Nanding & Laura find love anew and a life of purpose

nanding boyet

A shared love of dancing. Top photo by  Boyet Loverita

A shared love of dancing. Top photo by Boyet Loverita. Lower photo by Nonoy Rafael at the Bonggahan Retro ‘60s-‘90s dance party.

By Cristina DC Pastor

The prelude to Nanding and Laura’s love story had a religious backdrop.

They met at Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado in December of 2013. They were lining up before the buffet table when Fiesta in America CEO Fernando ‘Nanding’ Mendez spotted an old acquaintance, and said, “Hey, I think I know you.”

Nanding and nurse educator Laura Garcia have crossed paths in the past, but Laura’s recollection was only the “hello” they said to each other. When they reconnected, Nanding, almost reclusive into widowhood (his wife Mila, passed away in 2012), began to see the world around him open up to new possibilities.

“Friends were surprised,” he began, as he shared the story of their romance with The FilAm. “They were in puzzlement because I was not supposed to go out. I was in seclusion. Before, I attended many functions with Mila, and now suddenly I’m by myself.”

Laura, in the meantime, was this nursing professional balancing clinical duties with teaching nursing students and raising a young daughter. She was married at a young age to the scion of a political family in Cebu, their separate career options and lifestyles forcing a no-fault split: Laura opting to stay in the U.S. with her daughter, and her husband choosing to go back home with their son. The family remains very close through their separate lives.

“My family here has been urging me to go out because I have been in seclusion (also), very busy with work. They said it’s time for me to, you know, go out and meet someone. Then I met Nanding,” recalled Laura laughing as she summoned the memories of five years ago.

When she went home that night from Simbang Gabi, she prayed if Nanding was ‘the one,’ and asked for a sign. The phone rang and came Nanding’s soft-spoken monotone. “I said to myself oh, I can love this guy,” laughed Laura.

Laura participated in the 2017 Asian American Voter Survey  in Chinatown.

Laura participated in the 2017 Asian American Voter Survey in Chinatown.

Nanding and Laura are the couple behind the revamped Fiesta in America, a 20-year indoor expo in Secaucus, N.J. bringing businesses and a growing consumer market together. This year, Fiesta will focus on the health care market, leveraging Laura’s expertise and network as a nursing professional. Currently, she is Associate Professor at the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, at the same time that she is an Adjunct Clinical Educator at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. In both schools, she teaches Obstetrics and Maternal-Child Nursing.

Laura’s nursing background actually started in 1985 when she was a Staff Nurse at the Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn, assigned to the Labor and Delivery and OB/GYN Unit. From there, it’s been an arduous climb to where she is currently. Her long experience with maternal care had prompted a career shift. From clinical nurse, she became a nurse educator. While teaching at several nursing schools in New Jersey and New York, she managed to complete her doctoral degree.

While known throughout the community as a businessman, Nanding is essentially an artist. He enjoys tooling around with graphics, designing logos, and creating corporate branding. When Fiesta was founded by Nanding and Mila in 1998, Nanding worked in the background while Mila became the face of Fiesta. Nanding emerged when she died in 2012, and carried the flag, so to speak, keeping Fiesta alive for its legions of followers.

“When Mila passed away and he thought he did not have the energy, the people around him lifted him up to pull Fiesta together,” said Laura. “Now, he just couldn’t let it go.”

At their new condo in the Theatre District, Laura professed how she imagined life with Nanding to be a “quiet, peaceful” one. Before long, he would take her to travels, meet members of the community, dancing and other activities she did not have time for as a working professional.

Said Nanding: “She’s not really into it because sometimes it’s about glamour, and she doesn’t like to draw attention to herself. I said don’t worry, we’ll just eat and dance. Mostly, she doesn’t like the politics of it.”

Nanding’s musical chops on display at a Fiesta Octoberfest. Photo by Brix Pajunar Palin.

Nanding’s musical chops on display at a Fiesta Octoberfest. Photo by Brix Pajunar Palin.

In time, Laura began to adapt and enjoy her new life loading with new friends, new experiences, and new possibilities. A different world opened up. Fiesta is just one of many new horizons. “I just learned to stop fighting it,” she said.

She is currently chairperson of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations – or NaFFAA – for 2017 to 2019. Her coming-out of sorts began when she came back to New York from residing in New Jersey and became avidly involved in Filipino and non-Filipino community concerns, having received a June 2017 Citation for Academic Excellence and Community Leadership from New York State Assemblyman Brian Barnwell. She is past president of the Silliman University Alumni Association of New York and New Jersey.

At the moment, Nanding and Laura are “very happy, enjoying the moment.” Marriage is something some friends have inquired about, but they are taking it one moment at a time. More important, they are growing together as one as they continue to find ways to be of help to others if not through Fiesta, maybe through other ways.

“It would be,” said Laura, “embarrassing not to do something good for humanity. “The possibilities are endless.”

© The FilAm 2018


  1. Ernesto Gange wrote:

    I had a chance to talk to Laura at the reception hosted by the Embassy of the Philippines, in Washington, DC, on the eve of the Presidential Inaugural of President Donald Trump in January.2017 I, too, was surprised to see Nanding smiling most of the time. I have known Nanding and the late Mila for a very long time, and, I went to New York to pay my last respects for Mila. I consider Nanding a very lucky Guy, and, I believe, that, they were meant for each other,

  2. Ernie,

    This is Martin Celemin of Las Vegas. HOw are you? I hope you are fine as usual.
    I read your comment on Nanding. Nanding who? Please include the last name of persons your are referring with. Thanks Ernie.


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