By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – FilAm women here are tripling efforts to rise as leaders as well as handle racism in pragmatic and courageous ways, starting with their own children. Clearly, they’re taking up space – whether at work, school or at home. It is the inevitable as sixty-percent of Filipino immigrants in the US are women since the enactment of the 1965 Hart Cellar Immigration Act.
American society is reaping the benefits of having Filipino women as professionals, public servants, teachers, nurses, and mothers, despite the realities of racism, high crimes, micro-aggression, and discrimination.
We highlight a few of these women through their profiles of inspiration in time for the 2021 International Women’s Month celebration. They have been guests of the digital talk show Issues & Inspiration and featured here in OSM! Online Magazine.
I was both happy and honored to have good friends Fleur and Teraii on the 7th episode of Issues & Inspiration on March 13, 2021.
Fleur Harris is managing editor of the Washington Lawyer magazine in Washington, DC. Originally from Cebu City, Philippines, she was previously editor of a San Francisco-based Fil-Am weekly publication and, before that, the daily Freeman newspaper in Cebu. She is a mother of two: Re’Sean, 23, and Malia, 6. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and is a proud Sillimanian. She is currently based in Northern Virginia and married 15 years and counting to Kevin Harris, who thinks she drinks too much coffee. She begs to disagree.
As a parent, Fleur said she is more on teaching her children universal values of respect and responsibility. She described herself as the “enforcer” of family rules and sometimes be the stereotyped ‘tiger mom’.
Malia has learned some Filipino tradition on ‘Mano po’ because of her grandparents who frequently visited them in Virginia. “Being African-American and Filipino adds to the layer of challenge because America is not quite there yet when it comes to racial equality. I want my child to grow up healthy and safely and have a secure future,” said Fleur during the interview.
At work, Fleur revealed that she deals more with micro-aggression which she either ignores or confronts, depending on necessity. She said that as a Filipino, she had been molded to just keep quiet and carry on with her work. In the US, however, she said it was important to speak up.
Maria Threese Serana or Teraii to family and friends said she hoped to raise her only son to become respectful and responsible. “At home, I teach my son to do his set of chores – dishwashing, cleaning. These are ways to make him responsible. I also teach him never to bully nor be bullied.”
Teraii lives in New Haven, CT with her 14-year-old son, John Carlos Leon-Thelonious, and his dad, Charles Musser, who she got married to in 2005. She recalled several times she had been mistaken as her son’s babysitter and wet nurse while traveling on the train to New York. “People look at my son who is so white and remark, it is good that the parents allow you to bring their child with you,” said Teraii.
In another instance, a group of teenagers bullied her “to go back to China” which she had retaliated. “Before one of the guys hit me, I hit him first. My son was so scared, he covered his face and cried, as I was in an altercation on the train. Later on, the boys came back and apologized to my son but not to me.”
Teraii believed that experiences like these have made John Carlos resentful of the white race, which she readily addresses. “Not all white people are bad. In the same manner, there are also brown or black people who are not good. What matters is you a respectful and never ever bully anyone nor be bullied,” she remarked.
Teraii said that parents and the society in general must learn to provide a perspective on ‘human race’ to children in order to combat racism. “It is a social construct and it divides all of us. It is better we regard ourselves as human race and engage in more conversations like these,” she said.
Teraii was born and raised in Cebu City. She’s an educator in most of her professions. She is finishing her studies for her MS in Environmental Education and certificate to teach elementary school in Connecticut. At present, she’s an elementary school teacher and a building staff in Worthington Hooker School, New Haven, CT. She’s worked as a teaching assistant in Yale University’s Summer Film Institute in the past summer sessions and in two semesters for a field study on Cebuano language in Yale’s Linguistics Department. She has completed the coursework for her MA in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, and has a BA in Political Science, also from UP in Cebu.
One of her greatest desires, aside from traveling around the world, is to be able to compile and publish her adaptation of famous Philippine dishes as well as Ina Garten or Martha Stewart recipes in a book called “Barefoot Cusinera.
Here are more profiles of inspiration:
Anne del Castillo serves as the Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). A native New Yorker, del Castillo has more than 25 years of experience in film and TV production, public media, and arts and nonprofit administration.
She is at the helm of cautiously and courageously opening up NYC towards a much better normal during the time of the pandemic. “We are getting there, but cautiously and with everyone’s cooperation.”
Commissioner del Castillo leads MOME’s efforts to bolster the city’s creative sectors of film, television, theatre, music, advertising, publishing and digital content creation, and also cultivate a sustainable nighttime economy through the City’s first-ever Office of Nightlife. She has also served as an associate producer on the Sundance Award-winning documentary Imelda about the former First Lady of the Philippines; contributed as a panelist for the National Endowment of the Arts, Center for Asian American Media, and New York State Council on the Arts; and has presented at industry events, including South by Southwest and the Sithengi Film and TV Market in South Africa.
Del Castillo is raised singlehandedly by her mother, a nurse, who came to the US in the 1960s. She said she saw and appreciate how her mom navigated New York courageously and with lots of faith. “If you have a mother like her, you cannot fail.”
Merly Barrette Barlaan believes that “real change starts from the heart.” This FilAm woman leader spent a hiatus of 12 years from the US to work in home country Philippines facilitating sustainable development and women leadership.
In February 2021, she is back in the East Coast, rolling her sleeves for her return at the United Nations NY headquarters. Merly recently assumed being deputy director for the UN office and International Vice President of the Women’s Federation for World Peace International.
“It was tough to change the mindset of rural women and mothers, but once you inspire them to realize they have the power to change themselves, development for the family and community begins,” she said when asked what was the most challenging part of her development work.
Barlaan, mother of 5, was OSM! Magazine’s debut feature in 2012. As a peace advocate with special focus on women, youth, family, and community development, Barlaan plays an active role in the United Nations NGO community for the past twenty-four years. She is a hands-on leader on entrepreneurship, community development, NGO management, and youth and family coach.
Barlaan traveled extensively between the USA and the Asia Pacific region serving as a lecturer, mentor, and coach. She promotes peace leadership education, strengthening families, empowering women, and raising the youth to become global leaders of heart and character.
Finally, one cannot get enough of Lorli Villanueva, a well-known and respected actress, director, and singer in Philippine cinema and arts from the 1960s to the 1980s. Lorli has made her mark as an actress for drama, action, and comedy. She is also the famous Maxima Labandera in the commercial Ajax during the advertising wars of detergent soaps in the Philippines.
She migrated to the US in the early 1980s and chartered a career as a teacher, starting off as a Science teacher in a Catholic High School in the Bronx. She retired in 2014 as chairperson for the Special Education Graduate School Department at Touro College. In 2017, Lorli published her books Dancing with the Dictator and Living and Experiencing the Realms of the Unknown.
Lorli said that the Filipinos in the US are still largely invisible. In fact, she has often been cast as Spanish in the films that she does in the US. As such, she said she is all out for young FilAms to engage in public life and run for public office. “There is so much to be done in this community.” (Featured photo: Fleur Harris with daughter Malia and Threese Serana with John Carlos) #