Playwright’s Note: I met Anne Bautista when she agreed to be a panelist for the legal panel discussion after a performance of Asian Story Theater’s Halo-Halo. I tucked away the idea of going deeper into the subject of domestic violence for a future project. A few months later, I received an email from Anne about her new yearlong FIRE (Fellowship for Immigrant and Refugee Empowerment) program. I asked Anne if her clients would be willing to share their stories with me. She thought they would and I partnered with Access Inc. and obtained a California Humanities grant. That was the beginning of “The Fire in Me”.
Anne (Producer) is Legal Program Director for the Access, Inc. VAWA Legal Program and SAVE Legal Network of San Diego County. She received her J.D. from California Western School of Law and her B.A. in English Literature from UC Berkeley. Anne has received numerous awards for her work on behalf of immigrant and refugee victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including the 2016 San Diego Domestic Violence Council Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017 Kalusugan and Kalakasan Community Heroes Award, and a 2018 Moxie Award.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a public interest lawyer specializing in representing immigrant and refugee victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking
under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). I am a law professor at California Western School of Law teaching the Women and Immigration Law Seminar and the Immigration Clinic for Victims. This year, I have the honor of serving as the President for Silayan Filipina National Organization. I am married to my wonderful supportive husband and am the proud mother of my nine year old son. I am also a first generation born Filipina American, born in San Francisco, CA after my parents immigrated to the United States – my father through the U.S. Navy and my mother as a teacher.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
Growing up I never thought about becoming a lawyer as I did not know anyone that was a lawyer. From my view, all lawyers were men. I thought you had to have an aggressive personality, which was definitely not me. I joined the debate team in high school. I was in a final round to determine who would win first place. After a contentious round, my challenger did not want to shake my hand and he instead abruptly left the room. I felt a little awkward and just tried to shrug it off. The judge for that round was a woman and it turned out she was an actual judge in San Diego. She apologized for my challenger’s behavior. I told her it was “okay.” She said, “No, it is never okay!” and that, as a woman, I should always demand respect. She asked me if I ever thought about becoming a lawyer. I said “no.” She said I should think about it because I have a skill that allows me to persuasively make my argument with sincerity. She gave me her business card and told me to call her if I ever had questions about the legal field. I lost her card and never really thought about it again until two years later when I experienced sexual harassment at the age of 19. Although I tried to make it clear that the comments and advances were not welcome and tried to get support from my manager and, later, the head of the company, my feelings were immediately dismissed. I was told I should be flattered.
The feeling of frustration of not being respected remained and came forth in my writing as an English Lit major and Women’s Studies minor at UC Berkeley. Through my writing I expressed my thoughts about the status of women and the unfairness of the expectation to be polite; in other words, to remain quiet in the face of adversity. When I finally had to make a decision about what to do after I graduated from college, my English Lit. professor asked me what my plans were and suggested I go on to graduate school. I hesitated and told her that I don’t want to just write about the injustice I see. I want to be able to advocate for women that deserve to be heard. I told her for the first time out loud, I was thinking about becoming a lawyer, but that I would try to get a paralegal certificate first, work as a paralegal, and then maybe go to law school.
She looked at me sternly and said, if you want to be a lawyer, go straight to law school. So, I did.
What have been some of your successes as a lawyer? What have been some of your challenges?
My success as a lawyer is being able to empower the most vulnerable in our society, mostly women, victimized by those who they thought would be there to support them. Seeing them go from hopeless to hopeful during the process of telling their stories helps inspire me to keep doing this work even though the stories are tough to hear.
My other success is having the opportunity to empower the communities we serve through leadership training and empowerment curriculums which I developed to strengthen the support system within particular communities we serve. Through the Access, Inc. FIRE (Fellowship for Immigrant and Refugee Empowerment) year-long program, we trained 35 women from the Filipino, Vietnamese, Latino, and Middle Eastern communities to use their voices to combat gender based violence and to expand and diversify their support systems. This way, victims do not have to choose between getting help and losing the support of their community. This year, we received funding to continue the FIRE program for the Filipina women and added the African women’s group which will begin its first class next week. We hope to obtain additional funding to continue the program for the other groups as well.
The challenge is trying to keep my clients motivated to keep on going and remain strong as they wait months or years for a final decision on their immigration case under the self-petitioning VAWA process, or U visa non-immigrant visa process for crime victims.
Since I am a public interest lawyer, working at a non-profit agency, the constant challenge is fundraising and grant writing to be able to provide these specialized services pro bono as the victims we serve do not have the funds to pay regular legal fees.
Somehow, with the support of an awesome leadership team at Access, Inc., I have managed to keep the legal program alive for over 20 years.
How does it feel to have elements of your work dramatized in “The Fire in Me”?
It’s cool. Who wouldn’t want their experience or elements of their stories portrayed in a play? I love theatre though I don’t get to go as often as I would like because of the cost. So, having the opportunity to be part of a play that is based on stories collected from my experience, from the experience of those in my network, and from Filipina survivors I have worked with, is truly awesome.
What do you do for self-care?
What I do for self-care is to just try to keep everything in balance. I do my best to separate work from family. I know that I am fortunate to have a supportive family that understands the importance of the work to empower others that need support. Honestly, because I am in a field that I am passionate about and get to see the impact of my work one story at a time, that keeps me going.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I just want to say that I feel truly blessed to continually meet people who also want to empower all women regardless of background or individual circumstances. I don’t think I would have lasted this long, in this type of work, if I felt alone in this effort. I think this play is the best way to help others understand why domestic violence is something that should matter to all of us. In the end, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. And, it is up to us as a society to make sure that we raise the next generation of young people to respect one another and truly try to make this world a better place for everyone.