UniPro Initiatives and Programs

UniPro Expands: Promoting Unity, Collaboration, and Visibility in San Diego

New York City-Based UniPro Expands to the West Coast

Honorary Consul Audie de Castro : “This is the best time for UniPro to be created in San Diego.”

San Diego, CA – On Friday, February 6, the Pilipino American community of San Diego welcomed the arrival of the new San Diego chapter of the New York City-based Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro). Over 50 attendees gathered at the United Domestic Workers of America (UDW) Community Hall for the chapter’s official launch and town hall meeting.

The event, co-sponsored by UDW, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), and Silayan Filipina, opened with a keynote speech from the Philippine Honorary Consul for San Diego Audie de Castro. Echoing the goals of UniPro, he urged the audience to strive for unity and to promote the Pilipino American in San Diego. He stated, “In the past couple of years, our community has worked together better than ever.  A major reason is that I have seen many of you reach out to all generations and to others with different political views.  This is the best time for UniPro to be created in San Diego. I look forward to working with all of you.”

Hon. Consul Audie de Castro opens the UniPro San Diego launch.

The town hall dialogue followed the launch and consisted of small group discussions on the importance  of communities to individuals, and what UniPro can do to serve the San Diego area. Groups discussed the questions, “What does community mean to you? What were your expectations of the Pilipino American community when you first joined? How do you perceive the Pilipino American community and what are your expectations now? Identify any needs of the community and potential solutions for those needs. Identify existing community organizations and how those organizations can work together to fulfill those needs.”

The discussion groups then reconvened and presented their responses to the entire audience. Some of the recurring themes included the needs for improved communication, greater visibility in the political sphere, and professional and personal development. Some of the possible solutions presented were the creation of a Pilipino community center, a database of Pilipino American organizations in San Diego, recurring town hall meetings, and leadership and mentorship programs in the community.

Attendees participate in small group discussions at the UniPro San Diego launch.

Founded in 2009, UniPro’s San Diego chapter is the organization’s first venture outside of New York City. “UniPro has always been interested in expanding beyond the metro-NY area. How could we work towards our vision of a unified and engaged Pilipino America without a presence in other major Pilipino American communities?” asks UniPro NY President Iris Zalun. “The answer came when we became involved in the Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) conference, held in San Diego last August. Through EPYC, we met a group of passionate leaders whose values of collaboration, advocacy, and education aligned with ours. That team then approached us, expressing a need for UniPro in the San Diego community. Thus, UniPro San Diego was born.”

San Diego has been identified to have the second largest Pilipino American population in the nation. UniPro San Diego aims to identify and resolve the needs of the community while providing support, resources, and networks to organizations and individuals, most especially the youth. UniPro San Diego President Romyn Sabatchi adds, “It was humbling to be able to listen to the experiences and expectations of the Pilipino American community of new and seasoned members. Together we will be able to fulfill our needs with positive and effective solutions."

UniPro San Diego will host a Town Hall and Community Dialogue Follow-Up on May 15, 2015. For more information, read the story in the Filipino Press and contact sandiego@unipronow.org.

UniPro eboard

From left to right: UniPro San Diego Vice President Alicia Ricafrente, President Romyn Sabatchi, and Director of Community Relations Anthony DeGuzman (Photo Credit: Ernie Sasis)


Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro) is a New York City-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that envisions a unified and engaged Pilipino America. Founded in 2009, UniPro's mission is to engage Pilipino Americans through collaboration, advocacy and education. It seeks to transform Pilipino students & young professionals into community leaders through its various programs, which incorporate professional development, history, and policy through the lens of the Pilipino experience.The organization allows Pilipino Americans the opportunity to explore their place in the community in the hope of owning their niche. Ultimately, UniPro asks Pilipino Americans to critically answer, "How do you define Progress?"

Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro) Expands to the West Coast with the Launch of its San Diego Chapter


San Diego, CA – Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro) is proud to announce the launch of its new San Diego chapter. The official launch, scheduled for Friday, February 6th at the United Domestic Workers of America (UDW) Community Hall in San Diego, will coincide with a town hall dialogue and will touch on UniPro’s role within the thriving Pilipino American community in San Diego. The official UniPro San Diego launch and town hall event – co-sponsored by UDW, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), and Silayan Filipina – will feature guest speaker Hon. Consul General Audie de Castro as well as an introduction by the members of UniPro San Diego. The town hall dialogue following the launch will then consist of small group discussions on the importance and meaning of communities to individuals and what UniPro can do to serve this community.

