To celebrate Filipino American History Month, 34 legendary Fil-Ams from all over the U.S. got together for one epic photo.
Nicole Ponseca, Liz Casasola, and Dr. Kevin Nadal decided to gather prime examples of Filipino excellence from all over the U.S. and bring them together for a big family photo.
Nadal, an activist and professor, told BuzzFeed Philippines that the photo shoot gives more visibility to “many ways Fil-Ams have contributed to the fabric of this country, though we’ve remained unnoticed in history and other academic settings.”
He believes these Filipino-Americans are empowering their fellow Filipinos and breaking boundaries in the U.S. In an essay for BuzzFeed Philippines, Nadal describes how the a country has largely erased and overlooked their history of excellence since 1587, when the first “Luzones Indios” set foot in Morro Bay, California — more than a century before the Mayflower even crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
Casasola — an actress, singer, and producer — added that the experience of the photo shoot was “sheer joy.”
“It felt like a family reunion,” she said. “Many of us met folks for the first time that night, but it felt like we had known each other much longer.”
Salonga is most famously known as the singing voice for Jasmine in Aladdin and Mulan in Mulan and for her Tony Award–winning performance as Kim in Broadway’s Miss Saigon. She’s also an awesome feminist who has been vocal in her support for women’s rights in regard to their own bodies.
“I want every Filipino woman empowered with information regarding all options available to her regarding family planning,” she said in a statement, according to ABS-CBN. “I want every Filipino to be armed with the right education regarding their bodies in the context of sex and reproduction; to exercise their free will in ensuring the quality of life based on their own personal, religious, and moral convictions and beliefs; and to have a fighting chance at a better life.”
Rocero is a model and trans activist who co-founded Gender Proud, an organization that advocates for trans people’s legal rights worldwide and works to address the violence and discrimination that affects the trans community.
“My great hope is that globally, every country around the world recognizes a transgender person’s right to self-determine,” she told Paper magazine. “For me, transitioning was about living my truth, and it was about feeling safe in a community of people who understood me; at the time, I was surrounded by the LGBT community in the Philippines, and they taught me everything I needed to know. As long as you live your truth, you can never go wrong.”
After 14 years in soloist purgatory and two years of frustrating injuries, Abrera is now the first Filipina-American principal dancer in the history of American Ballet Theatre. “I’ve gotten so many beautiful comments on social media,” Abrera told BuzzFeed Philippines, “and shout-outs from young Filipino dancers, all saying ‘#PinoyPower.’ I’m very grateful for and humbled by the beautiful things they say to me and I hope I can continue to inspire them.”
Alvar is the New York Times best-selling author of In the Country, a collection of nine fictional short stories about the Filipino diaspora inspired by her own transnational experience. The book explores the diversity of Filipinos through characters who feel incredibly real and familiar, and yet, do not always fit the stereotype of the “hardworking” Filipino.
“I felt more of a responsibility to show a diversity of people within the nation rather than talk about these national tropes,” she told BuzzFeed.
Ponseca is a feminist restaurateur who runs the Filipino restaurants Maharlika and Jeepney in New York. (She’s also the one who spearheaded this photo shoot, according to Nadal.) Her goal is to “end the hiya over our culture and food” and to bring Filipino food to the American masses, she told Public Radio International’s The World.
Casasola is an actor, singer, and producer who helped co-found Broadway Barkada, a collective of Filipino performers who aim to share with their audiences the “unique sense of ‘family’ that comes from our culture and camaraderie with each other,” according to the group’s Facebook page. She also told BuzzFeed Philippines that part of Broadway Barkada’s proceeds are donated “to educational and feeding programs in the Philippines.”
Nadal is an award-winning professor, psychologist, performer, activist, and author. His research focuses understanding the impacts of microaggressions on the mental and physical health of people of color, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups, according to his biography for CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he teaches.
Nadal is also considered one of the leading experts on Filipino-American mental health and was awarded the Early Career Contributions to Excellence award by the Asian American Psychological Association in 2011, among other awards.
