By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – Three Filipinas in the field of publishing, engineering, and news reporting are this year’s honorees for the Philippine Consulate General New York’s 2018 Distinguished Filipino Women awards, recently held at the Philippine Center on March 12, 2018, in time for the International Women’s Month celebration.
Cyber-security expert Virginia Mayo Policarpio accepted her award with a pleasant surprise, because at any given day, she said she is just a busy working mom, who prepares her children for school, and makes sure she is at her office for her 8-hour work grind, and goes back home to take care of her children and do house chores as well. “But thank you so much for this recognition,” said the IBM senior technical staff member and The Open Group Distinguished IT specialist.
Virginia holds two Bachelors degree in computer engineering and information technology and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In 2017, she was awarded the Technology Rising Star in the Women of Color STEM Conference in Detroit, Michigan. She mentors upcoming IBMers to hone their leadership.
Virginia remembered her adolescent years when she migrated to the US with her parents. “I was 12 years and we lived in a house that had no windows. I helped my mother clean houses for a living. There is nothing wrong about that. But it made me realize that education was a great socio-economic equalizer. Hardship is a stepping stone to success. And I thank my parents, who are my biggest fans. They never said no when we wanted to buy books. And we didn’t recognize any glass ceiling,” she said.
Awardee Hazel Sanchez, a general assignment reporter for CBS for 18 years, had been tearful during her speech. Raised in southern Chicago, she recalled that she already wanted to be a journalist in her elementary years. Her father, a doctor, had initially discouraged the idea of her becoming a journalist, but her mom, a nurse, had pushed her to go for her dreams. “Just go, just go my mom told me, and I did,” Hazel recalled tearfully of how she began her stint as a radio reporter for ABC studio in Milwaukee.
“In this era of fake news, I don’t take my responsibility lightly. I enjoy speaking to young women. My parents, my biggest fans, have shaped my values well. I never let go of who I am,” said Hazel who had shared intense memories of discrimination while growing up.
“I remember I would scrub my skin so hard, thinking that it could get white. At school, I was being isolated. And in church, there was this one girl who looked at me funny,” she told the audience with a breaking voice. Hazel’s mother had told her the popular Filipino myth of the perfectly brown dough in order to help her feel good.
“That may have helped a little bit. But we are known to be resilient. But my five-year-old daughter has taught me to be resilient too,” she said. Avery, according to Hazel, have been quite isolated in her ballet school but would not want to be transferred, because she get to sing and dance in that school, and that was all she wanted.
More tears for Hazel, and the audience was truly moved.
Elda Rotor’s presence at Penguin Classics as vice president and publisher is a big leap for women of color in the publishing industry in the US. She has published poems in the Literary Review, The Nuyorasian Anthology, and Flippin’: Filipinos on America. Elda edited the New York Times bestselling The Inaugural Address by Barack Obama.
She’s been in publishing for 25 years and the only one hired by Penguin without having to intern for the Paris Review. “My employer said I had the right character. I had over prepared for my interview,” she recalled.
Elda encouraged women to speak up and provide representation. In the publishing industry, women comprise 80% of the work force with very little movement in diversity. The industry remains predominantly white, with Asians comprising 2%. “The way to right the wrongs is to turn to the light of the truth,” she said.
During the highly inspiring evening, Consul General Tess Dizon de Vega was edified by program host Vice Consul Khrys Corpuz, who in her words, is an inspiring and top leader herself. (Photos by Lambert Parong and Marivir Montebon)