Political organizer Joe Montano, 47; Tim Kaine remembers his ‘tireless work ethic’
The Filipino American community, together with the state of Virginia, mourned the passing of political leader Joe Montano who died July 25 in his home in Falls Church. He was at 47. Born in Norfolk, Montano is survived by his parents, Lori and Jose Montano, his sister Amy Lopez and brother Ben.
In a statement, Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine remembers Montano’s “positive energy, tireless work ethic, and infectious smile.” Montano was the Northern Virginia Regional Director for Kaine.
“Joe was an outstanding representative of this office, enthusiastic servant of the people of Northern Virginia, and admired colleague by all who worked with him…Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe’s family,” said Kaine.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe commended his “passion and boundless enthusiasm,” while U.S. Rep. Don Beyer praised him as “a voice for the people of Northern Virginia” who was “committed to achieving progress through public service.”
Bing Branigin, a founding member of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), remembered Montano as a long-time grassroots organizer who came into his own in the last three years.
“Joe’s work is now being recognized, with Kaine being selected as VP for the Democratic Party,” Branigin told The FilAm. “Eto na yung dream come true niya. Parang I could hear him saying to me, ‘Tita Bing, this is my time na.’”
At NaFFAA’s founding conference in August 1997, Montano was among the youth leaders who rallied the community to march to the White House and support the Filipino Veterans’ demand for equity and justice.
Montano served as NaFFAA’s executive director from 2000-2002. During his tenure, he coordinated NaFFAA’s FilAm Vote, a nationwide voter mobilization program that involved extensive outreach to Filipino American communities and student campuses across the country. As executive director, he represented NaFFAA in Washington’s policy-making circles, working in coalition with other Asian American leaders on such issues as comprehensive immigration reform, hate crimes, workers rights and other civil rights concerns.
Condolences from FilAm leaders
“Joe was among the many young people – a new generation of eager activists – who responded in the early 1990s to a call to form Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, a national civil rights organization,” recalled Lillian Galedo, executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice. “He shared his passion for political involvement through hard work and humor. I loved how funny he could be. He found his niche in electoral politics — fired up by the election of the first African American President; working tirelessly for liberal and progressive candidates. Joe embodied his generation’s desire to bring the Filipino community to the national political stage.”
Steven Raga, NaFFAA regional youth director, also recalled how Montano inspired him the first time he attended a Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND) conference.
“Joe patiently broke down the importance of the FilVets Full Equity campaign, how critical it is for students to take part in greater community advocacy, and the principle of fighting for those who fought for you. I’ve forgotten many of my FIND experiences, but I won’t forget that. Joe gave me and countless others that initial clarity and motivation to put community before ourselves,” said Raga.
Proud of his father who served in the U.S. Navy, Montano took up the cause of Filipino World War II veterans “with dedication and zealous commitment,” said NaFFAA National Chair Emeritus Loida Nicolas Lewis. “Joe’s enthusiasm was infectious when he walked the halls of Congress or marched with our veterans on the streets. He always knew what was at stake.”
Charmaine Manansala, the 2008 Obama Campaign AAPI Vote Director, described Montano as “a giant in the Filipino American community, a strong organizer in Virginia politics, and a mentor to many young Filipino American up and comers. Our community shines a little less bright today but let’s continue the work that Joe loved so well.”
During his college days at George Washington University, Montano pursued more than a passing interest in Philippine history, arts and culture. He wanted to learn as much as he could about his roots and national heritage. The Philippine Cultural Society at GWU provided a venue for exploring cultural identity and sharing experiences with other students. He later availed of further opportunities to learn more by performing in various cultural shows for Tanghalang Pilipino ng DC and taking on various dramatic roles in QBD Ink’s theatrical productions.
QBD Ink director Reme Grefalda recalled Montano’s auspicious start, and how he racked up a variety of roles: as a menacing military goon in “Hacienda the Musical,” as a runaway teen mentored by Rizal in “Oyang Dapitana,” as a member of the firing squad that killed Rizal, and as a member of the tribunal in “In the Matter of Willie Grayson.” Joe the actor also extended to being stage manager, stage hand, and assistant to the producer.
Even then, Montano was not conscious about being in starring roles but offering steadfast support and getting the work done.