No Holds Barred Interview with Laura Garcia
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – OSM! brings to focus Laura Garcia, former president of the Silliman Alumni Association, NAFFAA vice chair for New York, and president of Fiesta in America Community Partnerships. The multi-awarded community leader, nurse clinician, and teacher is eyeing a position in the Board of the Philippine Independence Day Council Inc.(PIDCI), hopefully to bring about changes, a clean-up of internal systems of the largest FilAm organization in the East Coast.
In this interview, her message is clear, when we want change in our society, we begin with ourselves and right in our own backyard.
1. You aspire to join the PIDCI Board. I believe PIDCI is the largest, but perhaps not the most transparent organization of FilAms. What do you hope to do by becoming one of the PIDCI leaders?
Let me begin my answer by expressing the real reasons why I decided to join the PIDCI Board. This interview calls for truthfulness: I aim to be truthful and that is what you will get, no holds barred.
I deliberated a long time before I made my decision. I asked colleagues and friends what their thoughts might be about my potential candidacy. Frankly, a majority of confidantes straightforwardly told me to stay away from such a position, while others who were more blunt said: “Don’t even think about it.” What would one do if he or she were presented with such negative feedback? So to quell my curiosity I did my research and gathered enough information to formulate an analysis.
Clearly there is a problem, which is, to borrow from the Simon and Garfunkel song, “written on the subway walls.” A pervading lack of transparency appears to be the PIDCI’s most nettlesome problem. For an organization that is prominent in the Filipino and New York City communities, which holds one of the grandest, most well-attended and most colorful pageants and parades on Madison Avenue each first Sunday of June, PIDCI paradoxically is shrouded in mystery and controversy.
PIDCI exhibits obscurity in its financial statements; questions about its leadership structure; and a questionable legitimacy and validity as to its voter base.
I cannot observe all these with passivity. I affirm the disarray by doing nothing for our community. So what do I hope to accomplish by becoming a member of the leadership? First of all, I would say we must throw open the curtains and shed the light of day on issues cloaked in secrecy. We must tell the community what it needs to know. If there’s nothing to hide, let’s throw open the files and take a look. If everything is well documented, the uncertainty and questions will end there. This would be for the good, health and security of the organization.
I see another problem in PIDCI which lies in voter lists. It is my understanding that the membership is entitled to view the voter list and voter qualifications. Lack of transparency is a key problem of PIDCI.
2. How will you go about implementing the changes necessary to address PIDCI issues?
I would have to research just what the issues are and, assuming changes are necessary, identify those changes.
First of all, I would say to define what “PIDCI” as an organization really stands for. What comes to mind when people hear the acronym or abbreviation PIDCI? The answer should not be merely: “It is the biggest annual gathering of Filipinos outside the Philippines in June.”
I’d like to hear initiatives and projects proposed by and for PIDCI for the PhilAm community here and abroad in the Philippines. Among concrete projects that should affect the global Filipino community would be those dealing with issues and education, health and wellness.
Obviously there will be more matters to tackle—one at a time—with the priority issues handled first. In the meantime, I work on my election, so that I may perform my organizational and civic duties for all members.
3. If you win as chair of NAFFAA New York, what will be your priorities for FilAms?
My three priorities would include: youth empowerment; encourage Fil-Ams, both the young ones and the young once, to be politically involved, to run for office or as volunteers; build health and wellness initiatives.
Right now, Steven Raga remains Chair and I am the Vice Chair until the next election, which would be before the end of the year. Steve and I are a good team. Aside from supporting the goals of NaFFAA – encouraging Fil-Ams to participate in the political process (e.g., Fil-Am voting), actively participating in NaFFAA’s events, etc. – Steve and I have discussed other projects, which I would carry on when I become the new chair.
One of the projects is to foster ties with other organizations (other than Fil-Am organizations) and build a multi-ethnic programs, as there are historical ties with other groups.
4. You are also active with Fiesta in America. What role do you specifically do in this cultural exposition?
5. You are known as one of the women leaders of the Filipino community. How will you encourage women’s leadership and well-being in the community?
I have been blessed with the support of women and feminine mentorship. In my experience, there are two types of female mentors: the nurturing type who put their arms around you and pull you along, and those who give you a proverbial kick in the pants and push you out of your comfort zone, make you work harder and make you aim higher, and succeed.
When I mentor other women – colleagues or students – I try to do the same because the more women help one another, the more female leadership we will emerge. And the more Filipino women there are in leadership roles, the greater chance there will be of having an impact on change and leveling the playing field. I tend to find that Filipino men are learning to accept the evolution of Filipino women away from the Maria Clara role model to that of global citizen.
Beyond supporting and encouraging others, it is vital to help and encourage one’s self. Every so often, I give myself a pat on the back for what I have done and where I am these days, and thank the women who helped me to get there.