Hawaii civil rights pioneer Amy Agbayani honored with Women of Impact Award
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the first Filipinos came to Hawaii to work on the plantations, they experienced discrimination and inequality.
One woman challenged the system and became their voice -- and remains a civil rights champion for marginalized groups in the state.
Hawaii civil rights pioneer Dr. Amefil “Amy” Agbayani received the East West Center’s 2023 Women of Impact Award at a ceremony at Imin Conference Center on Friday in front of dozens of friends and supporters.
“She’s just so committed. And it is very difficult to say no to Manang Amy,” said friend and community advocate AJ Halagao, in a heartfelt video made for the event.
Longtime friend U.S. Senator to Hawaii Mazie Hirono added: “Amy inspires by example. And she’s right there, helping students and inspiring them.”
Named after the combination of the words American and Filipino -- Manang Amy as many call her -- dedicates her life to fighting for social justice and equal access to higher education for Filipinos and other underrepresented groups.
“I came to Hawaii nearly six decades ago as a graduate student scholar with the East West Center,” Agbayani said. “So I’ve had a lot of good experiences, education and opportunities over the years to support the issues I care about.”
Issues like equity and inclusion.
Originally from the Philippines, the 80-year-old activist and lobbyist is a familiar face at the State Capitol and out in the community.
“I look at with a lens of equality and fairness and, and so many of these groups that we mentioned have oftentimes been marginalized and they’re underrepresented in the professions or even have this huge disparity in income and health issues,” Agbayani said.
A new documentary “Amefil (Amy)” highlights the civil rights leader’s journey -- from creating diversity programs at the University of Hawaii -- to becoming a founding Chair of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission -- to serving on the White House Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
Over the years, she’s secured millions of dollars in funding for scholarships and resources to empower disadvantaged groups -- including those displaced by the recent Maui wildfires.
“Not only fairness, but a civil rights issue, that these are individuals in many places, including Lahaina, who are sometimes not given the full support that they need,” Agbayani said.
A life of service honored... a true woman of impact.
For more information about the “Amefil (Amy)” documentary, visit amefilthefilm.com.
For more from HNN’s special series on Filipino American History, click here.
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