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Celebrating Filipino American History Month with Irvine Grants Manager Andrea Abeleda

The Irvine Foundation is fortunate to have talented staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, and we want to introduce some of our colleagues to you. We spoke with Andrea Abeleda, Irvine’s Grants Manager, about Filipino American History Month, Larry Itliong’s contributions to the labor movement, and why philanthropy needs to lead with humility. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.  

Tell us about yourself.  

I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have lived here my entire life. I currently live in Rowland Heights, one of the many sprawling suburbs in the East San Gabriel Valley. My parents are first-generation immigrants. I come from a big, Filipino family, most of which are  in Los Angeles and in the Philippines but also spread throughout California and Canada. When I’m not working, I love spending time with my niece and nephews, traveling, going to OrangeTheory, and rooting for (and being stressed out by) the Dodgers. 

How did you get into philanthropy? 

I started in the nonprofit world right after college, working for a small children’s museum in Pasadena. I was organizing community events, writing grants, fundraising, and everything in between. I soon realized that I was really happy and motivated doing mission-driven work. After that, I had my first job in philanthropy at the California Community Foundation, working on grant operations and, eventually, on the arts portfolio. CCF focused squarely on systems change and addressing root causes through grantmaking, convening, and advocacy. This is what has kept me in philanthropy—if done right, it can be a critical tool for effecting real change and solutions.  

What does Filipino American History Month mean to you? 

I’m so proud to be Filipino American, so for me, it’s a time to celebrate Filipino culture and recognize the contributions Filipinos have made in all facets and sectors of American life. Most people don’t know that Filipino American History Month takes place in October because it marks the arrival of the first Filipinos, by way of a Spanish galleon, in what is now Morro Bay on October 18, 1587. October is also the birth month of Filipino labor leader Larry Itliong. I’ll admit it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about his activism and Filipino’s deep roots in California’s labor movement. Larry Itliong’s organizing efforts led to the Delano Grape Strike in 1965, when Filipino workers walked off the fields to protest poor working conditions and low wages. It was Itliong who urged Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the National Farm Workers Association to join the strike. Itliong’s organizing catalyzed what would eventually become the United Farm Workers union. It’s stories like these that I love sharing during Filipino American Heritage Month. 

On a personal level, this month, I’m thinking about my parents, my aunts and uncles, and all the Filipinos who came to the U.S. during the wave of immigration that began in the ‘60s. I’m inspired by their grit, resilience, and determination to imagine and create a better life for themselves and their loved ones  in the Philippines. This month is a reminder to stay connected to my roots, remain grounded in my beliefs, and make my loved ones proud.

What is Irvine and the philanthropic sector’s role in advancing equity? 

To reach our North Star — a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically — it means centering racial equity in everything we do: our grantmaking, the way we partner with BIPOC-serving organizations, our internal practices, and whose voices and stories are told. It means continuing to give multi-year, unrestricted dollars, and streamlining our processes so that partners can carry on their mission at full speed with nimbleness. And finally, philanthropy needs to lead with humility with the recognition that we don’t have all the answers but are committed to partnering with communities closest to the solutions for the long term.