Inspiring FilAms of 2018

Diversity advocates Jevh Maravilla and Christian Toledo
Progressive new Oakland City Council Member Nikki Bas
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
Ex-ABS-CBN chief operations officer Raffy Lopez
Auteur H.P. Mendoza
Global women’s organizer Marily Mondejar
Visionary entrepreneur Dado Banatao
Parents Virginia and Cesar Nagales
Rev. Leonard Oakes
Spiritual Chita Lopez Taylor
Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas
Rapper Ruby Ibarra

Being the largest Asian population in the nation, Filipino Americans inhabit myriad stories that may prompt the reader or viewer to drop a jaw in disbelief, roll an eyeball in skepticism or curse in disapproval. And then there are the FilAms – Filipinos by heritage and Americans by birth, citizenship or at heart – who thrill with a deed that inspires.

An idea that defies conventional wisdom, an act so astounding that it demolishes common construct or so simple like a random act of kindness in a climate of hatred, they excite and incite, rouse the beholder to reflect, consider their own capacity to bolt their comfort zones to chase their dreams.

Like Houston, Texas, students Jevh Maravilla and Christian Toledo, who grabbed an opportunity to give representation to Asian Americans with a prank. They invested $100 to produce a poster of themselves and hung it surreptitiously on a bare wall of a MacDonald’s in Pearland where several posters displayed happy diners, none of whom were Asian. No one noticed the unauthorized visual until Maravilla and Toledo documented their derring-do on social media. What they had done was innocuous but obviously not legal. And yet Ellen Degeneres invited the guys to her show and displayed a doctored photo of them with her on her building billboard before announcing that the burger chain was gifting the FilAms $25,000 each for their creativity. Proving activism can be creative and rewarding.


Like Colma, California, resident Aurea Cruz.  In June she completed 12 years as a member of the San Mateo County Commission on Aging but at 87 she’s on her toes as president of Our Lady of Angels Legion of Mary in Daly City and her part-time work at an elementary school.  Retirement is not in her vocabulary.

Or like the intrepid New York lawyer George T. Conway III whose wife Kellyanne Conway is a senior adviser to Pres. Donald Trump. Conway confronts the most powerful man in the free world via their favorite platform. He formed Checks and Balances, an organization to encourage conservative peers to stand up to the president.

“We believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the independence of the criminal justice system, the imperative of individual rights and the necessity of civil discourse,” the group said in a mission statement. “We believe these principles apply regardless of the party or persons in power.”  Some say Conway is a better advocate for free speech than a husband because his actions are jeopardizing her position at the “office.” In a report on capitol news site The Hill, however, Kellyanne Conway said her work and her marriage are entirely separate.  They agree to disagree.

Every year PNews looks back at newsmakers who made us proud because they were fearless or forthright, ingenious or tenacious. This year we invited 10 community leaders, themselves known to energize others, to name the Filipino American who most inspired them in 2018 and beyond, undoubtedly. In their own words:

1.  Lillian Galedo, community organizer, former executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice:

“Nikki Bas, a progressive, pulled together an amazingly effective
grassroots campaign to unseat an incumbent on her very first attempt at an
elected office, becoming the first Pinay on Oakland¹s City Council.”

  1. Ray Buenaventura, San Mateo County private defender, Mayor of Daly City;

    “California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye . She’s proven to be an excellent justice and community member. I was particularly moved when she made a court order that immigration officials will not be allowed in the courthouses. I also admired her for moving away from the Republican Party because of her beliefs. She is a principled judge and is independent. I’ve asked her to help speak on diversity issues in San Mateo County and she did not hesitate to help. She provided a truly inspirational talk and motivated many others to be sensitive to diversity issues.”

  2. Juslyn Manalo, housing advocate, City Council Member, Daly City:

“Ruby Ibarra, a young emerging artist, is definitely inspirational to see breaking barriers. She’s a rapper, music producer, and spoken/word artist from San Lorenzo, California. She raps in Tagalog and English. Her raps concern her cultural heritage and her experiences as an immigrant to the United States from the Philippines.”

  1. Rev. Mark Reburiano, Pastor, St. Isabella Catholic Church, San Rafael:

“Raffy Lopez of Abs-Cbn The Filipino Channel. He retired last year as the company’s top honcho but would still show up in his office and remains active and supportive in the company’s operation by sharing his strategic ideas and expertise, inspiring employees. One employee told me that Raffy as a retired person has even more energy than some current employees in the company.”

  1. Gio Espiritu, actor, acting teacher, activist, star of “Dyke Central” on Amazon Prime:

“HP Mendoza. He did a little film called, ‘Colma,’ that he started in and wrote the music for. It got picked up by Roadside Pictures and he went on to do several more films like ‘Fruit Fly’ and ‘I Am A Ghost’ that really put Filipinos front and center. Now he just completed ‘Bitter Melon’ that got a theatrical release. I was on the Cinemaphotografo Awards Jury when I read the script… and we all knew it was brilliant. To see it produced and starring multiple Filipinos gives me so much hope in the industry that our stories matter.”

  1. Nerissa Fernandez, global head of corporate and PR, ABS-CBN Global:

    “Filipina Women’s Network Founder and CEO Marily Mondejar and Silicon Valley visionary Dado Banatao. For their massive impact in Filipina empowerment and tech and social philanthropy, respectively.  They are engaging present leaders and developing new ones, all towards achieving uplift of the Filipino and Filipina in the global landscape while revolutionizing the way we live.  They’re both talk (inspiration and direction) and action (execution).  Their records of achievement speak for themselves.”

  2. Mark Nagales, nonprofit outreach coordinator city council member, South San Francisco:

“My parents Virginia and Cesar Nagales taught me to always work hard. If you do that, then anything is possible. It was that work ethic that helped me win my election. They worked two jobs so that my sister and I can have what we needed. They sacrificed a lot so that our family can achieve the American dream.”

8.  Flor Nicolas, biochemical executive, City Council Member, South San Francisco:

“REV. Leonard Oakes, for his 10-year ministry as Pastor of Holy Child & St. Martin Episcopal Church and community service.”

9  Nellie Hizon, paralegal, recipient of the Benemerenti, highest papal award to lay persons:

”Her demeanor radiates spirituality, in silence and in actions;  kind, compassionate, respectful to everyone and anyone.  Though born of privilege, she lives simply, prudently.  A voracious reader, she intelligently imparts knowledge of issues and situations.  I have known her for nearly 35 years and have thus been influenced by her.  I have looked up to her and perhaps been imbued by her:  Chita Lopez Taylor.”

10.  Lloyd LaCuesta, SF Bay Area journalism profession and retired TV news reporter:

Jose Antonio Vargas
”For the courage to be a true American.”  (Vargas is a journalist, author, filmmaker and the most visible representative of DREAMers, undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children by an adult relative).