“UniPro has always been interested in expanding beyond the metro-NY area. How could we work towards our vision of a unified and engaged Pilipino America without a presence in other major Pilipino American communities?” asks UniPro NY president Iris Zalun. “The answer came when we became involved in the Empowering Pilipino Youth through Collaboration (EPYC) conference, held in San Diego last August. Through EPYC, we met a group of passionate leaders whose values of collaboration, advocacy, and education aligned with ours. That team then approached us, expressing a need for UniPro in the San Diego community. Thus, UniPro San Diego was born.

San Diego has been identified to have the second largest Pilipino American population in the nation. UniPro San Diego aims to identify and potentially resolve any needs of the community while providing support, resources and networks to organizations and individuals, most especially the youth.

UniPro San Diego Official Launch and Town Hall event details:

Friday, February 6, 2015

6:00 PM - 8:30 PM

United Domestic Workers of America: Community Hall

4855 Seminole Drive, San Diego, CA 92115

UniPro San Diego: What does Community mean to you? - "Your Move"

At the University of San Diego’s Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization (FUSO) 4th Annual Conference, our UniPro San Diego team presented a workshop to encourage and inspire youth and adults to get involved in their own communities. The workshop echoed our conference theme of “Your Move” that was used in four conferences throughout the nation this year [FYLPro Fil-Am Summit, UniPro’s Summit, Epyc Empowerment Conference, FIND Dialogue].


 FUSO’s conference theme of “Visionary to Changemaker: Finding Your Voice” parallels the “Your Move” theme by holding the individual responsible and activating them to celebrate and protect human rights. From the FUSO Conference page: “Each member of society brings a unique voice and holds the power to reinvent the present for a better future. In a society silenced by intolerance, it is both our obligation and privilege to combat injustice. We have the vision, now let’s make the change. The Fight Begins Now.”

 The I-Gen panel featured a diverse group of speakers from different backgrounds, industries and age groups. Check out their bios at the end of the post.


Our panelists from top left to right: Myleen Abuan, Jen Amos, Dr. Aurora Cudal, Ferchil Ramos, Matthew Yagyagan

 The panel discussion opened with the questions What does Community mean to you? and What is Community Building? Dr. Aurora Cudal chimed in: “After the discussion on What is Community and Community building, Peter, who attended as an observer told me that I missed to point out that the most important block in community building is the FAMILY. We all come from families and the basic unit is family and our values are nurtured within the family circle. A strong and united community grows out of a strong family with clear and positive family values. As the family grows, a strong community emerges. I asked him, why did you not speak during the open forum? As a newcomer, he has yet to bridge the communication gap. But this guy has so much to offer and yet he prefers to be unobtrusive.”

Comment below and let us know what community means to you!


Myleen Abuan is a program coordinator for STRIVE, San Diego! at Operation Samahan. She received her B.S. in Health and Human Services with emphasis in Public Health at San Diego State University. In addition to the work she's done within the Filipino Community, Myleen is also a board member for the Pacific American Education Scholastic Foundation, an organization that seeks to enhance academic opportunities for Pacific Americans through financial and educational assistance programs in support of family and cultural values of the many indigenous natives.

Jen Amos graduated San Diego State University with a degree in Journalism emphasis Public Relations. She is the Founder and CEO of Social Turtles Marketing, a startup company that specializes in social media marketing for small businesses. She also runs a professional blog called The Jen Amos Network that focuses on serving South Bay San Diego entrepreneurs. She lives wholeheartedly by her favorite quote: Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. - Gandhi

 Aurora Cudal has occupied various leadership positions in various Filipino American associations, such as Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO) of San Diego County, President (1997-98/2004-2005); University of the Philippines Alumni Association of San Diego County, President (2003-2004); San Diego Scripps Lions Club 2005; and Chair of FilAmFest (2006-2008). She is currently a member of the Board of Directors, Foundation for Change; Chair, Public Relations Committee, District 4-L6, Lions Clubs International; and Region 10 Chair, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). She is a regular columnist and news contributor to The Filipino Press, a weekly newspaper circulated in San Diego County.

Ferchil Ramos, San Diego native, is the assistant festival director for the Filipino American Arts & Culture festival. He hopes to make a difference by connecting and collaborating with communities.

