Washington education coalition honors life-long activist Velma Veloria
SEATTLE – For her “exceptional service to our communities of color as a state representative and community organizer for over 40 years,” the Equity in Education Coalition (EEC) honored former Washington State Representative Velma Veloria with a lifetime achievement award at its Aug. 13 tenth anniversary celebration.
Veloria was the first Filipina American elected to the Washington State Legislature. From 1990 to 1991, she worked for Rep. Art Wang as a legislative aide. She then ran and won for state representative in November 1992, becoming the first Filipino in the United States to serve in a state legislature. She had a disciplined approach to campaigning, going from door to door, connecting with her constituents and advocating tirelessly for their issues.
Veloria served 12 years in the legislature from 1992-2004. In 2003, she introduced HB1175, which passed. It made human trafficking a crime in the state of Washington, the first legislation of its kind in the nation. The bill was spurred by the domestic violence related killing of Susana Blackwell, her unborn child, and her friend Phoebe Dizon.
Forty-eight states have passed similar legislation. Human trafficking is a continuing theme in Veloria’s organizing work, collaborating with Dr. Sutapa Basu, Director of the UW Alene Moris Women’s Center. She also advocated for affordable housing, workers‘rights, racial justice and agitated on the impact of international trade and globalization impact on local communities.
Veloria’s global activism was sparked by her return visit to the Philippines during the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. She met cousins who were part of first lady Imelda Marcos’ Blue Ladies and other cousins who were with the New People’s Army and showed her the tough living conditions of the poor.
On returning to the U.S. Veloria joined KDP – Katipunan Ng Demokratikong Pilipino (Union of Democratic Filipinos), which eventually assigned her to Seattle to help keep the union reform movement in the Alaska cannery industry going, following the assassination of ILWU Local 37 officers and KDP activists Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo. This led to years of political activism in the state.
In 2019, the University of Washington appointed Veloria as Director of Advocacy and Mobilization for Equity as its first Honors Curriculum and Community Innovation Scholar to mentor students in community organizing.
Veloria continues to teach at the UW, is active in the Filipino Community of Seattle affordable housing development initiatives, and chairs the King County International Airport Community Coalition to address environmental, health and climate impacts of the airport on Duwamish residents.
Veloria has mentored young people throughout her service including Sofia Aragon, Burien Mayor; Edwin Obras, now president of the Filipino Community of Seattle board; Sameth Mell, director of Partners in Change at EEC (Equity in Education Coalition) and Director for Spean Rajana.
Mell said “In my ten years of working with Velma, she has been a friend, mentor and above all, an inspiration and reminder that community building and change making doesn’t stop after leaving a formal position. She has helped to shape and bring up younger voices into politics, community organizing and created inroads for folks who never saw themselves at the table with decision makers.”
“I want the young leadership to emerge,” Veloria said. “I just want to step aside so there is space for them.” – Maria Batayola / International Examiner