Abstract: Kwentong Pandemya: Stories of Filipino Empowerment and Resilience during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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124P Kwentong Pandemya: Stories of Filipino Empowerment and Resilience during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Cliff Bersamira, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI
Jethro Macaraeg, BS, MSW Student, University of Hawaii at Manoa, HI

Background and Purpose:

Filipinos are one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States (U.S.) with Hawai‘i being a common area of settlement since the plantation era. Previous studies have examined the importance of resilience and empowerment in the diasporic Filipino community in the U.S. However, no previous studies explore the role of these constructs, and their relationship, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study explores how Filipinos in Hawai‘i respond to adversities during the pandemic, as explained by the Transconceptual Model of Empowerment and Resilience (TMER; Brodsky and Cattaneo, 2013) and Kapwa Theory (Enriquez, 1994). The study’s aims are to: 1) describe the contexts in which resilience and empowerment take place; 2) identify the resources which facilitate resilience and empowerment; 3) identify how Filipino cultural values interact with the resilience and empowerment process; and 4) understand the utility of the TMEP framework and Kapwa Theory in describing the resilience and empowerment process for Filipinos.


Researchers virtually conducted demographic questionnaires and 60-90 minute semi-structured interviews using the Filipino indigenous method of pakikipagkwentuhan (Orteza, 1997) with Filipino community members in Hawai‘i (n=17) via Zoom. Participant recruitment incorporated convenience, voluntary response, purposive, and snowball sampling. Participants were pre-screened for inclusion criteria (self-identify as Filipino/a/x, aged 18 or over, Hawai‘i resident, English speaking ability). Transcribed interviews were coded and analyzed through thematic analysis.


Four primary themes were identified in this study. First, both resilience and empowerment processes centralize relationships among Filipino respondents. Second, psychosomatic symptoms elicited empowerment responses aimed to improve one’s mental health. Third, mutual aid was a common resource to address adversity during the pandemic. Fourth, tensions between individualism and collectivism inform resilience and empowerment responses.

Conclusion and Implications:

TMER and Kapwa theory provide critical insight on the COVID-19 pandemic experiences among diasporic U.S. Filipinos. However, there continues to be limited Filipino behavioral health research to address their longstanding health disparities. This study informs social workers’ understanding of the Filipino community, and how their values, historical trauma, and context of place inform their resilience and empowerment. Future social work and behavioral health research is needed for strength-based, trauma-informed, and culturally-responsive behavioral health care and access.