Filipino American

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.

Stella Abrera, ABT’s First Fil-Am Principal Ballerina


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Stella Abrera was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater. She becomes the company’s first Filipino American principal ballerina. Abrera of South Pasadena, California, began her studies with Philip and Charles Fuller and Cynthia Young at Le Studio in Pasadena and with Lorna Diamond and Patricia Hoffman at the West Coast Ballet Theatre in San Diego. She also studied the Royal Academy of Dancing method at the Halliday Dance Centre in Sydney, Australia.  Abrera joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in 1996 and was appointed a Soloist in 2001.

Her repertoire with ABT includes Calliope in Apollo, Gamzatti in La Bayadère, the Ballerina in The Bright Stream, the Fairy Godmother in Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, Gulnare in Le Corsaire, Mercedes and the Driad Queen in Don Quixote, Helena in The Dream, Giselle, Myrta and the peasant pas de deux in Giselle, Manon in Lady of the Camellias, Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, His Friend’s Wife in The Moor’s Pavane, Clara, the Princess in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, Emilia in Othello, the Older Sister in Pillar of Fire, Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, the Lilac Fairy and Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty, the pas de trois in Swan Lake, leading roles in Airs, Bach Partita, Baker’s Dozen, Ballet Imperial, Birthday Offering, The Brahms-Haydn Variations, C. to C. (Close to Chuck), Fancy Free, In the Upper Room, The Leaves Are Fading, Petite Mort, Sinfonietta, Les Sylphides, Symphonic Variations, Symphonie Concertante, Symphony #9, Symphony in C, Thirteen Diversions, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison, Without Words. Abrera created the Spanish Dance in Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, the Fairy Violente (Temperament) in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty and leading roles in Pretty Good Year and Seven Sonatas.  Abrera received the Gold Medal at the Royal Academy of Dancing’s Adeline Genée Awards in London in 1995.  She has performed as a guest artist across the United States and Europe, as well as with The Australian Ballet, The Royal New Zealand Ballet and Ballet Philippines.

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.

Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship - Mike Alvarez


The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans is the premier graduate school Fellowship for immigrants and the children of immigrants. Every year, the organization awards thirty Fellowships to new Americans who are pursuing graduate education in the United States. Each award is worth up to $90,000 (up to $25,000/year stipend; up to $20,000/year tuition support). Awards support up to two years of full-time graduate study in any field, including the visual and performing arts, and at any graduate degree-granting institution in the United States, with the exception of online programs. In addition to funding, Fellows join a community of over 500 New Americans with family origins in over 75 different countries. The Fellowship program looks for applicants who have demonstrated and sustained accomplishments that show creativity, originality and initiative. In addition, the Fellowship looks for evidence that an applicant’s proposed graduate training is likely to enhance future creativity and accomplishment, that accomplishment is likely to persist and grow, and that the individual has a commitment to responsible citizenship in this country.

We reached out to Mike Alvarez, a recipient of the fellowship award from the Philippines, as he shared how he faced challenges in his life and his journey to get where he is today.

2014AlvarezMike Mike Alvarez Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship Award to support a PhD in Communications

The social stigma of mental illness is Mike's subject of investigation. Having spent time in the mental health system himself, he would like to help increase public understanding of psychiatric disorders.

Mike was ten when his family left their comfortable lifestyle in the Philippines to move to a rough neighborhood in Jersey City. The transition proved bumpy, to say the least. After several months, Mike's father went home, leaving his mother as the family's sole support.

Instilled with a love for learning, Mike excelled at school--but a rift was opening up in his mental world. As an undergraduate at Rutgers University, he suffered from debilitating anxiety that turned into horrifying delusions and a suicide attempt. A stay in hospital was a turning point, steering him toward the study of mental health. Mike's senior thesis on the relationship between creativity and suicide won the Charles Flaherty Award and was subsequently expanded into his Master’s thesis at Goddard College.