Matthew Yagyagan is the Development Manager of Alliance San Diego. He manages and implements development strategies to raise funds to support the program work of Alliance San Diego. Prior to coming to Alliance San Diego, he was a 2010 OCA Intern in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office and was a 2011 Fellow in People For the American Way’s prestigious Front Line Leaders Academy. In his spare time, Mr. Yagyagan is a Mentor with People For the American Way’s Civic Engagement Fellowship and a National Trainer for OCA’s Asian Pacific American Y-Advocate youth leadership program. Mr. Yagyagan graduated early from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010 with dual B.A.s in Political Science and Ethnic Studies.

DSC_0012Noel Aglubat is currently the Vice President for Pilipino American Unity for Progress, Inc. (UniPro) and aims make the Filipino-American more visible. He joined Unipro in 2013, has served on the Summit team under Iris and became the Summit 2014 Co-Director.  He has a M.S. in Structural Engineering and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from NYU-Poly. Currently he works as a Civil Engineer for the Department of Energy. In his free time Noel loves playing paintball, piano, bass guitar or running up and down the FDR Drive.

Love, Family, and Alzheimer’s; Kwentuhan Part 3: Forgetting the Details

This past October, in honor of Filipino American History Month, we began to promote the stories of our community through an initiative called Kwentuhan. But storytelling shouldn’t end once it’s November 1st. Actor and writer Nicole Maxali shares:

“When I first started acting at the age of fifteen, the only Filipino actress I could look up to was Lea Salonga.   And in college, I remember that a college professor wouldn’t let me do my final paper on Asian American actors because, she stated, “There aren’t any to write about!” So much has changed since then. But we still lack positive representation in American TV and Films. Since I began writing and performing as a solo performer/storyteller, my intention is to inspire other Fil-Ams, Filipinos and women of color that our stories are worth writing, performing and watching.

“As Filipinos, it’s not just important to be nurses but to be artists as well. It’s equally important to write and share our stories! I learned years ago that waiting around for Hollywood to write and cast me in a positive Filipino American narrative film was just as fruitless as waiting around for a winning lotto ticket to fall into my lap.

“If I wanted change, I’d have to create it myself! We Filipinos are a hardworking and resourceful people. Just take a look at the first wave of Manongs that immigrated to Hawaii and Delano, California. For decades we have been making our dreams come true in this country, so performing this show to sold out houses and receiving rave reviews proves that we can continue to do so.”

Forgetting the Details banner

The show Nicole describes is Forgetting the Details, a critically acclaimed tale of a woman torn between tradition and ambition, struggling between her Filipino roots and the American dream. At a recent encore of this one-woman show, an audience gathered to witness Nicole’s talents and to experience the journey of that woman, her father, and her grandmother as they navigate their strained relationships with one another in contemporary San Francisco. Nicole elaborates, “Forgetting the Details has themes that explore a young woman’s Coming of Age, Change versus tradition, Facing Reality, Loss, and Family. The show tells my story of being raised in San Francisco by my traditional Filipino grandmother, yet influenced by my free-spirited father, and the struggles we face as a family when my grandma is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It's a powerful story that reaches beyond the Filipino American context and touches upon powerful elements of the human experience.

I had the privilege of being part of that live audience at the cozy 13th Street Repertory in downtown New York, entering with few expectations and leaving floored by the show. Contrary to the show’s title, it seems that no detail is forgotten when it comes to describing the play’s unique characters. Manifesting her unique characters’ complexity through their actions and interactions with one another, Nicole develops her characters with such detail that the show seems set apart from others. As the play goes on, the characters reveal more and more while pulling the audience deeper and deeper into Nicole’s memories. For example, not many can sympathize with Nicole’s father, presented initially as a drugged-up dropout, cast aside by the family in favor of his brother, a college graduate and Navy sailor. We learn later that he, like his daughter, is an artist. He is a dreamer with a childlike wonder, lost in his music and painting, and seeking the acceptance from his daughter that he never gained from the rest of his family.

Forgetting the Details trailer

View the Forgetting the Details trailer.

True to life, Nicole’s characters also display a wide range of emotions as they embark on journeys of transformation throughout the course of the play. The characters express depth and complexity during every interaction, each moment strung into a chain of poignant and real memories. For example, while Nicole was once ashamed of her grandmother’s brazen personality, she learns to appreciate her grandmother’s wit and sage advice, adoring her as they grow older.

