New York – In celebration of National Women’s Month, the Philippine Consulate General in New York honored and featured five remarkable and accomplished Filipino-American women – an entrepreneur, a software engineer, a White House media specialist, an award-winning director/producer, and an Emmy-nominated news anchor – at a virtual event dubbed as “An Evening with Distinguished Filipino Women” on Thursday, 18 March 2021.
The women powerhouse, comprised of Juliette’s CEO, Founder Rechelle Balanzat, Tumblr software engineer Diana Kris Navarro, White House Press Assistant Angela Perez, “Yellow Rose” film director/producer Diane Paragas, and NBC10 Boston and NECN anchor/reporter Joy Lim Nakrin, shared their inspiration in choosing their respective careers. They also related the challenges and opportunities they faced personally and professionally as Filipino-American women in breaking glass ceilings, making their voices heard, and achieving success in their chosen fields.
News anchor Ms. Nakrin, who moderated the panel discussion, acknowledged that holding the Distinguish Filipino Women Forum during this time when Asian-American communities are under attack is an important way to honor Philippine heritage, history and culture, embrace Filipino-American identity, as well as strengthen and empower Filipino women.
Expressing their views on the recent string of anti-Asian attacks happening nationwide, the panelists expressed fear and sadness over the incidents. They called on the Fil-Am community to get together, support and protect each other and make their voices heard. Acknowledging that this kind of racism against Asians has been a persistent issue in our history, Ms. Perez also called on the community to maintain a sense of solidarity among Asian American women and with other minorities to combat racism and sexism incidents. For her part and as a member of the film community, Ms. Paragas expressed that she is motivated to make sure that our stories are told and get the coverage that Filipino-Americans deserve.
When asked how their being Filipino helped them in their career when they grew up in predominantly non-Filipino areas in the US, Ms. Paragas, who grew up in Texas, related her years of looking for financing of “Yellow Rose” and asking permission from “white Hollywood” who deemed the film as too small and too niche. It was only when she reached out to the Filipino community who knew inherently the worthiness of the story that the film was made. She was able to get a grant from ABS CBN through a competition and from individuals investors who are Filipino Americans.
Ms. Navarro, on the other hand, said that she was born in New Jersey where she spent her weekends surrounded by a community of Filipino housekeepers and where Filipino stores, restaurants, and bread houses are aplenty. On weekdays, she lived with her mother who worked as a live-in housekeeper for an affluent family in Westchester County, where she also attended school. Growing up straddling two different spectrums of society has instilled in her a desire to do or provide something worthwhile for the Filipino community that raised her.
Stressing that she has always been connected to her Filipino roots, Ms. Balanzat said that what keeps her going is the assurance that her close-knit Filipino family is always there ready to support her despite not being together constantly.
Ms. Perez recounted that growing up in a predominantly white space with an Asian face which is neither Chinese nor Japanese, and with Spanish-sounding surname prompted a sense of “impostor syndrome”, questioning herself whether she really belonged or was meant to be in that space. She underscored that talking to others with the same experiences and hearing her superior White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki say, “You belong here. You deserve to be here. Don’t let anyone tell you any different” have helped her come to terms with the sense of belonging and existing as she pursues her career.
Asked what they can advise to their fellow Filipino American women, Ms. Balanzat and Ms. Navarro highlighted the importance of embracing the Fil-Am community to forge ahead. Rechelle quoted that “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others.” Diana imparted that when people pit you against a person who looks like you in a room, “Find your people. Find your community. Whenever I wanted to quit or think the whole world is against me, there has always been a community that helped me get to where I am today.”
Angela conveyed that “We didn’t get here without deciding to forge our own unique path. If there is something you are interested in that seems very niche or you don’t see a lot of Filipino women in, don’t let that keep you from doing it. You’ll never know where you’ll end up.”
Plaques of Appreciation were given by Deputy Consul General Kerwin Orville Tate to the 5 distinguished Filipino women for their exemplary achievements in their respective fields, serving as an inspiration for the Filipino-American community and Filipino women worldwide.
The Distinguished Filipino Women event is held by the Philippine Consulate General in New York annually to honor and feature notable Filipino and Filipino-American women who continue to raise the image of Filipinos in the United States.
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