New York City — Juliet Payabyab goes to where the action is – whether it is a high heeled fundraiser event, an opening of a painting exhibit, or an urgent hospital visit and care. Chances are, you will see her there.
Known for her efficient organizing skills, the petite and brisk Juliet has seen the remarkable growth of Filipino-American communities despite hard times. And in her indefatigable ways, she takes credit for contributing to its vigor.
Filipinos in the East Coast are now estimated to be 263,000, spread mostly in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Philadelphia.
Having lived more than 40 years in the Big Apple, Juliet has imbibed American culture and enjoyed life here. With the embracing attitude of Filipino ‘inclusiveness’, she has added life and insight into the growing communities of Fil-Ams as a leader.
Juliet worked in a financial center on Wall Street and survived the horrific bombing of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. The tragedy which claimed 2977 lives, however, is something which she would rather not talk about because of the trauma it brings. But other than that, Juliet is frank and will say her piece to get things through in a project or an organized event.
A native of Mindoro, she has adapted the positive American ways, particularly in ‘saying what you want and listening first’. Yet she keeps the old Filipino values that have toughened her and those who have lived outside the Philippines. “I love our culture of respecting elders, taking care of parents, and giving priority to education. And being prompt. No Filipino time,” she quipped.
In 2014, Juliet was an awardee of the Ten Outstanding Filipinos in America (TOFA) at the Carnegie Hall for her senior citizens advocacy. In quiet efforts, she helped distressed families in their economic and immigration needs. At one time, she mobilized resources for a person afflicted with HIV back in the days when people like him were ostracized.
Juliet sits as an officer in more than two organizations. But she is most active with PACEC (Philippine American Communities of the East Coast) and her home province organization, the United Mindoro International.
The PACEC, where Juliet once served as chairperson, turns 51 years old this year. It started the first Philippine Independence Day Parade in 1972 on the Madison Avenue. Her Mindoro group, meanwhile, just finished a series of fundraisers to assist families affected by the typhoon Nona in Mindoro early this year.
She provides a picture of how communities in New York have evolved. Excerpts of our interview.
1. We define community life as a kind of extension from home, where there is fraternal support and friendship. How was this manifested in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s?
Pinoys back then were much closer because there were less community organizations. It was easy to invite to join groups in different events that they sponsored or organized. Costs were cheaper in terms of hiring music band, sit-down dinners, decors and many more.
It all changed in the late 1990s. Due to recession, it became harder to meet the guarantee in hotels and we’ve experienced too an increase in prices of dinners at venues. In effect, organizing community events became costly and expensive on attendees’ part.
More and more organizations were created and just too many events were happening on the same day.
2. Did you sense any difference or distinction per decade?
Not much difference in the 1980s and 1990s . Changes were seen and felt in the 2000s due to dire economic situations. Community leaders were getting older, and embracing the ideas of the new generation seemed to be a challenge and attending to some, if not all, events became difficult to manage.
3. Do you think the Filipino community in New York is politically conscious and therefore significant in the entire society?
The older generation seems to be more aware of politics here and in the Philippines while the young generation has also started to form themselves in support of some candidates. As statistics have shown, it is the young voters who go out, vote and speak their minds.
4. What do you hope to see improved in the Philippine communities here? What do you think should younger generation and older generation of Filipinos do to be more productive forces in society?
I believe that the blending of ideas of the old and the young generations will benefit the Filipino community. We hope that we learn from the second generation with them picking up some wisdom and experiences from the past as told by the older generation.