Dr. Gel Cortez
Founder & Executive Director
Dr. Angelica “Gel” Cortez, is a second generation Queer Pinay from Pittsburg, California. Influenced through student activism at the height of the Great Recession and grounded in Ethnic Studies, she organized higher education conferences for FilAm and Asian Pacific Islander Youth, protested budget cuts, and began volunteering with the Filipino Memorial Project. These interests led her to study Political Science to understand systems of oppression, governance, and foreign and domestic policy. Through her studies, she grew to question the creation processes of public policy and legislation and found herself seeking ways to engage her community in these spaces. Often reflecting on her own family’s struggle, she continues to believe that those most impacted by public systems need to be the ones that lead.
As a public policy professional, community organizer, and nonprofit founder, Gel has worked for advocacy organizations and legislators in both San Jose and Los Angeles on issues of immigrant rights and human services. Under her leadership, LEAD Filipino has grown to serve hundreds of community members through its programs including the Annual Fly Pinays, Awareness in Action, Lakbay Summit, and the co-formation of the statewide FIERCE Coalition. She is the Vice President of Racial Justice & Equity for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, one of the most prominent policy organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area region. As the Leadership Group’s first Vice President of Racial Justice & Equity, she leads a team that drives the organization’s major corporate diversity initiatives and policy advocacy strategy. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club and Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. She has been recognized for her human service and advocacy work with Filipina/x/o and Asian Pacific Islander communities by NBC Bay Area, Asian American Recovery Services, and the Silicon Valley Business Journal. She holds her BA from San Jose State University, MPA from the University of San Francisco, and EdD from the University of Southern California. She currently resides in Eastside San Jose. She enjoys concerts, traveling, painting, and sleeping.
Director of Queer Summit
Celeste (They/Them/Theirs) is a non-binary Pinay/x, born and raised in the Bay Area. Attending school at San Francisco State University, Celeste currently holds a B.A. in Communication Studies and an M.A. in Asian American Studies. During their time at SFSU, Celeste’s involvement in Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP) as an educator teaching middle school and college students, motivated them to seek community closer to their home of Fremont, CA. Their introduction to L.E.A.D was as a participant of the Spring Training Program in early 2018, and later joined L.E.A.D’s Education Team as an Organizer that same year. During summer of 2019, Celeste was a part of Awareness in Action’s expansion to the East Bay, teaching the first cohort in Union City, CA. In the near future Celeste wants to help launch programming centered on the Pilipinx LGBTQ+ community.
Celeste leads our organization’s Queer Summit and Queermmittee activities. The Queermittee meets the 3rd Sunday/month from 4pm-5:30pm.
Director of Fly Pinays
Marissa is a creative writer and youth development coordinator born and raised in East San Jose. Her involvement in LEAD Filpino began as a participant in Awareness in Action. She has led the efforts in the Fly Pinays Leadership Summit as the Program Director in 2019-2020.
As a second generation filipina-latina, Marissa writes about identity and growing up in her plays and spoken word poetry. In her youth development work, she teaches workshops on storytelling, script-writing, poetry, and acting. Marissa also runs a theatre company called More Más Marami Arts, dedicated to creating new work and empowering our community to tell our stories. She has had the pleasure of working with Bay Area theatre companies like Bindlestiff Studio, the Playwrights’ Foundation, and TheatreWorks.
With a B.A. in English and Theatre Arts from Santa Clara University, Marissa is committed to sharing stories and creating more inclusivity in our world.
Join Marissa and the Fly Pinays Committee on Sundays from 10:30am-12pm.
Director of Mama Verang Scholarship Fund
Daniel has always had a profound love for San Jose and Filipino community. Born and raised in the diverse Silicon Valley, he continues to grow his identity as a Filipino American entrepreneur in the arts, graphic design and fashion. During high school, he served as a president for Piedmont Hills’ Filipino Parent Student Association for two years, and a core member of the Filipino Youth Coalition (FYC) for three years. He currently attends San Jose State University where he is working toward his BS in Advertising. Continuing his social, political and creative involvement in college, he is an active member of Akbayan SJSU and Anakbayan Silicon Valley. Through LEAD Filipino, his goal is to give back his knowledge and creativity to the community. Feel free to get to know him on Twitter @dinomandaniel.
