By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – Call them out. That’s what successful Filipinas said when asked what to do when facing prejudice in their everyday lives.
City commissioner for human rights Carmelyn Malalis said it is important to point out to people when being prejudiced against someone. So that they will realize what they are doing and perhaps think to be more sensitive the next time.
“Please call out on those who are prejudiced against you. I call them out and tell them not to do it again,” the city’s human rights commissioner said.
Malalis spoke in a public forum at the Philippine Consulate in a recognition event for women leaders in time for International Women’s Day. Aside from Malalis, a lawyer by profession, international ballerina Stella Abrera and entrepreneur Sheila Lirio-Marcelo were given due recognition for their exemplary achievements in Distinguished Filipino Women 2016. The Philippine Consulate General New York and the Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN created the event which is now on its second year.
Malalis was born to Filipino parents, an engineer and a doctor, who came to the US in the 1960s. She and her sister were raised in Carteret, a small town in New Jersey.
Malalis recalled how she had always been mistaken as a Puerto Rican as a child and bullied to ‘go home to Puerto Rico’ in the hood. “But my parents brought me up in a privileged way. So I felt good about myself. I knew I was brown and different. But I also had some special things growing up, like being loved and raised with strong faith by my parents. That helped a lot.”
Before Malalis was appointed human rights commissioner in November 2014 by Mayor de Blasio, she worked as a partner at Outten and Golden LLP. She’s had a record of litigating for human rights cases on labor, abuse and discrimination. She also has consistently been promoting diversity and inclusion in her social engagements. Among many other things, Malalis serves in the board of Queers for Economic Justice and chairs the City Bar’s Committee on LGBT Rights.
Malalis finished law at the Northeastern University School of Law and received. B.A. in women’s studies from Yale University.
Entrepreneur Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder of the Care.com, shared her own experiences at being prejudiced.
“I went inside a board room for a meeting and someone thought and asked if I was the assistant to a bank executive. And I said no, I am the CEO of the company to which the person had been profusely apologetic,” Lirio-Marcelo said.
Care.com was established in 2006 and is currently the largest marketplace worldwide for finding and managing family care.
In her opening speech, Lirio-Marcelo said, “If you want something done, don’t just ask for a woman. Ask for a Filipino woman.”
Being a mother of two growing children and daughter to aging parents, founding Care.com seemed a natural path. Her caring business grew to serve clients in 16 countries and in 2009, Lirio-Marcelo was named one of the top 10 women entrepreneurs at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit.
She lives in Boston and holds a teaching fellow at the Harvard Business School.
Ballerina Stella Abrera, for her part, said she embraced her “highs and lows as a professional ballet dancer and got lucky to have supportive parents.”
Abrera, a gold medal awardee of the Royal Academy of Dancing in London in 1995, lives in South Pasadena in California. The moment she stepped into her dancing shoes at the age of four, there was no stopping her.
Her early dance studies were at Le Studio in Pasadena and at the West Coast Ballet Theater in San Diego. She also went to the Halliday Dance Centre in Sydney, Australia. In 2001, Abrera became a Soloist of the American Ballet Theater, five years after she joined as member of its corps de ballet in 1996.
Abrera said that they had constantly moved from one country to another because of her father’s work as a civil engineer. Having chosen the path of the art was quite different from her three sisters and brother. “But I am lucky to have very supportive parents.”
And so it seems that having parents with a strong sense of rootedness and high regard of their children make for successful children in their adult life. This was the common thread of the women achievers.
Consul General Mario de Leon, who introduced the women to the audience, said he truly wanted to push for the recognition of Filipino achievers in the US as a way to inspire exemplary leadership.
You may also check on Don Tagala’s story on Balitang America ABS-CBN