‘Beyond visibility, Filipinos in US must lead’

Ayee Macaraig

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‘Beyond visibility, Filipinos in US must lead’
Now on its fourth year, The Outstanding Filipino Awards (TOFA) is the culminating event of the Filipino American History Month in October

NEW YORK, United States – “Do not just ask for a seat at the table. Demand to lead the meeting.”

This was the message leaders gave the Filipino American community in New York as they celebrated the group’s contributions to areas as diverse as Broadway, fashion and investigative journalism.

Oscar-winning songwriter Bobby Lopez, fashion designer Josie Natori, and Columbia University Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel led the recipients of The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA) Awards 2014 honored in a ceremony at the Carnegie Hall here on Saturday night, October 25.

It was a night of pride and talent as Filipino Americans hailed the community’s achievements, and dancers, choirs and singers including The Voice Kids Philippines 1st runner-up Darren Espanto showcased the best in Filipino performing arts. Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa hosted the event. 

Citing the accomplishments of the awardees and Fil-Ams working under the Obama administration, the White House’s Jason Tengco urged Filipinos in the US to take a more active role in their fields. Tengco is a senior advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

“The glass and bamboo ceiling has to be broken for generations to come. The Filipino Americans remind us it’s not just about visibility but leadership roles,” Tengco said.

Coronel was among 5 winners of the Heritage Award, the highest honors at TOFA. Also receiving the Heritage Award were Fiesta in America, an annual trade and cultural expo, and the Philippine Medical Association in America, which conducts medical and dental missions in the Philippines.

“This is a huge honor,” Coronel said after accepting the award. “This award is for all my students all around the world. It’s also for the memory of my friend, Marlene Esperat, a crusading journalist killed more than 10 years ago in her home. This award is for those who believe that journalism can be a force for public good.”

Esperat was killed after exposing the fertilizer fund scam under the Arroyo administration. Like Esperat, Coronel is an investigative journalist, and was founding executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) known for her work in exposing corruption under the Estrada presidency.  

Now on its fourth year, TOFA is the culminating event of the Filipino American History Month in October.

Consul General Mario de Leon Jr recalled that Filipino forefathers first came to California back in 1587, even before the United States of America was founded in 1776. 

“Filipino immigrants are known to be industrious, conscientious workers, multi-talented artists. We show our resilient spirit during calamities, and we show our charitable nature to our fellow men,” De Leon said.

Yet the diplomat also stressed the need for Filipinos in the US to step up. “We need to make an indelible mark in US society by assuming leadership roles.”

Jennifer Laude honored 

Besides the Heritage Awardees, TOFA honored individuals and groups selected via voting on social media. Transgender model and advocate Geena Rocero won the Courage of Conviction award, while community outreach organizer Jenab-I Pareja got the LGBT advocacy award. 

Both Rocero and Pareja dedicated their awards to transgender woman Jennifer Laude, killed on October 11 in Olongapo City allegedly by US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

“She is a woman who lived her truth. That’s the most noble thing a person can do. To those unjustly saying hurtful words to Jennifer, hate is just a mirror of your own pain. I am grateful to the LGBT community. Keep expressing yourself. As long as you live your truth, you will never go wrong,” Rocero said in remarks read on her behalf. 

Pareja compared the LGBT advocacy with what he called the Philippines’ struggle for freedom.

“Jennifer Laude’s life was cut short because of transphobia, hate, and US occupation of our country. Let us unite for justice, liberation of the LGBT community and our country,” Pareja said.

Teacher Michael Vea, co-director of the US Strategy Teach for the Philippines, was the awardee for Education, Research and Technology. He also highlighted challenges in the Philippines, this time on education. 

“Pop quiz: How many out of 100 first graders will complete elementary school? Sadly, the answer is 65. Poverty is not destiny. It is our responsibility to fight poverty,” Vea said.

Philboxing.com sports writer Ritz Maron Craves, awardee for Media and Publishing, discussed the ordeal of Filipino boxers striving to make a living.

“Sports brings a sense of accomplishment, primarily boxing. But there’s also abuse, inequity and greed. I tell stories of pain of training, the struggle to give families honor and Filipinos pride. They are like us but sometimes, all they have is a pair of fists and a fighting heart,” he said.

‘Pursue what we want to be’ 

The full list of TOFA winners is as follows:

  • Arts and Culture – Kinding Sindaw, dance theater ensemble specializing in traditional dance, music, martial arts and storytelling of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines
  • Business and Entrepreneurship – Dennis Josue of Fantasia Floral Design
  • Community Service and Advocacy – Roger Santos of the ANCOP Foundation of Couples of Christ
  • Courage of Conviction – Geena Rocero
  • Education, Research and Technology – Michael Vea
  • Entertainment – Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Jhett Tolentino
  • Fashion and Style – Elle Madrona, fashion stylist and blogger
  • Food and Restaurants – Joel Javier, Chef de Cuisine at Telepan Local in TriBeCa
  • Health Care – Nemcy Cavite Duran, nurse who runs her own health care consulting firm
  • LGBT Advocacy – Jenab-i Pareja, community outreach organizer for youth leadership and LGBT issues
  • Media and Publishing – Ritz Mazon Craves
  • Public Service and Politics – Ludi de Asis-Hughes, political organizer in New Jersey; CEO and founder at Hughes International Consulting
  • Senior Welfare and Advocacy – Juliet Palabyab
  • Youth and Sports – Team Takbo, organization that promotes healthy lifestyle through running 

Businesswoman and Fil-Am community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis paid tribute to the winners’ efforts to rise above the challenges that Filipinos and Filipino-Americans often encounter in the US.

“We have to stand and be proud. Our awardees were not disheartened by failures. They pursued and fought bigotry and discrimination. They did not give up faith and pursued what we want to be. They keep going no matter what,” she said.

Rappler’s Ressa said being a Filipino-American meant being part of both the Filipino and American cultures but also being an outsider to either one.

“We hold the values we love from both these worlds. It’s time for Filipino-Americans to create something new, to create a community that will define us. Leadership, vision, courage are what we hope our community will come together for.” The event is organized by the TOFANY Board led by Elton Lugay, Founder and Executive Producer; Cristina DC Pastor, Co-founder and Director of Nominations; Oliver Oliveros, Publicist and Director of Communications; and Sally Nunez, Board Member.  – Rappler.com 

See related stories
Darren Espanto of ‘The Voice Kids’ wows audience in 2014 TOFA awards  
• #TOFA2014: Celebrating Fil-Am hisory month in the ‘Big Apple’ 
• The outstanding Filipino Americans 2014 honorees announced 
• TOFA-NY at 4: The year’s biggest, brightest and boldest 


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