Director of Local & State Policy, FIERCE Coalition
Raised in San Jose’s Berryessa community and a Bellarmine College Preparatory alumnus, Gabriel Young is an undergraduate honors student at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. where he studies Political Science and International Affairs with focuses in Public Policy and International Politics. Although being raised by a single mom and hardships of many sorts, Gabriel led an active student and music life due to the monumental Fil-Am representation in the 2010s music industry. Through the San Jose Fil-Am community, Gabriel was able to find his voice and develop a passion for serving the Filipino & Fil-Am community that raised him.
At Bellarmine, Gabriel’s focuses shifted when he was exposed to Ignatian Theology which ignited a burning desire to be a “Man for and with others” and improve Bellarmine’s diversity, equity, and inclusion programs through his multicultural work. Through Bellarmine, Gabriel gained a newfound understanding of the social injustices present within our society and now seeks to change it through his education and civic engagement in our nation’s capital–specifically towards Asian-American representation. With this education and passion, Gabriel’s past work derived itself from representative, congressional, and presidential campaigns; Asian-American Advocacy coalitions; diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in his respective communities.
When COVID-19 struck, Gabriel returned to San Jose and through a fellow Civic Engagement Team member, he joined LEAD in September of 2019. Ever since, Gabriel supports LEAD’s Civic Engagement efforts, especially its partnership with the FIERCE Coalition in developing the annual policy symposium and advocacy day. Gabriel dreams to become a Public Interest Attorney and eventually hold elected office to represent his communities and create and advocate for socio-economic equitably just policies, specifically in housing, education, and civil rights.
The FIERCE Coalition meets the 3rd Thursday/month from 6pm-7:30pm.
Regular Guest Speaker
“The Dishonorable” Lendyll Capitulo is a regular guest facilitator at our Policy, Politics, and Puto (PPP) Roundtable Talks. Our PPP is a safe space for conversations around Fil Am involvement in policy organizing, cultural identity, economic justice work, and political ideology. Lendyll earned his BA from New York University (NYU) and MBA from Stern.
Co-Director of Community Health Initiatives
Michelle was born and raised in Union City, CA. She educates the youth and community members in the Bay Area through the Awareness in Action Program. Michelle is currently a B.S. Candidate in Health Sciences, Community Health at Cal State East Bay with the aspiration of blending her interests in advocating for health equity, social justice, and education. From being active in PASA CSUEB and later beginning her involvement with LEAD Filipino through the Spring Training Program, Michelle had soon found a loving and growing passion for serving the Fil-Am/Filipinx community. Previously, Michelle had served as NCPASA’s (Northern California Pilipinx Student Alliance) Human Resources Chair and now serves as the Internal Chairperson, where she is able to spread resources and mentorship while bringing unity between Fil-Am collegiate organizations across Northern California. Through LEAD, Michelle assists in other organizers’ projects while focusing on keeping Filipinx hxstory alive and emphasizing the importance of Ethnic Studies.
Co-Director of Community Health Initiatives
Jenn Cayanan graduated with a BS in Public Health and a minor in Asian American Studies from San Jose State University in the Fall of 2019. Jenn currently works at Heluna Health for the California Department of Public Health. Jenn has been organizing with LEAD Filipino since 2017, primarily through Fly Pinays and Awareness in Action, Lola’s Scholarship, and is excited to be a director for the Community Health Initiatives. Her passion and love are deeply rooted in serving the Filipinx/a/o American community through organizing with LEAD Filipino, Fil-CHA, and as co-founder of the Pilipinx American Public Health Conference.
Local & State Policy
Camille Valerio (she/her/hers) is a second-generation Pinay born and raised in the Bay Area. She graduated from San José State University last spring with a degree in Management Informational Systems. During her time at SJSU, she was heavily involved with AkbayanSJSU, where she was introduced to LEAD Filipino’s Annual Fly Pinays Leadership Summit. She later joined the Awareness in Action Program in 2019 where she became motivated to be more involved with the organization and joined the Fly Pinays Planning Committee for the 3rd Annual Summit. Beyond her work with LEAD Filipino, Camille is a digital product and graphic designer. She hopes to combine her passion for community and design to create solutions that will help address inequity, accessibility, and inclusivity.