Mike is currently enrolled in the Communications PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is studying the phenomenon of cybersuicide. Recognizing the power of personal narratives, he has also completed a memoir about his own journey through mental illness.

1. Where and what do you see yourself doing in the next 5 years?

I have a lot of things lined up for the next 5 years, actually. Aside from completing my dissertation (on cybersuicide) and PhD in Communication at UMass-Amherst, I will also be writing/revising two books. The first book project, titled The Paradox Of Suicide & Creativity, has recently been picked up by Rowman & Littlefield's Lexington imprint. The second is a memoir recounting my past struggle with mental illness. I would eventually like to be a professor at a research-intensive university, and at the same time, be a public intellectual who links research with practice and activism.

2. What has been your greatest struggle/challenge and how did you overcome it?

One of the greatest struggles in my life had been contending with mental illness. Throughout college, I suffered from debilitating anxiety, depression, and paranoia, which culminated in a suicide attempt and admission to a mental hospital. It was a life-altering experience, one that assaulted my self-image as a competent person, because in a mental hospital you are infantilized. I overcame my symptoms through intensive psychotherapy, by being more open about my experiences with loved ones, and by refusing to see myself as a defective human being. When I use the words "mental illness," I mean it in an experiential rather than biological sense.

3. What has been your greatest motivation throughout your life?

When my family immigrated to the U.S., we traded our comfortable lifestyle in the Philippines for a financially and emotionally difficult one. I do not want my family to have any regrets coming here. I have worked very hard to seek opportunities for myself, so that I will one day be in a position to create opportunities for others in need. I want my family's immigration story to be a successful one in spite of all the hardships.

4. Who were your mentors?

I'm fortunate to have so many mentors, people who have been unwavering in their support and have gone beyond the role of advisor to nurture my abilities. One of them is George Atwood, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. He has been a friend and mentor for ten years now, ever since he supervised my senior thesis on suicide and creativity. Whenever I experience setbacks, he would always say to me: "Keep on keeping on." I'm also fortunate to have Professors Jarice Hanson and Martin Norden here at UMass-Amherst, who inspire me to take my work in new and surprising directions.

5. How did you hear about the fellowship?

Dr. Craig Harwood, Director of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship Program, visited UMass-Amherst in Fall 2013 to lead an info session. I attended the session, and realizing that I was eligible, decided that I'd give applying a shot.

6. What made you decide to apply for the fellowship?

Several reasons. On the pragmatic end, the Fellowship would absolve me of departmental teaching obligations, which means more time for research, writing, and networking. The Fellowship stipend would also enable me to attend professional conferences and share my research more widely. On the symbolic end, the Soros Fellowship is a mark of distinction, a validation that the work I am doing is poised to make lasting contributions to society.

7. What was the biggest challenge when it came to deciding to pursue the field you're in?

I think the challenge is that my work is inherently interdisciplinary. Initially, I thought I was going to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology, which makes sense since my work revolves around suicide, trauma, and mental illness. I got a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers, and did graduate coursework in psychology also. But then I realized that looking at these issues through the lens of one discipline wasn't going to satisfy me in the long run. I got an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and now, I'm doing a PhD in Communication at UMass-Amherst, with a dual focus on Technology & Society and Film Studies. These fields have opened up new avenues of inquiry for me--from studying representations of suicide in film and in popular culture, to examining how new media have shaped suicidal behavior.

8. As you gained more experience, how did your priorities change in life?

Having been mentally ill, I have learned to value time and moments of clarity, to make good use of every waking moment. I also try to make more room in my life for creative endeavors. One cannot live a purely intellectual life (or at least I can't). Even scholarly pursuits can benefit from small doses of creativity.

