Bella Owens: A Filipina heads the Baltimore County Commission for Women

Juggling family, career and community

Juggling family, career and community

By Maricar CP Hampton

When Bella Santos Owens came to the U.S. in 1987, she thought she would just be a typical working mom. But fate had other plans. As president of the Baltimore County Commission for Women, her life is now one big juggling act as she tries to balance career, family and community.

“For the longest time I was just working, I was never really into volunteering. It never really entered my mind, I am the very quiet type,” the Towson resident said in an interview with The FilAm Metro D.C.

Since she took office in 2012, the commission embarked on an awareness and advocacy campaign on four issues — human trafficking, domestic violence, children and the elderly, women’s health and empowerment.

“I want to concentrate on these issues ‘cause a lot still needs to be done,” she said.

Bella’s exposure to community work began in 2002 when she helped organize the Philippine Festival in Towson. Even then, she was always behind-the-scenes. Today, she has embraced her role as a community leader advocating for programs and services for the women of Baltimore. She is spearheading projects, such as Power of the Purse (economic empowerment), Hands off if You Love Me (domestic violence awareness), to educate women about their rights.

Through her work, Bella has come to meet Filipinas in distress. She recalled assisting a couple – a Filipina woman and her American husband — with domestic violence issues.

“I dealt with them personally and I’m not supposed to do that because we’re supposed to do advocacy and awareness. But I dealt with it because I’m a Filipina and I tried to explain to the woman where the husband is coming from and explain to the husband too how the culture of Filipinas are,” said the Marilao, Bulacan-born Bella.

She is now urging immigrants to come out and lend a helping hand to their community. She said: “A lot of immigrants don’t want to go mainstream they don’t want to go outside of their communities. To be a successful immigrant, one needs to be an active participant in mainstream America.”

She believes in total assimilation in American culture while also preserving one’s ethnic identity.

“Every immigrant needs to embrace the culture that they now live in, and hopefully be a leader or a contributor to the betterment of the community, not because of their race but because of their capabilities,” she said.

“We have to be competitive, everybody has to, even in the Philippines but more so here. We have to prove ourselves 100 times. It’s harder but we have to try. There are things we have to change in the way we are. I am very big on Filipinos accepting the whole culture that we have to blend in really well.”

In 2011, Bella facilitated the inclusion of Tagalog as a foreign language course in the Baltimore Community College curriculum.

“When I was the president of the Katipunan (Filipino-American Association of Maryland), there were some people who wanted to learn Tagalog, who wanted to do the classes. The way it was done before is if anyone wants to learn the language you just call Katipunan. I didn’t want it that way. I wanted to do it in a normal school and or go online. It’s for credibility that Tagalog is being taught,” she said.

Since her involvement with the commission, Bella has joined the Health Advisory Board of Northwest Hospital in Randallstown. She was also one of the recipients of the Twenty Outstanding Filipinos Abroad in Washington, D.C.

Family is very important to Bella. Her husband of 25 years, Floyd, a native of Baltimore, works at the State of Maryland’s Department of the Environment. They have two children: Michael, 24, an engineer in Silver Spring, and Ayana, 22, a senior at Towson University studying Design.

“Whenever I do something for the community, I get my children involved,” said Bella. “They are my IT, my photographer, and my assistant. That’s how they grew up.”

With husband Floyd and children Michael and Ayana

With husband Floyd and children Michael and Ayana

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