Community Building

James Villar – Filipino American serving his countrymen both here in the US and the Philippines


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James Villar moved to the United States, with his family when he was only three years old. He recalls, “I didn’t really have a choice in why we immigrated here. This was in 1971, and my parents came here looking for a better life for us all. My family included my mother and father, myself, my two older brothers, and one younger sister.”

James lives in Chicago, IL, and is currently employed as a government contractor, with a focus on Information Technology and Healthcare.  He is also a member of the Illinois Army National Guard, and a co-founder of a Veteran’s healthcare services organization.

When asked about his biggest accomplishment while living in America, he says “I suppose I could count surviving a house full of girls as my biggest accomplishment here.  Watching them grow from babies to adults. Sure, it was great, but those teenage years can really age someone.”

All throughout his life as a Filipino American in the US, James has accounted a number of professional successes, and an almost equal amount of failures. “One thing that I am proud of is being a US Marine.  My time with the Marines actually helped me later on in life, especially when times were tough.  I was able to persevere and rely on the discipline that I learned with them,” James explains.

James and his family have been involved in a lot of community-building efforts. His parents have a long track record of supporting projects that benefit the local Filipino American community in Chicago, and communities in the Philippines. James recalls, “I look at how far our community has come, from the early days to present, and I would say that I’m proud to be a part of it.  So many of our community members found success and through that success, they have contributed so much to making this country great.”



James received the Philippine Military Civic Action Award for Services during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.  The Award was given by the Philippine Consul General Office in Chicago. James was a young US Marine at that time stationed in Subic Bay.  He got the award 23 years later.


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James interviewed and featured by ABC7 News during the awarding ceremony at the Philippine Consul General Office in Chicago.


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James with his family, (L-R): Angelique, Renee, Bonnie (wife), Scarlett (granddaughter), Jaimie, Danielle

About the Author


Ryan Tejero is a Chicago-based journalist, where he is writes a monthly column on “Club President,” for a Filipino American newsmagazine, Via Times. He is also currently the Editor-in-Chief of the national newsletter of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. Overseas, Ryan co-founded, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the online newsletter, Pinoy Sa Romania, which is the first newsletter of the Filipino community in Romania. He also maintains a column on “Spotted Filipino on the Map,” for a Filipino newsmagazine, Pasa Pinoy in Melbourne, Australia. Ryan graduated from the University of the Philippines with Philosophy and Political Science majors.

About Asia Americana

Asia Americana is about Asian Americans, or US Asians, numbering about 18.7 million (5.8% of the US population) and the fastest growing racial group in the country. By the year 2050, Asian Americans will be more than 40.6 million and will represent 9.2% of the total US population. Asia Americana features the most compelling stories of Asian Americans: our joys, our sorrows, our successes, and our struggles in blending and mixing with mainstream America, with the hope that America will embrace us as partners in this journey to form a stronger and more equitable union. Asia Americana also aims to put Asian American issues at the forefront, topics that are near and dear to us and use our news magazine as a forum to further our causes. A dynamic online news magazine, Asia Americana hopefully will incite critical thinking and discussion, promote ideas, inspire change, and awe the imagination.

Asia Americana is everything fresh and relevant to Asians and Asian Americans. Welcome to Asia Americana.

NextDayBetter's NYC Event: Great Food. Great People. Great Ideas.


When I first walked into the room for NextDayBetter’s NYC event last Saturday, May 3rd, a single word popped into my mind: snazzy. Held inside the Center for Social Innovation, the space invited attendees in with pulsating music, coconut sake cocktails, and a big blue kitchen with a sea of Pilipino food samples. The intimate and casual yet energized vibe of the room said, “Hey there, let’s get together over good eats and drinks and change the world.” 10259824_487996607967843_5724835120809291114_n

The event kicked off with a tableside chat with featured chefs from Bibingka-esk and Masarap Supper Club. The chefs shared not only their culinary concoctions but also their stories of how they began pursuing their love of making Pilipino food professionally and intend to play a role in its evolution.

“I want Bibingka to be the next chocolate chip,” declared Binbingka-esk creator Eileen Formanes.

NextDayBetter Co-Founder Ryan Letada then took the stage and posed to the room:

“What can we do to collaborate and exchange ideas to make the next day better?” He explained that the presenting speakers were asked to share their stories because they were all individuals who took risks and made breakthroughs for themselves and their communities.

Below are short summaries of their inspiring talks:


Geena Rocero, transgender model and founder of Gender Proud, discussed the need for political recognition of transgender identity and the right to choose one’s own gender marker on identification documents. When one’s gender marker doesn’t match how a person feels on the inside or looks on the outside, it turns regular activities like applying for a job, voting, or even opening a bank account into highly stressful and embarrassing situations.

“Imagine constantly divulging the most personal thing about yourself,” she proposed.

Teach for the Philippines Fellow Leah Villanueva spoke about how the dream of making a better Philippines is an attainable one, but it can’t be achieved without improving public education. Currently schools in the Philippines suffer from high dropout rates, overworked teachers, and frequent electricity outages among many other challenges.

“These kids deserve so much more, our country deserves so much more,” Leah noted.


Restaurateur Nicole Ponseca chatted about how Maharlika and Jeepney were the first Pilipino fusion restaurants to truly own Pilipino food without apology, duck fetuses and all. Rather than hiding the less mainstream aspects of Pilipino cuisine, Maharlika held a contest challenging participants to eat as much balut as possible in five minutes.