9. What’s been your favorite part about your journey in your personal life and in your career?

With regards to my career, my favorite part is seeing the hard work I've put in bear fruit, and being invited to speak at causes that are meaningful to me. For example, in March, UMass-Amherst had its first Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention, where I spoke about my research on cybersuicide and my past struggle with suicidality. It can be so refreshing (and nerve-wracking!) to connect life inside the ivory tower with life outside--to link research with activism, and the professional with the personal.

With regards to my personal life, I am just thankful to be alive, that my life hadn't ended in college when it could have. If it had, I would have denied myself these amazing opportunities, as well as the chance to relish every joyful moment with friends, family and loved ones.

10. Would you recommend the fellowship to anyone else? Why/why not?

I would absolutely recommend that people apply for a Soros Fellowship. They have nothing to lose in applying. And if fortune smiles upon them, they become part of a supportive network filled with truly inspiring people that motivate you to do better and better work.

To find out more about the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, visit their website at

UniPro Commends Citizenship Pathway for Families of Fil-Am WWII Veterans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Therese Franceazca Balagtas



Recommendation allows certain family members of veterans to seek parole

New York, NY, July 20, 2015 - The Obama Administration has announced an expedited pathway to citizenship for families of Filipino American war veterans. Through collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, this program allows family members of Filipino American war veterans to come to the United States under a case-by-case, parole process. This will alleviate the backlogged immigration process often due to caps on visas, which has caused wait times that can exceed more than 20 years.

“It’s refreshing to see our President acknowledging this issue among the many he’s been addressing as part of his legacy of change,” states Iris Zalun, UniPro President. “Despite decades of advocacy that Filipino Americans have invested in our veterans, this is a small step towards the full realization of the benefits and recognition they deserve.”

“While this announcement is long overdue for the Filipino American community, this is a tiny recompense for Filipino Americans who have served this country,” states Ryan Natividad, UniPro Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Research. “Many veterans have been denied benefits, and many have passed on without ever seeing what was ‘promised’ to them. The government needs to be held accountable for its inactions.”

During World War II, more than 260,000 Filipinos enlisted in the United States military. During the war, the Philippines was a Commonwealth of the United States. However, the Rescission Act of 1946, denied the Filipino American war veterans of their benefits. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contained a provision creating the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. While 43,000 claims were filed, only 18,900 were eligible.

In 1942, Congress passed a law naturalizing aliens serving in the United States military. However, after the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation, the naturalization law expired at the end of 1946. The Immigration Act of 1990, after 45 years, restored citizenship to Filipino American veterans.

UniPro continues to advocate for the needs and well-being of all Filipino Americans, including the Filipino American veterans who have sacrificed greatly to fight for this country. We urge President Obama and Congress to provide our aging Filipino Americans veterans the rights and privileges afforded to them and to overhaul this broken immigration system.

About Pilipino American Unity for Progress, Inc. (UniPro) 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?”

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This article was written by Ryan Natividad.

Tiger Mothers and Carabao Kids


Many Americans know Amy Chua from her popular and controversial parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In the book she describes a strict, aggressive kind of parenting aimed at creating Ivy League bound superstars. At least with her two daughters, Chua’s efforts paid off – both were accepted to Yale. The book touched off a firestorm of debate, particularly because of a Wall Street Journal editorial promoting Chua’s methods titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Reactions ranged from effusive praise for Chua’s methods to disgust that any parents could treat their children so harshly in pursuit of grades and college acceptances

Much has been written about Asian-American presence in higher education. Even if activists protest the model minority stereotype, Asian-Americans reliably pick up college degrees and top test scores far out of proportion to their share of the population. The trend is not limited to the United States. In the 2009 PISA test, Chinese students outperformed the entire world, with students from Shanghai scoring higher than any in the United States. Contrasted against the lackluster showing by American students, the results caused President Obama to declare it this generation’s “Sputnik moment”, calling for more focus on education, particularly in science and technology. Indeed, from Shanghai to New Haven, the world is awed by Chinese test taking prowess.

