The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), during its third open meeting virtually on Thursday, October 15, and in cooperation with the White House Office of Public Liaison and the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), honored and celebrated Filipino American History Month (FAHM).
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, and other Senior Administration officials from the White House, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Commerce, thanked the numerous Filipino Americans on the frontlines.
Chao talked about the “hundreds of thousands of Filipino health care workers on the frontlines” and that America is grateful for the many contributions of the community.
“I am pleased that we are here today to celebrate Filipino American History Month. I am especially thankful to the frontliners, many of them Filipinos, are taking personal risks to save so many lives and keep our country safe, healthy, and whole,” Ross, WHIAAPI co-chair, echoed.
Ross also acknowledged Fil-Ams for being “famously entrepreneurial” and cited Pedro Flores, who invented the yoyo and began an enterprise in California.
“Many of the nation’s 1.9 million AAPI-owned companies have suffered a dramatic loss of business due to the pandemic,” he said, adding that with the right policies in place, the country’s businesses will soon enter the recovery phase.
Filipinos in the Trump administration
Three Filipino Americans who are a part of the Trump administration as senior officers also joined the virtual celebration.
Vic Mercado, among the high-level Filipinos in the Trump cabinet, works at the Department of Defense as Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities. Prior to his current position, Mercado served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years where he held various acquisition and engineering leadership roles until his retirement in November 2018.
He is responsible for advising the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on national security and defense strategy; the forces, contingency plans, and associated posture necessary to implement the defense strategy; nuclear deterrence and missile defense policy; and security cooperation plans and policies.
Mercado joined the virtual meeting from his office at the Pentagon. He said he was looking forward to the month of October when Filipino American History Month is celebrated.
“We have such a rich and diverse culture and our history in this country goes way back, centuries back,” he said.
He shared a few stories about his trip to the Philippines a few years ago and called it “extraordinary,” particularly his experience when he visited the American cemetery, which at 152 acres, is the largest in terms of the number of graves with about 17,000 military members who died in World War II.
“I have an uncle I never met, his name was Serapio Guerrero and he was a Filipino Scout who died at the Bataan Death March on July 4, 1942 and was one of 75,000 Filipinos and Americans who fought in the war. The cemetery in Manila symbolizes the beautiful relationship between the United States and the Philippines,” Mercado said.
Kelly Ilagan is a senior advisor at the Department of Commerce for International Trade Administration. Born and raised in Michigan, Ilagan shared that both her parents are nurses and instilled in her Filipino values.
“They taught me to just work hard to achieve that American dream that our ancestors dreamt for us,” she shared. She acknowledged the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Filipinos, especially those who opened small stores and restaurants across America.
As a small kid growing up in Detroit, she said she looked forward to their trips to the Filipino and Asian markets and restaurants.
Ninio Fetalvo, White House communications advisor, shared Ilagan’s sentiments and paid tribute to his parents who taught and instilled in him Filipino values.
“Who would have thought that a son of immigrants who grew up in Port Charlotte, Florida would be serving the President of the United States? I am so proud of the great strides we have made to make this a better country,” he shared.
Fetalvo added that his mother and sister both work as nurses, and just like the rest of the frontliners, have been working round the clock to beat the coronavirus pandemic.
“We grieve alongside every family who has lost a loved one due to COVID-19. The administration has been doing unprecedented efforts in making sure that a safe and effective vaccine will be available to all Americans,” Fetalvo said. “We are not cutting corners, we are on track and we hope to distribute 100 million doses before the end of the year.”
Herman Martir, a commissioner on President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, led the program, which was also attended by Brendan Flores, National Chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA),
Tina Wei Smith, Executive Director of WHIAAPI and Alex Flemister, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison.
The White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ Facebook page highlighted the achievements of several Filipino Americans in honor of FAHM.
Among those they have featured are Shirlene D. Ostrov, President & CEO of Ares Mobility Solutions Inc. and Co-owner of Adaptive Cargo Solutions; Richard Felicelda, who is a teacher by profession and a businessman at heart, and founder of StarLab; Marie Cunning, owner and operator of Arizona Discount Flooring, LLC, Altair Realty, LLC, and the President and CEO of Arista Development, Inc. and Michele and Andy Rivera, who are co-founders of My E Three.
The Rivera couple’s wedding and events photography business was badly affected by COVID-19, so they had to pivot their business and innovate. When there was a need and demand for face masks, the Riveras refocused My E Three, a Chicago-based lifestyle and wellness brand selling activewear products, to designing and selling quality face coverings.
To date, they have donated 1,000 masks to the underprivileged populations and health workers in the Philippines. In honor of Filipino American History Month, for every mask they sell, the Riveras will donate a mask to a Filipino charity or non-profit in the U.S.
Cunning, on the other hand, is the National President of Federation of Philippine American Chambers of Commerce (FPACC) and on the Board of Trustees for National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). She is also the Founder and President of the Filipino American Business Chamber of Commerce of Arizona.
Felicelda immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 and made the jump to the healthcare industry. He started his own business, StarLab in 2011, offering phlebotomy services and diagnostic specimen testing. Last April, it was one of the first labs in Illinois to respond to the pandemic by providing COVID-19 PCR testing and continues to be at the forefront of meeting the needs of the community through this pandemic. He is a recipient of the Emerging Leaders U.S. SBA initiative, and believes in setting higher standards for laboratory services.
Ostrov served 23 years of active duty service in the United States Air Force as a Colonel. A politically active community leader, she takes pride in her extensive combat experience commanding military logistics operations around the world.
Filipino American History Month is a chance for Fil-Am communities to commemorate the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the U.S. when Filipinos arrived in present-day Morro Bay, California aboard the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza on October 18, 1587.
U.S. Congress officially recognized October as Filipino American History Month in 2009.