by Amanda Ong
On Dec. 20, 2021, President Biden named International Community Health Services (ICHS) President and CEO Teresita Batayola as one of 25 leaders who will be appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiʻians, and Pacific Islanders. According to the ICHS press release, “The 25-member commission’s focus is on advancing equity, justice, and opportunity for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.”
The White House release says the commission will advise the president on ways to advance equity and opportunity for these communities. Specifically, it will be charged with advising the president on policies to address anti-Asian xenophobia and violence; ways to secure greater opportunities through grantmaking; and methods of addressing the intersectional barriers that women, LGBTQIA people, and people with disabilities face in these communities. The commission members have been chosen from Asian American, Native Hawaiʻian, and Pacific Islander leaders from across the country — and Batayola is more than equipped to represent these communities of Seattle, as she has been engaging with Asian American and immigrant communities in Seattle for years.
Batayola was born and raised in the Philippines and immigrated to Seattle with her family in 1969, after her father saw advertisements for jobs with Boeing. She had an aunt living here who fortunately sponsored their move, as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had an emphasis on families and family reunification. However, soon after moving, the Boeing Bust began, causing mass layoffs, and Batayola’s father was never hired.
“So for our family, that meant that we used up all of our resources to come here, and my dad couldn’t find a job,” Batayola said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “He ended up first picking up scrap in the shipyard. [He] then got into a retraining program that was sponsored by the federal government and became a steam fitter, which is an industrial plumber, basically, and then worked at the Harborview hospital.”
Batayola’s mother had to take on a clerical job to support the family, and she eventually worked for the University of Washington as an administrative assistant.
“So, slowly our family was able to lift up ourselves, all the kids had to go to work right away,” Batayola said. “It’s a very typical immigrant story. … Education was always very important, and I was able to go to Seattle University on scholarship and, of course, supplemented by whatever I earned, and graduated from there with my public affairs degree.”
During this time, Batayola’s family was connected with the predecessor of ICHS — the ID Clinic. Elderly Chinese and Filipino men, who often lived alone in dilapidated single-room occupancy hotels as they aged due to anti-miscegenation and exclusion laws, had spent their lives doing menial labor and then suffered harsh living conditions. The community advocated for greater access to services for these men and others, and so the ID Clinic was born. The ID Clinic and the Chinatown-International District community, and seeing the impacts of community advocacy, were instrumental in Batayola’s own development as a young immigrant woman in Seattle.
“The small businesses in Chinatown were really very accepting, if not lenient, of new immigrants,” Batayola said. “Markets would give us free bones aside from whatever we bought, so we could have stew. The Wa Sang grocery store … if we didn’t have enough money, had a long [receipt] taped up to the side of the window where he would just list if you owed money. But he was never demeaning; it was like, you can pay when you can pay.”
It was the era of civil rights, and in Seattle, Batayola grew up looking up to Uncle Bob, the Four Amigos, and Dolores Sibonga. Coming from another culture, Batayola didn’t entirely understand the issues being fought for in the city at the time. Yet, the civil rights movement was like a magnet for her.
“When anyone is displaced — and in our case, we felt displaced even though it was a conscious effort to leave the Philippines — everything is disrupted,” Batayola said. “You don’t have connections to people and all that. And so, for me, as a young person, you know, getting exposed to some of the leaders that we had was very affirming that I didn’t have to feel so alone and powerless.”
Many members of the community became mentors to Batayola, encouraging her to connect with different people and try new things. This path also led her to jobs that could make a difference for the community. Over time, she served on boards and was constantly in touch with the community, before she eventually came to work for ICHS.
Now, Batayola has been with ICHS for 18 years, and the organization has expanded since, growing from its original two sites in CID and Holly Park to 600 employees at 11 different sites. Its services are inclusive of health needs from birth to death, delivering babies and offering programs for those 65 and older. While people still utilize the physical clinics, ICHS has also been able to offer community-based vaccination and testing since the pandemic. It also distributes rapid tests and will soon distribute N95 masks. Its school-based teams have also provided mobile dental and mobile behavioral clinics for youth, and they’ve even provided a virtual summer camp for middle school students.
Batayola stresses the community-minded work of ICHS and its resonance in her experiences. “I think even if [clients are] not first-generation immigrants, there is something in the experience that really resonates, that they identify with,” Batayola said. “There’s that real connection to the communities we serve. It’s part of why being with ICHS speaks to not just my heart, but my total being.”
ICHS provides critical services to its patients, many of whom are low-income and 60% of whom need interpretation. “We have top flight staff, we have good facilities, we have the latest technology, we are nationally accredited,” Batayola said. “They know that they can rely on the consistency and quality of the service. And that’s what we bring to the community. You know, we want to bring … the access to care, and the best quality care. … The bottom line is we are available to the community in ways that we are needed that go above and beyond.”
Looking ahead to her work with the Advisory Commission, Batayola says the gains she has seen in her lifetime have been slipping, particularly under the previous presidential administration. These critical human rights issues need to be amended: immigration and a path to citizenship or legal presence, family reunification, health care, voting rights. She stresses that under the previous census, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiʻians, and Pacific Islanders were severely undercounted, which affects the kind of funding available to address community issues. Specifically in Seattle, Batayola points out a redlining ordinance that didn’t go away until 1967 or so. The pattern of where BIPOC communities could live is still clearly reflected in neighborhood demographics. Today, she asks how we can really have equity in educational access when our neighborhood access is still informed by redlining.
“There is still a lot of fear in our community about who they are and whether or not they can be here,” Batayola said. “What I learned when I was a young person with the icons that we had in the community, [was that] you have to do coalition building. … We need to really address the racism we also have against each other. We must always organize, we must always show up, call out injustice wherever we see it, and really push hard. We cannot succeed if we hold on to these racist notions.”
Batayola’s appointment to the Advisory Commission will put her in a greater position to fight for access and against racism, but she cannot do this alone. “It takes the entire community. I’m talking about everybody, not just the communities we serve, to make sure that everyone is taken care of,” Batayola said. “If regular institutions are not taking care of our communities, [our] entire society should be supporting the work of organizations like ICHS. So that every single life has value, every single life has access to care, and good living conditions, good education, good neighborhoods, good food. Everybody needs to have that access.”
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 3/1/2022 to clarify that Bayatola’s father wasn’t hired by Boeing prior to arriving in the U.S. from the Philippines and that the family immigrated instead based on the availability and advertisement of jobs from the company. The article also previously misstated the grocery store in the CID as “Lawson grocery store” and was corrected to “Wa Sang grocery store.”
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: International Community Health Services (ICHS) President and CEO Teresita Batayola was appointed to President Biden’s advisory committee last year. Photo courtesy of ICHS.
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