In the American context, the highest achieving Asian ethnicities are Chinese, Koreans, and Indians. Those groups have long been a fixture of elite universities, and increasingly, government departments and corporate boardrooms. Filipino-Americans, despite being the 2nd largest Asian-American ethnic group, are not as strongly represented in elite universities. Elite schools, particularly Ivy League universities, are the pipeline for America’s future government officials, CEO’s, and media personalities. While reformers might lament the form and character of American higher education, a degree from an elite university remains a somewhat reliable ticket to middle class prosperity and career success.

At the same time, in the already ferociously competitive college admissions process, Filipino-Americans tend not to prepare as intensely as other Asian groups. There is no such thing as Philippine cram school. Meanwhile, Koreans attend hagwons and Chinese go to buxiban. In the Confucian influenced cultures of North Asia, diligent study and academic success are fundamental. While Filipinos, whether at home or abroad, also value education, they tend not to emphasize it to the same degree as their Asian neighbors. For Fil-Ams, the stakes are getting higher. College has never been more expensive. At the same time, political battles over affirmative action continue to roil courts and universities. A group called Project for Fair Representation brought a suit against Harvard late last year, alleging that the university discriminates against qualified Asian-American applicants. Many have suspected that the Ivies have an “Asian quota”, making entry into the most selective universities in the country even more competitive. Filipinos are grouped as Asians by the US Census, making universities judge them by the already high standard set by Chinese, Koreans, and Indians.

 It might appear that what Filipino-Americans need is an industrial strength dose of tiger mothering. After all, if academic success, entry into selective schools, and career success follow one after the other, it would be negligent for parents not to drive their children hard. While all students, Filipino or otherwise, should aspire to excellence, a single-minded focus on perfect SAT scores and brand name colleges is not a foolproof cure. Race based preferences in college admissions has been a political hot potato for decades and no policy has ever come close to resolving it. Regardless of their public statements, elite universities have shown through their actions that having a racially balanced student body trumps solely merit based admissions. This is not entirely indefensible, but no universities have been so brave as to state these intentions directly. At the same time, because of how broadly the US Census labels Asians, “Asian” on an elite university campus means a handful of high performing ethnicities. Other Asian nationalities, particularly Southeast Asians, are often completely shut out. Filipinos, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodians, and Indonesians receive no preferences, even if they are poor or disadvantaged. These groups can exist in a starkly different world from the stereotypical model minority. For example, according to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, just 27% of Vietnamese-Americans graduate from college.

Despite these factors, Filipino-Americans are among the most successful ancestry groups in the United States. In a 2004 survey, Fil-Ams had the second highest household income of all ethnic groups in the United States. Particularly in healthcare, entertainment, the military, and the global shipping industry, Filipinos have succeeded on their own terms. Just last year, Captain Ronald Ravelo became the first Filipino-American to command an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln. This isn’t to suggest that generals, sailors, boxers, singers, and ship captains are better than Ivy League graduates. Rather, paths to success for Filipinos, particularly blue collar workers, are not always through academics. It so happens that for certain other Asian nationalities, academic success is strongly emphasized as the primary mode of advancement. They should be lauded for their achievements, but not mindlessly imitated. After all, no amount of nagging and hectoring will turn a carabao into a tiger cub. Filipinos have never been a nation of test takers. Fil-Am kids are rarely driven to create the perfect college app or take every Advanced Placement class possible. But as the process becomes so competitive that even perfect candidates sometimes don’t make the cut, there should be little reason to feel left out. If elite universities decide that Filipinos don’t add to the diversity of their campuses, it is their loss, not ours. We have more to offer the world than flawless applications and high test scores, and we should be glad for that.

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About the author

10352321_10153026739129050_5599371636193964618_nCristobal Zarco was born in the Philippines and grew up in New York, specifically Long Island. He graduated with a degree in political science from Adelphi University. He enjoys tracking down books about Philippine history and exploring lesser known parts of New York City.