2014 Outstanding Filipino Americans Honored At Carnegie Hall

by Oliver Oliveros

NEW YORK – Fourteen winners and five Heritage Awardees were honored for their accomplishments October 25 at the Carnegie Hall in New York.  The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY), now on its fourth year, said it was an occasion to celebrate the achievements of Filipinos in the New York area during the Filipino American History month. The event also became a time of reflection as keynote speakers congratulated the honorees and voiced the hope it’s time to take professional success and achievement to the next level.

With their accomplishments, said Jason Tengco, senior advisor at White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), Filipinos have made “a huge dent in the glass and bamboo ceiling.” It is time, he stressed, “not just to have a seat at the table but to lead the meeting.”

Consul General Mario Lopez de Leon Jr. recognized the community’s efforts in elevating the profile of Filipinos in the US, especially during celebrations during the Filipino-American History Month. He said he would like to see more Filipinos assume leadership roles, as he gave kudos to TOFA-NY Awardees for their “noteworthy skills, competence and social impact” in New York and throughout the US. He further acknowledged the rising visibility of the Filipinos in every field imaginable in the mainstream US society, and the recognition given by their American counterparts to the exemplary Filipinos.

Journalist and Rappler founder Maria Ressa, who hosted the awards ceremony, said being Filipino American can cut both ways. “It is both a blessing and a curse,” she said. “If you don’t navigate the waters well, you’ll drown. But if you hold the values from both worlds, we create something new, we create a community that defines us.”

CEO and philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis urged this year’s awardees to remain proud Filipino Americans not easily disheartened by failures. She urged them to “fight bigotry and discrimination,” and to keep going whatever obstacles are in the way.

The 2014 TOFA Awardees are:

  • Kinding Sindaw (Arts & Culture)
  • Dennis Josue (Business & Entrepreneurship)
  • Roger Santos (Community Service & Advocacy)
  • Geena Rocero (Courage of Conviction)
  • Michael Vea (Education, Research & Technology)
  • Jhett Tolentino (Entertainment)
  • Elle Madrona (Fashion & Style)
  • Joel Javier (Food & Restaurants)
  • Nemcy Duran (Health Care)
  • Jenab-1 Pareja (LGBT Advocacy)
  • Ritz Mazon Craves (Media & Publishing)
  • Ludi de Asis Hughes (Public Service & Politics)
  • Juliet Payabyab (Senior Welfare Advocacy)
  • Team Takbo (Youth & Sports)

Heritage Awardees are award-winning songwriter Bobby Lopez, fashion designer and philanthropist Josie Natori; Dean of Academic Affairs at Columbia University Sheila Coronel; the founder of Fiesta In America trade and cultural expo Fernando Mendez; and the medical mission volunteers of Philippine Medical Association in America (PMAA).

A brief but poignant moment came when Miss USA first runner-up Audra Mari recalled her Filipino roots. Her Filipino grandfather, surgeon Justo Mari, married an American woman and raised a family in North Dakota. She is witness to the enduring love between her grandparents who just celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary.

Expressing thanks on behalf of the TOFA-NY board, founder and executive producer Elton Lugay said, “Trust and transparency are two things we take to heart. We have reached our fourth year because of the open process by which the winners are nominated and voted and because the support and trust of the community have grown over the years.”

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo was represented by Gil Quiniones, CEO of the New York Power Authority. Through Quiniones, the only Filipino in the governor’s

Cabinet, Cuomo offered his congratulations to the honorees as well as gratitude to Filipino American contributions to the state.

AARP, which supported the event, reached out to the FilAm community with its core message about taking care of the elderly. AARP Ambassador, Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, said caregiving is a family matter but is something some tight-lipped Filipino families hardly talk about until the parents become ill and the need is there.He urged FilAm families to “start a conversation early” and invited them to visit the AARP website for resources on caregiving.

The evening’s emotional and empowering moments were stitched together with musical entertainment courtesy of the Philippine Chamber Singers of Los Angeles, Broadway Barkada, Enteng Evangelista, UST Alumni Singers, Voice of McDonald’s’ Richard Lelis Tuozo, Pilipino American Cultural Arts Society of Washington D.C., Elaine Ficarra, pianist Yasuhiko Fukuoka, Pilipinas Got Talent’s Geo Ed Rebucas, and Voice Kids Philippines’s Darren Espanto.



2014 TOFA Honorees with the Voice Kids (Photo by Roland Gutierrez)

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