Civic Engagement Team
Ian grew up in East San Jose, CA. He was raised by a single mom. After being bullied in high school, Ian grew a passion for helping others. He did not exactly know how to pursue his passion at first, but after volunteering on his first campaign, Ian realized that he wanted to help people through politics. Ian has worked on local campaigns, non-profits, and other government institutions. He also has been involved in the democratic party through being an officer of local democratic clubs as well as being a state delegate. The issues he has worked on over the years include the environment, housing, education, immigration etc. Through scholarships, Ian studied political science and eventually graduated from the George Washington University in 2015. Also having a passion for business, Ian was able to receive investments for his first company, which he started before graduating from college. On his free time, Ian likes to read philosophy, volunteer in the community, and simply getting to know others.
Civic Engagement Team
Vanessa Carr currently serves as Governor Gavin Newsom’s Senior Regional Coordinator for External Affairs in the Los Angeles Regional Office. Growing up in an interracial family and among other communities of color, she found her passion on issues related to equity, social justice, and economic opportunity. Her dedication to community driven leadership and advocacy has led her to work with organizations like LEAD Filipino and elected officials like Rep. Ro Khanna and Asm. Adrin Nazarian. A Santa Clara University graduate, Vanessa was born and raised in the Silicon Valley and resides in Los Angeles today.
Civic Engagement Team
Kevin Suarez is a San Jose native, attended De Anza College, and San Jose State University, earning his Bachelor of Science in Economics in December 2018. Since 2017, Kevin was heavily involved with civically engaging Filipino American community. He has worked with organizations such as the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA); as a member of their youth program’s inaugural EPYC class and as the 2018 – 2019 Finance Chair for NCPASA: the Northern California Pilipinx Student Alliance.
Kevin currently serves as a member of LEAD Filipino’s Civic Engagement Team. Kevin helped assist with the planning and execution of LEAD Filipino’s 2018 Voter Guide, the 1st Filipino Policy Symposium in coordination with the Bulosan Center and in 2018, served as a team captain during the 2019 Filipinx Advocacy Day in Sacramento. Kevin hopes to further leverage his career and interests in Economics, Finance and Public Policy in the service of Fil Am community.
Civic Engagement Team
From San Leandro, CA, Alan Gouig now stands as a recent graduate from San Jose State University, having received a B.S. in Business Management and Administration, with a minor in Hospitality Hotel and Restaurant Management. During his time at SJSU, Alan had joined AkbayanSJSU, a Filipino-American based organization. From being Akbayan’s KAAMP (Kuya Ate Ading Mentorship Program) Coordinator ’18 – ’19, Alan had served over 1,000 members, standing as San Jose State’s largest student ran mentorship program.Through KAAMP, Alan had deepened his love for his Pilipinx identity and discovered his passion for community building. From participating in both L.E.A.D’s Awareness in Action Leadership Program, as well as the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute’s (APALI) Civic Leadership Program, Alan quickly discovered his deep passion for civic involvement. Present day, Alan organizes on L.E.A.D’s Civic Engagement Team with the hopes of further serving, connecting, and engaging the Fil-Am community to the world of civics at large. Aside from L.E.A.D, Alan works as the Hiring Manager at Tea Lyfe Drinks in East San Jose, as well as serving on the Board of Directors for the Southern University Neighborhood (SUN) Resident Association.
Civic Engagement Team
Katrina graduated from San Jose State with a major in Political Science and minor in Human Rights. While in school, Katrina interned for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group where she first met Angelica Cortez and started to get involved with L.E.A.D. Currently, Katrina serves as both a Civic Engagement and Voter Registration organizer for L.E.A.D Filipino. She also works as an office assistant at Levine Bagade and Han LLP. Katrina’s personal immigration experience to the U.S. drives her own passion of becoming an aspiring immigration attorney. Throughout her professional career, Katrina hopes to further help others during their own immigration journey.