Schofield is the first Filipino-American federal judge in U.S. history. Though she said she “didn’t have much of an Asian identity” growing up because her mother saw Americans “as liberators and heroes” due to colonization, the federal judge is “now discovering, perhaps for the first time, her Filipino identity,” ABS-CBN News reported. After receiving the support of Filipino organizations in the confirmation process, she pledged to give back to the Filipino community.
Bataan is a Filipino- and African-American musician who is known for his innovations in the genre of “Latin soul,” a blend of African-American and Latin-Caribbean styles. Though Bataan, who was born in Harlem, told GMA News, “It was quite a lonely ride at first growing up in a different culture and not knowing my roots,” his “background — without knowing — influenced” him and helped him “isolate [his] sound and style from other artists.”
Mendoza is a human rights and social justice activist currently working as a field director for Amnesty International. As a queer Fil-Am, Mendoza has helped organize and mobilize movements and protests calling for queer rights, Tibetan independence, and the end of institutional racism.
Letada is CEO and chief builder NextDayBetter, which is a creative media company that tells “empowering stories inspired by multicultural diaspora communities,” according to its website. As a seasoned social entrepreneur, Letada “believes in leveraging the intersection of culture, technology, and innovation to solve the greatest challenges facing diaspora migrant communities and beyond.”
Bulacao is a principal for the Filipino American Museum, which is a startup that neither has a permanent collection nor location, but rather, “roving programs” that “serve as a fluid, user-generated, inquiry-based space,” according to its website. The museum is the first of its kind to examine “the connection between contemporary Filipino American arts and the roots and traditions of the Philippine diaspora.”
Macapugay is an actress and singer, best known for her role as Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love. She is set to make her Broadway debut this November in School of Rock — the Musical, according to AsAm News. Whenever possible, Macapugay loves to combine performance with community engagement, AsAm News reported. She has performed for the troops, former President George Bush Sr., former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and live on national TV for New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly.
Vera-Yu is CEO and co-founder of Advancement for Rural Kids (ARK), which is a grassroots, community-led project “focused on improving education and health of school age children living in impoverished rural communities in developing countries,” according to its website. Prior to ARK, Vera-Yu was a banker by day and self-taught farmer by night.
Llana is an actor and singer who is part of the estimated 3% of Asian-American actors given a lead role in a theater performance in New York City. He most recently played the king in Lincoln Center Theater’s Tony-winning Broadway revival of The King and I and Ferdinand Marcos in Here Lies Love. Llana credits his success in part to his parents, who raised him with advice such as “They’re going to treat you differently, so you need to be better than everybody,” he told Time Out New York.
Armstrong is an internationally acclaimed DJ and turntablist who has toured and performed with high-profile artists including Jay Z, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Wyclef Jean. According to his website, his career highlight by far was performing for President Obama’s inauguration. It was the first time in history turntables and scratching were present during a presidential inauguration.
Tengco is currently the deputy director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI). As deputy director, Tengco managed the first-ever White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Capitol Hill changemaker told D.C.-based paper The Filam that he was once “embarrassed to be called Filipino,” but but had a change of heart in college. He now wants to empower more Pinoys to get involved in U.S. politics.
Bustos is a hairstylist based in New York City who has been spending every Sunday giving haircuts to homeless people and those who can’t afford them. Bustos began cutting hair for improverished people on a family visit to the Philippines in May 2012. “The feeling was so rewarding” that Bustos “decided to bring the positive energy back to New York City,” he told the Huffington Post.
Demillo is a three-tie Emmy-nominated journalist and television news reporter. She is currently a host and reporter for CUNY-TV’s Asian American Life, a monthly magazine-style program focusing on social, economic, political, and cultural issues in the Asian-American community. Demillo is a professor at the journalism department of St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Valdes-Aran is an award-winning acress and director. She won an Obie Award for her performance in the MA-YI production of Flipzoids, “Ralph B. Peña’s empathetic dissection of the Filipino immigrant experience,” according to the New York Times. Valdes-Aran has also appeared in numerous other theater productions, TV shows, and movies, including, Sex and the City, Across the Universe, and Smash.
Mendoza-Nadal is an LGBTQ community organizer and hate-violence specialist. Currently, Mendoza-Nadal works as a LGBTQ community liaison for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
Samon is a digital strategist and editor who is currently directing content strategy for Hearst Digital Media’s Men’s Group, working on brands including Esquire, Popular Mechanics and Car and Driver. The stylish director has a killer Instagram with over 74,900 followers.
Totengco is an award-winning fashion designer and the owner of his namesake handbag collection, Rafé New York. He is also the creative director for handbags with the Nine West Group Inc., where he creates products for Nine West’s retail, wholesale, and international divisions. Totengo’s bags have charmed Hollywood stars including Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Jennifer Aniston, who have all been sighted carrying Rafé bags in New York City, Entrepreneur Philippines reported.
Mendoza is the owner and head barber at Filthy Rich Barber Shop in Queens, New York. Mendoza’s star-studded clientele list includes Flo Rida, Big Sea,n and Travie McCoy. This barber was born in Honolulu and credits his talent to his long family line of barber and hairstylists back in his native country in Batac City, Philippines, according to his biography on the shop’s website.
Javier is a colorist at Sally Hershberger Downtown, a famous hair salon in New York City. If you’re looking to get awesome rainbow-colored hair, she’s your go-to gal. She, along with her boyfriend Mark Bustos, began giving free haircuts to homeless and impoverished people during a family trip to the Philippines back in 2012. Check out their free haircuts on Instagram by searching the hashtag #BeAwesomeToSomebody.
Roxas-Dobrish is a former principal ballerina for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and is currently a faculty member there now. Roxas-Dobrish was the first Filipina to ever dance with Alvin Ailey and was also the youngest member of the Ballet Philippines. Before dancing with Alvin Ailey, Roxas-Dobrish danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Ohad Naharin, and Joyce Trisler Dance Company. She has worked with prominent choreographers including Alvin Ailey himself.
Pagkalinawan is the CEO and founder of AppLoud, an an “app that monetizes fan-generated live performance videos on behalf of artists,” according to CrunchBase. Before founding AppLoud, Pagkalinawan worked as an executive for various digital multinational Fortune 1000 companies as well as startups.
Francia is a poet, an author, and a professor at New York University’s Asian Pacific American Studies program. Francia has an “ongoing fascination and interest in historical processes and their continuing relevance to our lives,” according to his biography on NYU’s website. His semi-autobiographical account of growing up in the Philippines, Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago, won both the 2002 PEN Open Book and the 2002 Asian American Writers literary awards.
Comerford is the first woman and Asian-American to serve as executive chef for the White House, a position she’s held for over a decade since 2005. Thanks to Comerford, the White House gets to enjoy the occasional lumpia and adobo, Obama said during a state dinner in Malacañang, Philstar reported.
Marissa Aroy is a film producer and director, best known for her Emmy Award–winning documentary Sikhs in America, which was shown on PBS. She also produced and directed Little Manila: Filipinos in California’s Heartland and Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers about the Filipinos who started the grape strikes in California and formed the United Farm Workers with Mexicans in the late ’60s to early ’70s to protest poor pay and working conditions. Aroy told Hyphen magazine that she feels a responsibility to tell Filipino stories and get more Filipino representation in film and media.
DeGuzman is a national community organizer who currently works for the Diverse Elders Coalition, Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), and the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE). As the national coordinator for the NAFVE, he ran the successful legislative campaign in 2009 to achieve payments for and recognize the military service of Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II. DeGuzman has more than a dozen of years of experiencing tackling “racism, homophobia, and xenophobia,” on both local and national levels, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Rivera is a producer, host, and news correspondent for ABS-CBN. As a one-woman band, Rivera writes, hosts and produces the ABS-CBN’s first New York magazine-style lifestyle segment, NYC Chika in the City on The Filipino Channel (TFC). Rivera has also covered political, business, and social news events and features for various ABS-CBN broadcast news programs and its other global platforms.
Ken Natori is a fashion executive and the vice president of e-commerce, finance, licensing, and PR/marketing for Natori, a women’s fashion brand founded by his mother, Josie Natori. Prior to Natori, Ken served as a radio and TV reporter for Bloomberg, attended the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and worked in the International Equities group at Lehman Brothers from 2005–2007, according to his LinkedIn profile.
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