APA Spotlight: Gregory A. Cendana, Executive Director, APALA, AFL-CIO

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

Gregory is currently the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO and is the first openly gay person to serve in this post. Founded in 1992, APALA is the first and only national organization of Asian Pacific American (APA) union members. Since its founding, APALA has played a unique role in addressing the workplace issues of APA union members and as the bridge between the broader labor movement and the APA community. Most recently, Gregory served as President of the United States Student Association (USSA). USSA is the country’s oldest, largest & most inclusive student organization in the country and is the official voice of students to the Department of Education, Capitol Hill & the White House.

As USSA President, Gregory helped build chapters across the country, increased the budget of the organization, established strong community partnerships, highlighted worker struggles, and played an integral role in the passage of the Student Aid & Fiscal Responsibility Act and Health care & Education Reconciliation Act.

He graduated with honors from the University of California, Los Angeles where he was Student Body Vice President, Campus Organizing Director for the University of California Student Association, an Executive Board of Samahang Pilipino at UCLA and a co-founder of the Student Activist Project, a leadership development organization that placed students with campus and community organizations. Additionally, Gregory worked with AFSCME 3299 to build stronger student and worker alliances, organized service workers in the dining halls and was a part of a campaign to unionize part time student workers.

He has served or is currently serving on the boards of the National Jobs with Justice, Asian Pacific Americans for Progress, the Generational Alliance & the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. In 2009, he also started his own consulting firm, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Consulting, to support youth of color & LGBT youth leaders and organizations.

Gregory is a graduate of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, the Management Center’s Managing to Change the World, the Midwest Academy’s Organizing for Social Change, Training for Change’s Training of Trainers & Wellstone Action’s Political Training Program. Currently, he is a fellow with the Center for Progressive Leadership’s Executive Fellowship and New Leaders Council-DC. As a leader in the Asian American & Pacific Islander, youth & Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender communities, Gregory is looking forward to strengthening the labor movement and engaging a wide range of constituencies in the fight for social and economic justice.

What is the mission statement of your life?

My life is grounded in love for my communities, our shared struggles and the passion to bring change in our lives. I live at the intersection of many different identities and work with a broad social & economic justice framework.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

There have been many experiences that have shaped me, my leadership and the path that I took to get to where I am at now. One of the most defining moments was participating in the United States Student Association’s Grassroots Organizing Weekend (GROW) about running issue based campaigns. It was a training designed for students who wanted to address the shrinking numbers of underrepresented students on campus. It gave me a new understanding of power, developing a successful strategy and how to build coalitions. The training was life changing and I would encourage any of you to participate it in, if you ever have the chance.

Find out more about the GROW here.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

Plenty of people told me that they think George Lopez would be a great actor to star in a movie about my life. However, aligned with my values of fairness and equality, I would hold an open casting call modeled after American Idol and America’s Best Dance Crew.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?

For people who are interested, people can follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook. To learn more about the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, visit our website, our Facebook & our Twitter.

From July 21-24, 2011 in Oakland, CA, APALA is hosting our 11th biennial convention “Generations United: Our Jobs, Our Rights & Our Future”, a convening of more than 1,000 community, labor and student APA activists. For more details and to register, visit our Convention Website. Lastly, I would encourage people to also join APALA as a member and contact the local APALA chapter president to get more involved.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

This is shown through the recent release of the 2010 Census numbers and other reports like the one from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement-CIRCLE.

In recent months, the first Asian American mayor of major city was elected (Jean Quan in Oakland), Governor Jerry Brown appointed the first ever Labor Commissioner in CA (Julie Su) and the first ever Asian American was elected to head a Central Labor Council (Josie Camacho at the Alameda Labor Council). This only a sampling of how our community has shattered the glass ceiling.

My crystal ball would show a united, vibrant and enduring Asian Pacific Islander American community. We are a force to be reckoned with and are only getting stronger each day.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young professionals? Would you give different advice for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?

My biggest advice: DREAM Big. Work Hard. Stay Grounded in your community.

There are always going to be naysayers and people who will critique you. By DREAMING big, you set high expectations and allow your creative juices to flow. By working hard, you ensure you are the maker of your own destiny. By staying grounded in your community, it will keep you on the right track and have a circle of supporters who will there with you every step of the way.

For young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals, there are a plethora of people, including those from the APIA community, who are willing to support you. As someone who identifies as a young professional myself, it was important for me to identify mentors and peers who were willing to act as sounding boards and can ask open ended questions to flesh out my ideas.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?

My comfort foods are cracked pepper triscuits, white cheddar Cheeze-Its and mac n cheese. The memories associated with these foods are generally positive and required extra and longer visits to the gym afterwards.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching Glee and listening to the soundtrack on my iPod.

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Author: Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.