Assemblyman Barnwell’s awards program was a trailblazer for immigrants, being the first in the empire state to acknowledge Filipinos for their professional and community achievements. The Fil-Am Press Club of New York was the first organization to receive such award.
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – It was a night of firsts. The state of New York, for the first time, honored six Filipinos for their exemplary work through Assemblyman Brian Barnwell of the New York State Assembly District 30, in time for the celebration of the Fil-Am History Month which was enacted into law in 2009.
The honorees were novelist and feminist leader Ninotchka Rosca, former Consul-General of New York Amb. Mario Lopez de Leon Jr., entrepreneur Richard Mendoza, art patroness and organizer Aida Bartolome, prima ballerina Stella Abrera, and the Fil-Am Press Club of New York.
Barnwell’s celebration and awards program was a trailblazer for immigrants, being the first in the empire state to acknowledge Filipinos for their professional and community achievements. Hosted by Rachelle Ocampo and Luis Pedron, it was also the first event which was put up by non-Filipino staff at the Topaz Arts Gallery in Queens on October 27, 2017.
Thirty-one-year old Barnwell, a lawyer who finished his degree from the Albany Law School, said it was high time to acknowledge the great contributions of Filipinos in Queens and the US in general.
Aries dela Cruz, president of the Filipino American Democrats, edified Barnwell as “among the first candidates and then elected officials to stand with the Filipino American community when we were fighting to preserve the integrity, context, and character of our Little Manila neighborhood. We will always be grateful for his opposition to developers that want to play by a different set of rules than other groups.”
Steven Raga, former chair for the National Federation of Fil-Am Associations New York and Queens County Democratic Committee member, said that Assemblyman Barnwell plans to make the recognition program every year in order to institutionalize it as part of the Fil-Am History Month.
The Barnwell awards is a major leap in the recognition of Filipinos in the US, now approximately 4 million and the second largest Asian immigrant community, following the Chinese.
In a nutshell, Dela Cruz described the first set of honorees as outstanding citizens. “Our awardees today have opened a small business that brings our community together and teaches young people new skills, broken ground in the arts, ensured there are powerful Filipino perspectives and voices that chronicle our community’s achievements, served the Republic of the Philippines as her representative for Filipinos here in New York, organized their communities to vote, and fought for the liberation of women all over the world. They are indeed outstanding citizens,” he said.
During the honoring ceremony, honoree Ninotchka Rosca, an award-winning novelist and feminist leader, told the audience that about 20 years ago, Filipino nurses in the US had to go back to the Philippines after five years, wait it out for a year before being eligible to apply again.
“We fought for the right of nurses to change status to permanent resident after five years (this is one sure path to citizenship), so they didn’t lose their seniority, skills, social security, etc, and could establish families,” she recalled, as part of her thank you speech.
Rosca had a rousing applause from the audience, having shared in public for the first time what the Filipino nurses struggled for immigration and employment security. Majority in the audience lived in the US with much lesser years than Rosca as a Filipina in diaspora and who did not know the particular struggle the nurses had to go through. On Facebook, Rosca gave a shout-out to Lea Liwanag, a nurse, who was involved in the advocacy and organizing work for Filipino nurses to get their rightful steady spot in the immigration system in the US.
Aside from Rosca, the first set of awardees included barber-entrepreneur Richard Mendoza, art and and culture prime-mover Aida Bartolome, award-winning ballerina Stella Abrera, and Amb. Mario de Leon Jr., who served as Consul General of New York from 2011-2017. The Fil-Am Press Club of New York was the Fil-Am first organization to receive the Barnwell award.
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Receiving the proclamation award on behalf of the FAPCNY was its secretary (this writer), Marivir Montebon, who honored her colleagues at the club, working as teammates more than competitors and driven by excellence and ethics all the time.
In the advent of digital technology and fake news, Montebon encouraged the Filipino community to “continue to inspire us writers with substantial events so we report what is true and constructive for our community and society. You see, writers are only as good as their news sources are.”
Amb. de Leon, for his part, reiterated his encouragement to Fil-Americans to continue to be engaged in their professions, education, and community work in order to contribute well to the US and the Philippines.
The community partners that helped put together assemblyman Barnwell’s celebration and awards program were Kinding Sindaw, Filipino American National Historical Society – Metro NY, Filipino American Democratic Club, JCI, Filam Tri, Columbia Liga, Stony Brook Puso, Baruch Fusion, NAFFAA, NextDayBetter, UNIPRO, FIND, and the Filipino School of NY and NJ. Kirby Asunto and Samantha de Gracia sang the Philippine and American anthems, respectively during the event. (Featured photo is FAPCNY secretary Marivir Montebon receiving the NY State proclamation. Photos by Leani Auxilio and Juliet Payabyab)