James remotely oversees our Linguistics and Philippine centered material which empowers our leadership programs and workshops. Through L.E.A.D, he has led workshops on the influences of Spanish Colonization in the Philippines and Regional & Colonial Mentalities in the PI. He received his B.A., Asian Studies and Masters of Public Affairs from USF. James’ interaction with the Filipino-American community includes: interning at the Philippine Consulate General, Bayanihan Center, and West Bay. He also worked as an outreach coordinator at the Pilipino Senior Resource Center. In 2013, James was given the opportunity to engage with Filam community leaders and orgs in Socal with his involvement with APIEquality-LA. During his tenure at USF, James conducted societal and cultural studies in the Philippines as a Fulbright scholar. His volunteer experience in the Philippines galvanized him to embody social justice. Currently, James works at Salesforce and resides in Oregon. James has also helped in establishing a Filipino/Filipino American employee resource group at Salesforce. His goal is to incorporate the value of social justice and social awareness with his career in tech, by working to bridge corporation entities with communities members.
Fly Pinays Team
Jenna Edra is an Intellectual Property Case Assistant at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP and an Immigration Clinic / Citizenship Workshop volunteer with Asian Law Alliance. Her previous volunteering and internship experiences have included work with YWCA Silicon Valley, Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, Assemblymember Evan Low’s District Office, Santa Clara County Superior Court’s Restraining Order Help Center, and the United States Probation Office. Passionate about understanding the intersectionality of different social issues and helping diverse communities, Jenna has always enjoyed cutting across sectors and challenging herself in new settings. An alumna of San Jose State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work, she intends to further her education by pursuing a Juris Doctor degree.
Fly Pinays Team
Katie, originally from Carson, CA, attended San Jose State University and received her B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Child and Adolescent Development. She is a sister of Kappa Psi Epsilon where she found her interest in learning more about her culture and found a love for working with the Filipino Community as well as advocating for womxn empowerment. After attending the 2nd annual Fly Pinays Leadership Summit as a workshop facilitator, it inspired Katie to get more involved with the Fil-Am community and eventually drew her to intern with LEAD Filipino in 2018. She served as the Co-Mentee Director for L.E.A.D’s 2019 Fly Pinays Conference and now serves as an organizer on the Civic Engagement Team. Katie also works with Filipino Advocates for Justice in Oakland assisting with their immigration work. Because of her work through LEAD, Katie decided on pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at San Francisco State in hopes of promoting diversity and inclusion through her community work.
Originally from Union City, CA, Karen later moved to San Jose to pursue a degree in Public Health with a minor in Child and Adolescent Development from SJSU. Outside of school, she works as a behavioral specialist for children with autism in the South Bay region. Combining her longtime passion for helping people and learning more about her culture, Karen strives to educate a deeper cultural awareness in others while continuously learning more about herself along the way. Karen got involved with LEAD Filipino through Akbayan SJSU and joined the Awareness in Action program during her second year of college. Currently, Karen works as an organizer for both the Awareness in Action program and the Fly Pinays committee. Through these two programs, Karen hopes to share her passion with others by raising awareness about the Pilipinx culture, its history, and the importance of individual and collective identity. Upon graduating from SJSU, Karen hopes to learn more about the effects of representation in healthcare; more specifically towards the Filipino population.
Jay is the Co-Director for our Awareness in Action Program. She played a key role in the curriculum development of our “Coalition Building & Student Led Movements” class this past summer, where she invited two seated Commissioners to speak to our students about Public Service. Born in Pasay City and raised in Milpitas, Jessica has always been proud of belonging to two vibrant cultures. Because her family comes from one of the least colonized parts of the Philippines (Kalinga), she has a love for learning about pre-colonial histories of the Philippines and other countries. She likes to study how Pilipino culture interacts with the mental wellness of Pilipino-American youth and women. From high school outreach to advising in state prison, she’s long been passionate about advancing her community. She holds two A.A. degrees from Mission College and a B.A. in Psychology from UC Davis. Jessica is working toward her MSW to become a counselor for young Pilipinos and similarly underserved youth.