Similarly, the show itself has come a long way since its inception eight years ago. Nicole explains:

“I started writing this piece in 2006 during a solo performance workshop I was taking taught by W. Kamau Bell (Host of the FX show “Totally Biased”). During that year, my grandma was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  It was a difficult time for my family and for me, especially since my grandma provided unconditional love and stability during my formative years.  So I chose to write about it in Kamau’s workshop. Writing was my coping mechanism--a positive outlet for the pain. After our class final, Kamau told me that it was some of the best writing he has ever seen me perform.

“The piece evolved as I performed it in venues around San Francisco. Soon people began approaching me, sharing their own stories about loved ones with Alzheimer’s. They related to this story in a special way due to their experiences with Alzheimer’s. I realized that my show had become something more than just a source of healing for me. It was a way for people to connect to a piece that was both real and funny. And it spoke to their own issues of caregiving, guilt, shame, mental health, and family dynamics. My desire to add to healing and light in an otherwise dark and painful world of Alzheimer’s disease was my source of inspiration.

“The first time I performed the full-length version was November 2011…just four months after a close family member passed away. It was a very challenging time for me but I continued with the West Coast premiere of my show at Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco and sold out most of my shows and received rave reviews and standing ovations.

“Since 2011, it’s become a tighter and stronger show. Originally 100 minutes, I have since then cut it down to a 75-80 minute show. I’ve also injected more humor to it. My background is also stand-up and improvisational comedy.  So performing this show for the past three years in different cities around America (Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, etc.) has led me to find new jokes within the show. And working with my director, Paul Stein, for the past four years has definitely shaped the show to what it is today.”

Forgetting the Details 1

Her grandmother’s declining health becomes a focal point in the play, as her sickness becomes a burden for Nicole and her father. Not every father-daughter relationship runs smoothly, and their relationship is no exception. Both characters struggle between their dreams and their responsibilities, often delving too deep into their trade while familial obligations come second. However, the further and further Nicole distances herself from her father as time goes on, the closer and closer her father comes to returning to her life, especially as a result of her grandmother’s illness. The importance of their relationship eventually climaxes during her father’s death, when Nicole discovers just how proud her father was of her from the newspaper clippings he saved about her, even during years of separation.

Forgetting the Details is simply a play I will not forget. Nicole states:

I want the audience to walk away with a greater appreciation of their lolas, parents, family, and the loved ones around them. Life in general can be stressful and all consuming. But when we take a step back and appreciate the people in our lives that have shaped who we are, it allows us to slow down and take stock of how much we’ve accomplished with their help. Alzheimer ’s disease in general has taught me to stay present and appreciate the people in my life that love and support me. So go call your lola and lolo right now and tell them ‘Mahal kita’!

“Specifically for Fil-Ams, my show touches on the conflict of being a good traditional Filipino granddaughter versus a third generational Fil-Am with her own American dreams. Most Caucasian Americans don’t fully understand the pressure we face in Asian families of being the model daughter/son or granddaughter/grandson. And the pressures we face to take care of our elders as we get older and having our families remain our top priority. It is difficult to find that balance and especially hard to manage the internal guilt we feel if we pick our own happiness or career over our parents’ wishes.”

Forgetting the Details 2

I, too, had a grandmother who passed away from various complications, a difficult time when my parents also separated. Audience members will feel as if Nicole is telling their stories, and not only hers. Forgetting the Details is more than a tale of a daughter and her grandmother, told with laughter and drama and everything in between; it’s an invitation to Nicole’s dinner table, her heart, her memories, her story as a Filipina American, and her own human experience.

For more Kwentuhan, read our reviews and exclusive interviews for Renee Rises’ Undressing the Fragments and Carlos Celdran’s Livin’ La Vida Imelda. Interested in storytelling within the Filipino American community? Contact us: eboard@unipronow.org

Kwentuhan Continues: Livin' La Vida Imelda

What is it about Imelda Marcos that has captured the minds of artists lately? Last year, we couldn’t avoid the posters for Here Lies Love, plastered all over New York City; Imelda’s face was thrown back, microphone in hand, the neon sleeves of her Maria Clara gown punctuating the ad for the show at the Public Theater. Word-of-mouth described it as more of a nightclub than a show. It was immersive, a trendy theatrical buzzword, and had music by Fatboy Slim and David Byrne. There were rave reviews, packed houses, and a demand to bring the show back after its initial limited run concluded. For a while, this slice of Filipino history was the hottest ticket in town. But with Imelda Marcos as the twinkling stage diva-du-jour, did Here Lies Love deliver a more glamorized version of her rise to political power than Filipinos recall? This month, we see a new take on the controversial first lady. Livin’ La Vida Imelda, directed by Ralph B. Peña, premiered as part of Ma-Yi Theatre’s current season with creator and star Carlos Celdran at its helm. Mr. Celdran shows a less glorified version of Imelda Marcos than the lovesick heroine of Here Lies Love. Rather than dramatizing her life for the stage, Celdran aims, instead, for complexity.

