Laura Garcia, DNP, RN: The nurse as a political organizer

The young nurse educator in 2010. Today, she says: ‘I teach the frontliners.’

By Maricar CP Hampton & Cristina DC Pastor

For almost 23 years, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations-New York has been mobilizing the community to get people to vote, increase Filipinos’ political representation, and fight discrimination.

Laura Garcia, DNP, RN, who is serving her second term as State Chairperson, has added another important concern: Eliminating hate and racism. “I would like to highlight this message (on my second term),” she said.

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If you told Laura, a registered nurse, that she would one day become a political advocate, she would probably have the heartiest laugh. Even now that she has made significant inroads as a community leader, she has never viewed her organizing work as “political” in nature. It’s because, to some, being political is often misconstrued as being electorally partisan, something NaFFAA-NY isn’t.

“To be clear, NaFFAA is a non-partisan, tax-exempt, non-profit association that promotes the active participation of Filipino Americans in civic and national affairs,” she said when interviewed by The FilAm. “NaFFAA, however, is full of individuals who have strong convictions – political or otherwise,” she made the distinction.

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations was founded in 1997 by a group of leaders known for their pronounced political views: Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado, TLC Beatrice CEO Loida Nicolas Lewis, acclaimed guitarist Michael Dadap, and San Francisco State College Board President Rodel Rodis. The broad stroke was to promote the welfare and well-being of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans.  How to make it happen would depend on the succession of leaders that helmed it over the years. The federation is organized into 13 regions with each region comprising several states. NaFFAA-NY is under the Northeast region.

NaFFAA Eastern Region at the White House led by NaFFAA National Chair Brendan Flores (4th from left). Laura, who is serving her second term as NaFFAA-NY State Chair, is at center.

“We focus on issues that are important and valuable like leadership development, civic engagement and national advocacies. Some of NaFFAA-NY’s advocacies include promoting collaboration on issues affecting Filipino Americans in the areas of education, health, the youth, the elderly, employment and training, civil rights, immigration, discrimination, and many more. All of these have political pathways,” she said.

Grandfather was a town mayor

Laura’s maternal grandfather, Don Aguilino Garcia, was mayor of his town in Magsingal, Ilocos Sur (1920-1925). She said jokingly, “I must say, I still have to research whether there is a strong correlation between genetics and political predisposition.” She preferred to sketch herself as the type of person that “when I see a problem, I like to find a solution.”

She remembered a momentous time in 2010. She was an Assistant Professor at the Long Island College Hospital School of Nursing (LICHSON) in Brooklyn. She organized a campaign to halt the closure, over financial difficulties, of the hospital and the school where she worked for almost 20 years.

“I even wrote a personal letter to Governor Cuomo to help save the school,” she said. It did not help, but it was an eye-opener of an experience on campaigning over issues. The school eventually closed in 2013.

Proud grandma to Tyler and Layla, two of four grandchildren.

LICHSON means so much to Laura. LICH is said to be America’s first teaching hospital, the same institution that filed an employment petition for her to work in the United States. At the time, she was teaching Obstetrics and Midwifery in Cebu province. “Recruiters from the Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn came to Cebu to interview nurses.  I was interviewed and hired on the spot.” She arrived in the U.S. in 1985.

In the U.S., she wasted no time and went back to school for advanced studies. She completed her Master’s of Science in Nursing (majoring in Women’s Health) from Seton Hall University, and earned a Doctor in Nursing Practice degree from Farleigh Dickinson University. She is currently a clinical educator at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and Pace University. She has opted to take a temporary leave of administrative position to teach future nurses and give more time to her community service.  

She became active in the FilAm community around 2013 as she was winding down her doctoral studies at Farleigh Dickinson. She was thinking it was time to venture out of her personal zone and learn more about Filipino Americans, their contributions, and how the community came into its own in the State of New York. She became an “avid” community advocate by way of engagement in various organizations, and with the encouragement and support of life partner Fernando ‘Nanding’ Mendez, founder of Fiesta In America expo.

In 2017, she was conferred an Academic Excellence and Community Leadership Citation from New York State Assemblyman Brian Barnwell. She also accepted the invitation to be a member of the Advisory Council for New York State District 30. In 2019, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, appointed her to the NYC Community Board District Five. In between these two milestones came NaFFAA-NY when in 2018, she was elected State Chairperson for the first time. On May 16, she took her oath as second-term State Chair before Congresswoman Grace Meng. Consul General Claro Cristobal was the inspirational guest speaker.

With life partner Fernando ‘Nanding’ Mendez in Times Square’s Theater District where the couple has an apartment. Facebook Photo

“My background in nursing and as a professor of nursing certainly helped in areas of health and education, which are two important elements of NaFFAA-NY’s activism,” she said.

Laura is blessed with two adult children, Teresa Esperanza Anderson who lives in New Jersey, and Pablo John IV who lives in the Philippines. “I have four grandchildren, Nicolo Andreas, Mateus Blue, Layla Mackenzie, and Tyler Jayden, who are my pride and joy,” she said.

She and Nanding enjoy going to art shows, going dancing, and watching sports.  She roots for her favorite football teams, the New York Giants and the New York Jets, and loves watching the Super Bowl.

She wants to be remembered for her “service to humanity.”

“People may forget what I have accomplished or the contributions I made, but I want them to remember that I dedicated my life to service with compassion, humility and love. Sounds corny but that’s me.”

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© The FilAm 2020

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