Filipino Consciousness at Work

The Stimulant: August 28, 2003 marked the first day I started working at Northside Community Center in San Jose, California, with the staff, headed by Ben Menor, President & CEO of the Filipino American Community Development Council, Inc., giving me a warm welcome during their weekly meeting that morning. My entry was perfectly timed to help manifest the next phase in the center’s development: the return to its 488 North 6th Street home before the Grand Opening festivities on November 8 & 9, 2003. This new 16,500 square foot workplace was strategically designed to be a hub for the inclusive multi-ethnic and inter-culturally grounded community it served: the seniors, youth, families, and extended families of immigrant and under-represented groups.

Ben Menor, an old friend and mentor — and now, my new boss, had chosen August 28 as a symbolic date for me to embark on my new career in non-profit work. On August 28, 2002, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) had held its 5th empowerment conference in San Jose. Ben’s group at Northside Community Center had taken on the challenge of managing the conference’s myriad details, thus expanding their learning curve in event management.

For me, that period in my life had solidified my commitment to work with the Filipino American community, a group I had consciously ignored since I was focused on being an assimilated American in the corporate workplace during the past 16 years. Ben Menor, ever the perceptive talent scout, knew what hot buttons to push when it involved my “messaging” abilities. He and I, together with three other friends, brainstormed about the development of Filipino Consciousness among Filipinos in America, a “coming of age” transformation that invited inclusiveness as one of the goals in making positive and significant contributions that benefit the communities we live and work in.

The result of these exploratory sessions was a lyrical essay, “The Flames of Consciousness,” that Ben and I co-wrote and produced for the empowerment conference’s closing ceremonies. Researching Filipino American history and composing the carefully-chosen words for the essay had been an emotionally-charged experience because, for the first time since I set foot in the United States as an immigrant in 1986, I felt that my life was about to find meaning in a much larger scope.

The Lesson: One evening in May of 2003, at a social gathering, I revealed my feelings to Nerissa Fernandez, my Women in Focus editor. I said, “I believe that these changes with my careers are bringing me to a purpose higher than myself wherein I will be using everything I have learned to benefit a lot of people.” I had never once questioned the signs that laid the course for this new phase in my life. Why I have two insurance licenses and a securities license. Why I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration. Why I became a college educator. Why I had a family-owned business. Why I worked in specialty retail. Why I handled furniture leasing for apartments, conventions, and offices. Why I have certifications in management, leadership, selling skills, and even telephone selling skills. Why I chose public relations as a worthy profession of choice. Why I capitalized on my flamboyant and fearless media personality to keep my press colleagues interested in the potential stories that our community had to offer.

Rene Santiago asked me recently how I was faring after a year’s full-time volunteer work with Filipinos. I replied, “I’m having a ball! I think I came at the right time. Everyone I talk to cooperates, regardless of the differences in our agenda.”

Today, I’m helping Ben prepare for a NaFFAA Regional Conference (Region 8, Northern California) at Northside Community Center on October 25 and October 26, 2003. The workshops that will be offered to members and non-members are focused on capacity-building for Filipino non-profit organizations. It’s Filipino Consciousness at work in true-NaFFAA tradition.

My advertising mind reflects on the right message for its theme of “Building Bridges and Dreams.”

You have the vision and the mission.
You have the organization.
You have the members.
How do you maximize everything you have?

Oh well, it looks like I’ve been training all my life for this community center.

© Lorna Dietz, September 2003. Published by the Manila Bulletin USA.

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