“If you’re embarrassed about anything, whatever it is, you got to turn it around and make it a sense of pride,” Nicole encouraged.

Although the founder of Rappler couldn’t be there in person, Maria Ressa recorded a video in which she introduced Project Agos, a real-time disaster reporting platform that harnesses mapping, social media, and crowd sourcing so that relief responders “can visually identify areas in need of help or relief and what exactly is needed.”


Matt Grasser and Team LDLN held a tech demo in which they showed how the device and mobile app they designed could be used to create makeshift Wi-Fi networks in the event of an emergency, such as Typhoon Haiyan. Through these low-cost devices, people on the ground would be able to communicate with relief services even if power sources are down.

Airforce veteran Lourdes Tiglao shared her experiences as a member of Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization comprised of American military veterans who want to continue utilizing their skills after returning home. Team Rubicon was deployed in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan hit and acted as first medical response for many victims. Tiglao met several Pilipino veterans who were enthusiastic about the idea of creating a Team Rubicon in the Philippines.

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Get Inspired at NextDayBetter NYC - May 3rd


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On May 3rd, NextDayBetter is kicking off their global speaker series for 2014 in New York City. The series is themed “Defining Breakthroughs: Unlocking Human and Community Potential” and will feature inspiring speakers who will share how to make real, visible change for communities in the Philippines and beyond.

“The global Filipino Diaspora is a hub and inspiration for world-changing ideas that pushes humanity forward,” says CEO and Co-Founder Ryan Letada.

“This global speaker and action series is designed to celebrate and amplify the impact of these ideas."

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Featured change makers include:

This event is not only going to satiate your hunger for change, but will feature great food and drinks as well. Living up to its claim for creative innovation, NextDayBetter will even showcase a Tech Demo in which hackers will present smart technologies focused on disaster response and resiliency rebuilding.

Seats are limited so register now here.

If you can’t make it to NYC and/or are thirsting for more inspiration, don’t you fret because NextDayBetter will also be hitting up Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, and London during the upcoming months. To learn more about NextDayBetter and the speaker series, you can visit their website.


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The Horrors of Sex Trafficking

by Nikki Nalundasan, UniPro Community Building Intern As members of the Filipino American community, it is our job to be knowledgeable of what is going on in our mother country and to make sure awareness is brought to all disturbing issues.  One of these issues is sex trafficking, which is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”  The Philippines is a popular destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are exposed to sex trafficking and forced labor.  It is also a major exporter for these “workers,” while other countries especially the US are major importers. Being in these different countries, these Filipino women live a life in domestic servitude and often face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse.  In addition, they are often subject to threats, inhumane living conditions, and withholding of travel and identity documents.

Not only do sex traffickers from the Philippines export these women to different countries, but they also conduct internal trafficking.  In the Philippines, people are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles and other urban areas.  Thousands of victims experience forced prostitution every day in well-known and highly visible business establishments.  Child sex tourism continues to be a serious problem in the Philippines with sex tourists coming from all over the world, including the US, to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.  In addition to having an established organized crime network, the main causes of sex trafficking are poverty, population growth, and high unemployment rates that lead some parents to see child “labor” as a way to cope with their unfortunate financial situations.  Some women who are in similar situations also see prostitution as the only way to make ends meet.

For example, there was a story on ABC news back in February about Arthur Benjamin, a 49-year old man from Texas who owns the Crow Bar near the coastline of Subic Bay in western Philippines.  Caught by hidden cameras, Benjamin admitted that he has had sex with underage girls and partakes in their sexual exploitation with foreign older men.  His girlfriend was only 16-years old and he said, “She needed a place to stay, I needed a place to do her. I bought a bar for her.”  Fortunately, this man has been arrested and his establishment is shut down.  However, this is one of the many bars in the Philippines that participate in sex trafficking. It’s really sad that young women like this are forced to become prostitutes just to get by.

Grace Grande, known as a modern-day concubine, is currently dealing with three different legal issues after leaving her abuser, Patricio Antonio, a very well connected and wealthy politician. She decided to be Antonio’s mistress due to her economic burdens and therefore had no choice but to agree to the relationship. Within those few years, Grace faced emotional, physical and sexual abuse. In 2007, she decided to leave him and start a new life with her two sons in Los Angeles, California.  However, leaving wasn’t that easy for Grace and now faces issues of extradition (which is the where one country transfers a suspected or convicted criminal to another country), asylum (the ability to stay in the U.S.), and risks losing custody of her two sons. Grace and her two sons have been harassed ever since she has been in the U.S. Antonio is basically doing everything he can under his political power to make her come back to the Philippines where he can abuse her even more.

It’s situations like the Grace Grande case and the acts of Arthur Benjamin that make us, as Filipino Americans, realize that sex trafficking should be put to a stop. Considering all the political corruption and poverty occurring in the Philippines, it may seem impossible to eliminate sex trafficking. However, it is our responsibility to create awareness within our society in order to stop this ongoing problem.  These are young women and children who have to sell their bodies just so that they can support their families financially. There are parents out there who literally sell their children to these sex traffickers because they need money. Women shouldn’t have prostitution be their last resort when they are facing financial problems. We should make efforts to improve collaboration between victim service organizations and law enforcement authorities to stop sex trafficking. Being in the FilAm community, we need to recognize the importance of this issue and do something about it. This problem is happening back in our country and our home. Just because these women are thousands of miles away doesn’t mean that their problem isn’t our problem too.  As a true Filipino American community, we should be able to support them and help them escape from this disgusting situation.