How Joji Jalandoni brought Visayan street kids to NYC

A sweet life growing up in a Negros Occidental sugar plantation. Photo by Jose Inigo Jalandoni

By Cristina DC Pastor

Josephine ‘Joji’ Jalandoni grew up in Victorias Milling Company (VMC) in Negros Occidental — known as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines” — where the landed families derived their affluence from sugar plantations. Sugar was one of the country’s top agricultural exports up until the 1980s, and the sugar cane farming families at the time were flush with cash.

Her father, Jose Jimenez Juele, a mechanical engineer known as Triple J, was one of the executives of VMC and Victorias International lnc.   Her mother, Estrella Ebro Juele, was a high school teacher.

“Those were happy days growing up in Victorias Milling Company, the biggest refinery sugar central in the country. I grew up thinking sugar is free, that is, until I got to college,” reminisced Joji, a slight smile forming.

The sweet life

“Life in VMC was ideal we grew up feeling we were all part of one big happy family. My siblings and I, we are what we are because of the family values our parents instilled in us,” she said.

Her two sons — Jose Carlos and Jose Inigo — grew up nurtured in a loving home by an extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“They were raised instilled with the same core values espousing the importance of integrity, excellence and love of family,” she said. “I’m so proud of them.”

Joji, the second of five siblings attended St. Theresita’s Academy in Silay City, a school that produced good Catholic Ilonggas. She went to Silliman University in Dumaguete City for college, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Jose and Estrella Jalandoni’s daughters celebrating their mother’s birthday. Seated from left, Joji and Joy Cesareo. Standing, Jajorie Hagelgans and Jacqueline Schuster.

In New York, where the wings of fate had flown her, Joji found work in hospitals, gained experience and worked her way up through the ranks. She earned a master’s degree in Hospital Administration/Nurse Executive Program from Teachers College Columbia University. In the health facility where she now works, she holds the position of Infection Control and Prevention Associate Director, where her positive attitude, creative problem solving and professional skills make her highly effective in her role.

She became active in the Filipino community of New York despite the long hours she devoted to her work. She is a core member of the Philippine Nurses Association-NY from 2003 up to the present, and was president of the Silliman University Alumni Association from 2007-2009. With every organization she joined, she made sure she contributed to the goals of growing the membership, fundraising, developing young leaders, whatever the organization’s needs were.

The desire to “preserve and share” the rich Philippine traditions brought Joji to PIDCI or the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc.

“Through the 28 years of celebrating the commemoration, the New York festival has gained many reputations, foremost of which is it is the largest celebration of Philippine Independence in the world, larger even than that held annually in the Philippines,” she said. “It takes almost a year to organize.”

She remembered how, in the beginning of her involvement with PIDCI, she rode the Nursing Float. “We won Best Float. The next thing I knew I was one of the volunteers, became one of the Board Directors, vice president, and acting president in the latter half of 2009.”

PIDCI president

In 2011, she was elected PIDCI president and served for a year. It presented, for Joji, a platform to bring the Dinagyang of Iloilo and the Manggahan of Guimaras to perform at the Independence Day parade. She first invited the Dinagyang in 2011 and for three more years after that. In 2018, the Dinagyang and Manggahan dance troupes joined forces to bring color and cadence to Madison Avenue. About 70 young Filipinos dressed in the costumes of their regions danced to Ati-Atihan beat, energizing the parade as FilAms, watching on the streets, cheered and rocked to the beat. Clearly, a day bursting with ethnic pride.  

The Manggahan (top) and Dinagyang street dancers.
Sons Jose Carlos, 39 (seated); and Jose Inigo, 37.  ‘They are the only grandchildren.’

While it was Joji who facilitated the kids’ travel to the U.S., there would be additional responsibilities, such as finding homes that would welcome them and sponsors who would provide meals and sightseeing trips. 

“The Ilonggo community rose to the challenge,” she said. “From chaperoning these kids to providing them with hot meals and their favorite chocolates, these generous patrons made sure that these young kids’ dream of seeing New York City becomes a reality even for just a moment in time.”

Through the “gargantuan feat,” Joji was recognized by The Outstanding Filipinos in America as a 2018 honoree in the field of Arts & Culture.

How did she do it?

With a lot of faith in her network of friends, family, community leaders, and some government and local officials.

Asked why and Joji looks back to a time when she was a young student in the province, and life was rich with promising opportunities.

“The street kids and students of Dinagyang and Manggahan are kids of farmers,” she mused. “Yes, they will be all professionals of their chosen careers,  and  one day as parents, grandparents, titos and titas  will have stories to share about how once upon a time they had visited Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and  watched Broadway shows like ‘Peter Pan, Finding Neverland.’ These adventures opened their eyes that there is a big world out there full of possibilities and opportunities.”  

© The FilAm 2019



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