Words and photos by Dionesio C. Grava
First posted in: www.pinoywatchdog.com
A celebration and conversations with friendly FilAms
To the uninitiated who thinks that Los Angeles is a vast concrete jungle, a jaunt to some forested areas nearby or through the wide expanse and lush vegetation in some of the city parks and school campuses such as Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine U, Calstate and UCLA, among many, would perhaps set them aright. UCLA particularly, said to be the largest university around in terms of enrolment and has a campus nestled within the embrace of 419 acres that include both the green and buildings — more than 170 of them.
Its a perfect excuse to leave the car in the street and sweat the distance for this assignment. And if you’re a first timer destined for a venue called Coven Commons embedded in one of yon hills, it’s also a fine way to get lost.
The guy in the guardhouse must have run out of the handy maps and what directions he could muster was, for me at least, good only up to where the massive statue of the bear mascot stands. From there another security officer in white uniform also could not make out the place even after minutes peering into his pocket map. Noticeably exasperated by his inability to pinpoint the place, he managed a nod towards the left path saying, “go straight all the way.”
At some distance away, still confused and a few more inquiring around I fortunately found myself walking in the same direction as a couple of young students, Ysabel Jurado and Trung Nguyen. She’s into political science while Trung, history. Her parents are from Iligan and she had been to the Philippines six times. Trung is obviously a non-Filipino name although he has many Filipino friends, he said. Both amiable and helpful but no photo, please.
The April 21 event was the 2012 PAA Scholarship Fundraising Benefit and a Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of UCLA Samahang Pilipino. PAA stands for Pilipino Alumni Association. The theme: “One Family. Isang Pamilya.”
Casimiro and wife Jennifer Masculino Tolentino are two of the founders of Samahang Pilipino (SP), the others being Florante Ybanez and Sheila Napala. Jennifer had been with UCLA from 1970 and graduated with a Bachelor in Sociology in 1975. She was the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2008. About SP, she said that “it is not only active as an organization but have molded many members into leadership roles, honing their skills so that they can be assets in the community. What we learned here as students, our education, was meant not to just provide us the skills for a meaningful future but to enable us to give back to the community.”
Casimiro also graduated from UCLA. In fact twice, he said, first in Zoology in 1972 and law in 1975. He was recipient of the Roy Morales Community Achievement Award in 2001. Members of SP have kept in touch all these years. He’s currently a commissioner in the L.A. Fire Department.
We tried to keep pace with the excitement and at the same time had a chat with FilAms willing to share a minute or two with PinoyWatchdog. Mary Onglatzo was born in the Philippines of parents who are from Manila and Quezon City. They came here when she was seven. A pre-med student, she considered her membership with SP, the umbrella organization of many Filipino groups in UCLA, beneficial because it affords her a link to her culture and roots, she said.
Denise Guerra, a communications graduate, Class 2009, is marketing and membership director of PAA. It was from her that we got permission to cover the event. She is U.S. born but was in the Philippines until three years old. About her role in the event, she said she helped bring everything together. Together with John M. Lopez, she was to present the scholarship awards during the program. “It’s a big reunion,” she said, “and we’re having people from the 70′s, 80′s, 90′s and all the way to the graduates of last year.”
People like Joel Jacinto, executive director of the Search to Involve Pilipino
Americans (SIPA) and whose superb Kayamanan ng Lahi performance at Getty Center was a feature story in PinoyWatchdog’s Entertainment & Arts page recently. To him, it’s certainly a big deal being an alumnus of UCLA. He’s also a product of SP and a member of the board of advisers of PAA.
“I’m here to support my fellow Bruins,” Jacinto said. He has much to thank for in UCLA, “Everything that I’ve been doing in my life, working at SIPA, having a dance company Kayamanan ng Lahi and having the love of my life, my wife, who I met when we were students.”
Jacinto came from San Francisco and enrolled at UCLA as a freshman in 1981. He met Ave, the love of his life, that same year. He then joined SP which he credited with having set him on the path to student activism, in the search for his roots and in being a part of the Filipino community in Los Angeles. He graduated in 1986 and has continued to be active as an alumnus. He was the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year 2001 and his Kayamanan ng Lahi bagged the Royal Morales Community Achievement Award in 2010. He was with son Kai who he wanted to be exposed to the same UCLA environment. Ave and another son, Kaineu, were not around. Mr. Jacinto said that they came as guests of Meg Malpaya Thornton, this year’s recipient of the Royal Morales Community Achievement Award.
Ms. Thornton is also Jacinto’s predecessor in SIPA and a former president of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FAHNS). She has a BS degree in Biology and Minor in Urban Studies and Planning from UC San Diego. She has been the coordinator of Student and Community projects at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center since 1991. She graciously responded to a request for a few words about Filipinos in UCLA.
PAA, SP and Filipino graduate students, she said, are a strong, vibrant, power thinking and hard working group intent on their studies. They want to contribute something to the community. Ms. Thornton was born stateside to parents Roberta and Freddie from Pangasinan and Laguna, respectively.
The Distinguished Alumnus of the Year 2012 is Tania Gunter, said to be the first Tagalog teacher at UCLA (1992-93). A Special Recognition was also handed to SP as they celebrate the milestone of 40 years of existence and activism at UCLA. Founded and established in 1972, SP is a multi-faceted student organization committed to addressing five key aspects of Filipino life: cultural, social, political, academic and community.
PAA of UCLA was conceived in 1991 and officially launched in 1993 as a formal network of the school’s Filipino graduates. The group has raised funds for scholarships to outstanding UCLA undergraduate and graduate students. PAA also seeks to provide career resources to students and valuable networks with other alumni professionals.
The program consisted of a few numbers starting with the singing of the Philippine and U.S. national anthems. Bobby Rimas and Steffi Yutan, PAA chair and vice chair, respectively, had the task of introducing the group’s directors. Janina Montero, UCLA vice chancellor of student affairs, made inspiring remarks to the celebrants. Soon dinner was announced and so it was time for this reporter to exit.
Then it struck me. The route coming in being circuitous as I recalled it, there was no way I would be able to get back to the car and on to another appointment on time. I approached a group of young gals and guys having a fun time in a nook of the building and inquired about a simpler way out of the area.
There is another route, some said, and three of them volunteered to guide me all the way to where I felt I was already familiar with. My thanks to the following young FilAms: Cristina Prodigalidad, a student of Applied Linguistics; Michael Dimaya, Chemical Engineering major; and Teejay Javier, enrolled in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology.