History is a living and lively account of what we were and are; it could and should be as real to each of us as stories about family or about recent and past events. If all of that makes us understand humanity better, so does history make us understand ourselves, and our country infinitely better, in the context of our culture and our society.
Doreen Fernandez’ foreword to Ambeth R. Ocampo’s Rizal Without the Overcoat
I spent the last weekend in October in Sacramento for a couple of events related to the novel. My cousin, Leila Eleccion Pereira, who has been such a champion for my book, invited me to the Philippine National Day Association’s Annual Gala (PNDA), which was celebrating its 25th anniversary this year in nearly Elk Grove on Thursday, October 29th. Leila is on the board of directors of the nonprofit PNDA, which was established in 1994 to promote three main projects: its Outstanding Filipino Youth Awards (OFYA), a recognition and scholarship program (OFYA has dispersed $100,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors since 2000); Filipino American Youth Leadership Conference (FAYLC), which empowers FilAm youths to gain skills and education needed for leadership positions; and LahiARTS, an arts empowerment program.
Leila coordinated a group of us to secure a table on behalf of the San Esteban Schools Alumni Association, Inc. (SESAA) at the gala event. Over Labor Day Weekend in Terra Bella, at the Sunday evening event sponsored by SESAA, which is the spin-off organization of the original San Esteban Circle, Leila had done a phenomenal job of promoting my book. One of the perks of sponsoring a table was getting a business-sized advertisement in the gala event’s program. And once again, Leila promoted my book by including it in the SESAA advertisement. Thank you, Leila! She’s incredibly involved in the Filipino-American community in the Sacramento area, and she’s been so helpful in getting the word out about my book. At Leila’s suggestion for one of the gala event’s silent auction items, I donated a copy of my novel, which was paired up with an “Honor Our Story” Philip Vera Cruz t-shirt and advertised as a “Delano Grape Strike” package.
I dragged my sister Joyce, who lives in nearby Folsom, to the event, and we were pleasantly surprised to have one of our cousins, Jane, at our table. Another cousin, Douglas, whom I haven’t seen in years, was also at our table. Remember that in our community, everyone is related somehow – one of Douglas’s parents is an Enrado – and all the kids in our generation are called “cousins” and their parents are our “aunts” and “uncles.” So it was nice to catch up on the last 30 years with Douglas.
One of the highlights of the evening was hearing the keynote address given by Mona Pasquil, who serves as Appointments Secretary for Governor Brown and is responsible for helping him build his administration by recruiting top candidates to serve the state. She is the first Filipino-American in California history to serve as the Appointments Secretary.
More on Mona: Prior to her appointment, she served as Chief of Staff to California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi and as Acting Lieutenant Governor, after Garamendi was elected to Congress. As such, she holds the distinction of being the first woman and Asian Pacific Islander or Filipino-American to serve as Lieutenant Governor of California. As a veteran political advisor and strategist, she directed presidential, gubernatorial, and local campaigns across the country. She served as political director for twice-elected California Governor Gray Davis, Deputy CEO for the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California political director for the Gore/Lieberman campaign, western political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs under President Bill Clinton, and member of the Democratic National Committee from 2003 to 2009. In addition to working with California and Washington DC’s heaviest political hitters, Mona also worked as a strategic consultant for IBM’s national, state and local government sales team.
Mona is most proud of her work mentoring California’s youth to become more active in their communities. This work includes founding the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project of California, an organization dedicated to boosting Asian and Pacific Islander youth involvement in California policy.
An aside: I confess that I didn’t know much about Mona going into this dinner. I later realized – with the help of Leila – that her parents are Connie and the late Cornelio Pasquil, who had engineered a fundraiser dinner back in 2004, which David and I, as a member of the Stockton chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), attended. The Daguhoy Lodge in Stockton, which was founded in 1926 and in the process of being restored at the time, was the beneficiary. Through the Pasquils, Hollywood celebrities Lou Diamond Philips, Tia Carrera, Dean Devlin (producer), Fritz Freedman (senior vice president of Sony Pictures), and no-show Rob Schneider were flown in for the event to receive community awards. I was in the midst of finishing a version of my novel, and was telling the Pasquils about my novel at the event. Before dinner was served, in a generous act of kindness, they moved David and me from our table to the celebrity table. During dinner, I brought up my novel, and Lou Diamond Philips, whose grandmother is Filipino, told us a story about how she didn’t want him to march with Cesar Chavez because she was of the common Filipino mindset that you “don’t rock the boat,” which was my parents’ philosophy. We talked about that polar opposite Filipino mentality of either remaining silent or being militant (per the labor leaders such as Larry Itliong and the Filipino American farm workers who struck often in the fields). They all congratulated me on soon finishing the book. Little did I know that it would be another 10 years before I would truly finish it!
Back to the gala event, Mona gave an inspirational speech about public service and our duty to our FilAm community and larger community. She spoke of growing up and living among the manongs, who came in the 1920s and worked the crops up and down the state. They took care of her and her family, and she noted that it’s our responsibility to take care of them and continue the tradition of taking care of one another. She also honored their sacrifices and contributions to our community, and again, told us that we need to take up the mantle. Mona is incredibly down to earth and humble amidst all of her achievements. Sprinkled throughout the evening were dances, songs, and other speeches by local legislators, including Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), the first Filipino-American legislator in California. The manongs and their contributions to the farm labor movement was a key theme in the songs and dances, so I felt at home at this event, even though I didn’t know most of the Filipino Americans in attendance.
After the event, I gave Cynthia Bonta, mother of Rob Bonta, a copy of my novel, as she had mentioned at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center event the previous week that she was hoping to win the book at the PNDA event. Leila introduced me to one of the evening’s emcees, a local attorney, who then introduced me to Assemblyman Bonta. My cousin Jane later introduced me to Mona Pasquil. I told Mona about the 2004 dinner and the kindness of her parents, and also mentioned my book (of course!). When she got excited and expressed interest, I told her I’d give her a copy, knowing that she was going to be the opening keynote at the Filipino American Educators Association of California (FAEAC) Conference the following evening in Sacramento.
I didn’t know what to expect from the PNDA gala event. I came away with happy, pleasant surprises – seeing more cousins and being introduced to Assemblyman Bonta and Mona. I was also impressed with PNDA, which is an entirely volunteer organization of professionals giving to the FilAm community. I embrace the focus of their programs on growing the FilAm youth to become leaders in the FilAm and larger communities and to pursue higher education and their dreams. Can I squeeze one more volunteer opportunity? Not at the present, but it’s something to aspire to in the near future.