the San Fernando Valley to join because the problems aren’t just in North Hills, but across many different neighborhoods who are neglected,” Cordero said. “We just want to get started here, build the momentum and build the bases to actually expand this campaign wherever there’s a need.”

For more information or to join the PUEDE campaign, you can fill out a form at https://tinyurl.com/NHpuede.