Carlos Celdran's Livin' La Vida Imelda

In fact, the show is based far more in activism, heritage and history, than it is in traditional theatrics. Livin’ La Vida Imelda didn’t start the way most plays start, with workshops or table readings and maybe a small production beneath a proscenium. Instead, it began on the streets of Manila.

Celdran had been leading walking tours of Manila with Walk This Way, a company he founded. A number of routes were offered, which all introduced tourists to major sites around the city. But Celdran’s skills as a performer became the real attraction. Eventually his unique blend of tour guiding, meets musical theater, meets clowning, turned each tour into its own show. His tours became more solidified and scripted. He developed a rhythm and audiences grew.

Livin’ La Vida Imelda began as one of these tours. Celdran led groups past major Marcosian sites in a presentation he referred to as, “ironically irreverent yet informative.” Instead of the disco-dancing woman known outside the Philippines mostly for her shoe collection, Carlos Celdran winded from site to site, stood on the ground Imelda had walked upon and broke down the Marcos mythos. In 2012, The New York Times called the piece, “a delicious mix of history, gossip and social commentary.”

Soon, Ma-Yi Theater’s Executive Director Jorge Ortell took notice of Celdran and had the vision to bring the tour to New York stages.

“I watched the Manila version over two years ago and right away thought this would be very appropriate for NYC,” said Jorge Ortoll, Executive Director of Ma-Yi Theater Company. “I spoke with Carlos, who was willing to make cuts and revise the script to make it more resonant to non-Filipino ears, as our audience is not only Filipino-American, but also non-Filipino Asians and non-Asians.”

How exactly did a walking tour turn into a stage show? Ma-Yi’s expertise paired with Celdran’s vision and storytelling certainly bode well for the future of Livin’ La Vida Imelda and we have high hopes for the production.

As Ortoll explained, “Artistic Director Ralph Peña directs the Ma-Yi version and he and Carlos culled it from a 2.5 hour script to 90 minutes. It's tighter, more cohesive and moves at a very rapid pace. We've also added an actual set, projections and multiple lighting and sound cues, to make it a true theatrical piece.”

Livin' La Vida Imelda

That said, the team also has the burden of sharing a darker time in Filipino history with New Yorkers-- folks who likely only know Imelda Marcos from bubblegum subway ads or a thumping Fatboy Slim beat. That responsibility isn’t lost on Celdran or the team at Ma-Yi.

“One has to be at least 40-years-old to remember what the Marcos regime was like,” says Ortoll. “It set the tone for unbridled plunder and disrespect of human rights and freedom of speech. The regimes following Marcos all took his example as license to do the same and even more. How and why this happened is an important history lesson to anyone of any age and any nationality.”

If there is one way to tactfully open eyes, it’s with art. It’s no wonder that Celdran, like so many artists before him, have latched onto performance as his form of activism. By mixing humor, music, drama and storytelling, an audience can be taken on a journey through the Marcos’ highs and lows. And, when done well, everyone lands in the same place when the curtain falls, thinking the same thing, experiencing the same feelings and perhaps ready to take the same steps toward positive change.

So, what does Ma-Yi want audiences to take away?

“A sense of discovery,” Ortoll says. “The script brings forth the noble intents of Imelda, but her narcissism and psychoses did not allow for her good intentions to be realized well. She is a complex woman. Only people who lived through the Marcos era remember how harrowing those years were - and history lessons should not be distorted with lies and truth evasion.”

Living la vida imelda 2

Though the journey of the show was unique, perhaps it’s fitting that Livin’ La Vida Imelda’s origins were in a literal pilgrimage around Manila. Tourists and residents of the city could march together, and come to conclusions about the controversial Imelda Marcos together. Now, fresh audiences in a new country will take their own steps with the story, Celdran still ready and revving as he encourages you to “walk this way!”

Livin' La Vida Imelda closes this weekend. For tickets, head to Telecharge.com.


This post is Part 2 in our Kwentuhan blog series. Kwentuhan is a UniPro initiative that promotes storytelling in the Filipino American community. Read Part 1 here.