Book author praises the ConGen as ‘leader with a vision’By Jenjen Furer
Although I left Manila in 1984, it has taken over 20 years for me to be involved with the Filipino American community. This door was opened for me by someone who is both an inspiration and who now, I consider a friend.
When my book, “Out of Status”, was published, my sister-in-law’s sister, Heidi Gutierrez-Pagaduan, suggested I visit the Philippine Consulate in New York to promote it. She happens to be close friends with the Consul General’s daughter and thought this would be a great idea. I put it on my to-do list though seriously doubted it would materialize because I am kind of shy when it comes to introducing myself.
However, like everything else in my life, things happen for a reason. I believe in the magic of circumstances, and that paths cross for a purpose. In launching “Out of Status,” Dave Brodsky of Dasbro Enterprises, got me an appointment to meet with Consul General Mario Lopez de Leon, Jr. It was inevitable somehow that we would meet.
Interestingly, that was the first time I’ve ever set foot in the Philippine Consulate. Maybe, because of what my family went through, I never had a warm, fuzzy feeling when it comes to interacting with people in government or people of authority. I also somehow believed one had to be a celebrity or someone of high importance before you get to meet someone like the Consul General in New York!
Needless to say, I was astonished by the warm reception by Consul General, or ConGen as he’s fondly called by most ( I call him “Tito Mario” now) . The consular staff not only opened the facilities but welcomed me with wide open arms as if I was a member of the family. I couldn’t believe the hospitality and support. Even though I’ve known growing up that Filipinos have the ‘bayanihan’ spirit, I never imagined it would extend to the competitive, fast-faced concrete jungle of New York. Blessed surprise.
From the beginning, ConGen was supportive. He wisely recommended I incorporate an immigration forum with my book launch. With that, I met a group of lawyers and professionals whose main goal is to defend, serve, and educate — the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. Unbeknownst to me, my world was paradoxically about to get smaller and immensely larger. My hitherto somewhat quiet life was about to change.
Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr., is an aggressive, progressive and charismatic leader of the community. He is passionately committed to making a difference. One can tell he loves what he does. He is not there simply because of the title or the glory that comes with being the PCGNY. He does what he does because he genuinely believes in every Filipino’s rights, his unique voice which needs to be heard, and also, his inherent power to change, not only his own lives but others.
As ConGen said in one of the forums held at Kalayaan Center, “An informed community is an empowered community.” And those are not just words but a statement which encompasses everything that transpires at the Philippine Center. Every week, there’s always something going on at the Philippine Center: book launching, film premiers, fashion shows, benefit and fund-raising events, educational events, social awareness and immigration forums. Activities which make the different members of the community not only appreciate but celebrate who they are.
When I attended the signing ceremony between the Philippine Consulate and the Department of Labor – Wage and Hour Division, I mentioned to Consul Bong Carino, that ConGen is a true leader of the community. ConGen’s leadership at PCGNY has been fruitful and focused on helping other people. I am humbled and overjoyed to be a part of it. In a year and a half, he has accomplished much. He managed to get various individuals, communities and organizations to be engaged in the betterment of the Filipino American community.
Early this month, I attended the Panunuluyan. It is the first ever revival of the Philippine Christmas tradition. My heart was filled with pride being a Filipino in New York. Faith, tradition and love — all in one night. ConGen himself played the one of the humble shepherds seeking the blessed child.
Like the quiet shepherds, in the back doors of the Consulate, amazing things transpire unbeknownst to many. Lives are saved especially those who are victims of labor trafficking or involuntary servitude. Who would have thought that no matter what your status is in the USA, the Philippine Consulate is there to look after the welfare, rights and well being of every Filipino? All one needs to do is ask.
So if you want to have another reason to beam with pride at being a Filipino in the East Coast then I say, attend any event at the Philippine Center in New York. It will be another reason to say I love New York.
To ConGen, maraming salamat po.