This year’s TOFA honorees: Profiles in excellence (Part 2)

Rob Bonta with wife Mialisa and their three children. Photo taken after his 2012 oathtaking.

Rob Bonta with wife Mialisa and their three children. Photo taken after his 2012 oathtaking.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta was elected to the California State Assembly’s 18th District in 2012, where he represents the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro as the first and only Filipino American legislator in the 165-year history of California. It was his parents who instilled in him at a very young age the concepts of justice and equality, who taught him to understand the importance of empowering vulnerable communities. His father was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Deep South. His mother continues to be a long-time leader in the Filipino social justice movement. Bonta watched closely as his parents organized Filipino and Mexican American farm workers. This had a huge impact on his life choices, inspiring his commitment to helping others. He worked his way through college. He obtained his Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School after attending Yale College and Oxford University in England. Rob and his wife Mialisa live in Alameda with their three children.

Bing Cardenas Branigin is a community leader in the Washington D.C. area who has a track record of solid accomplishments as a civic volunteer and as a media professional. She prefers to work behind the scenes. Most recently, she was actively involved in the successful community effort to get the U.S. Congress to pass The Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015. For years, she was an advocate for benefits for war veterans. She is also involved in the advocacy on civil rights, immigration reform, education and other issues, as one of the FilAm representatives to the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. She is the representative in Washington, D.C. for the Philippine National Red Cross, and has led fundraising efforts in the U.S. for Philippine areas affected by typhoons. She is a founding member of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations. With her background in media, she served as Communications Consultant to former Ambassador to the U.S. Ernesto Maceda. Currently, she is the National Editor of the Manila Mail community paper in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. She is married to Bill Branigin, an editor at the Washington Post; they have two grown-up children.

Theatre actor Jon Jon Briones backstage at ‘Miss Saigon.’

Theatre actor Jon Jon Briones backstage at ‘Miss Saigon.’

Actor Jon Jon Briones is best known for his work in musical theatre. In 2014, he joined the original cast of the “Miss Saigon” West End revival, playing The Engineer, a role so memorable he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical the following year. He’s well known for playing The Engineer in “Miss Saigon” productions in the U.S., London, the Philippines, and in Germany. He has remained in the role when the musical returned to Broadway in 2017. Tony Award-winning Broadway star Lea Salonga said of Briones in an NBC special program: “He is living testament to how dedication to one’s craft, determination to succeed, hard work and a little bit of fate and luck led him to this moment. As someone that was there to witness that first step as well as many more that came after, I couldn’t be happier for my sometime colleague and full-time friend.” He has been married to actress/singer Megan Johnson Briones since 1996. They have two children who are also in the business, Isa and Teo; they reside in Los Angeles.

Sylvia Labial Buhian is a cancer survivor who did not let her difficult recovery deter her from creating the ORO Women Society, Inc. in New York. As its founding president, Buhian is known to provide livelihood projects, feeding and dental programs to benefit children and women in Cagayan de Oro City. Her club sends them balikbayan boxes of goods and hand-me-down computers. She is known for her numerous fundraising and Faith-based projects as well as her compassion.

Cristeta Pasia Comerford is the first woman and first person of Asian descent to become White House Executive Chef. She has held the position since 2005, planning meals and cooking for three U.S. presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — and their guests who are dignitaries and heads of states. She was recruited by then White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib III in1995 to work in the Clinton White House. After Scheib resigned in February 2005, Comerford was appointed executive chef by First Lady Laura Bush on August 14, 2005. She was noticed by Mrs. Bush due to her handling of a large state dinner that was held in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On January 9, 2009, the Obama transition team announced that Comerford would be retained as the administration’s head chef. Then First Lady Michelle Obama said of Comerford: “She is also the mom of a young daughter, and I appreciate our shared perspective on the importance of healthy eating and healthy families.” As chef to a head of state, Comerford is a member of Le Club des Chefs des Chefs.

Motivational speaker and author Jennifer Cox

Motivational speaker and author Jessica Cox

Jessica Cox is the world’s first licensed armless pilot, as well as the first armless black-belt in the American Taekwondo Association. Born in Arizona, she lost her limbs due to a rare birth defect. Cox has not used prosthetic arms since she turned 14. She uses her feet as she moves around, driving a car, typing on a keyboard, or pumping her own gas. She is also a certified scuba diver. She flew in a single engine airplane for the first time in 2005, earning a pilot’s certificate three years later. In 2015, she published an autobiographical self-help book, “Disarm Your Limits,” her way of inspiring others to overcome their own challenges. She is a sought-after motivational speaker and has shared her message in 20 different countries. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in communications.

An advocate for colorectal cancer awareness, Dr. Noel Fajardo is a gastroenterologist in Las Vegas. He believes that the more people learn about early detection and diagnosis of this type of cancer more lives will be saved. Fajardo is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. He finished his residency and chief residency at Mount Sinai School of Medicine Affiliate in New York. He specialized in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. He is American Board of Internal Medicine-certified in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine. He opened the first independent endoscopy center in Clark County, Las Vegas in 2008 at the Las Vegas Endoscopy Center, which offers advanced technology to the community. He advices regular colonoscopy checks for people who have a family history of colon cancer.

© 2017 The FilAm

Part 1: TOFA 2017 celebrates remarkable FilAms who influence, inspire

Part 3: Radical, pioneering creatives in this year’s TOFA

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