Americas Columns

UPSIDE (Cherie M. Querol Moreno): Inspiring FilAms of 2023

IN 2023, 9 Filipino Americans made headlines for speaking up, smashing barriers or giving back.  Here are the 9 who inspired last year and whose efforts will continue to elevate FilAm presence in 2024 and beyond.

1.    Justice advocate

    LIEZEL CHAN LUCERO

Just days after Frances Kendra Lucero was shot and killed in front of her two children in March in Daly City, her mother Liezel Chan Lucero expressed her grief at a vigil organized by the Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center.  Police identified the gunman as her estranged partner, who is facing murder and associated weapons charges.

Lucero is seeking justice for her daughter by vigilantly monitoring the case even as her family’s life has been turned upside down by the tragedy. “I want everyone to know what kind of person my daughter Frances Kendra Lucero was taken from us,” Liezel delivered an impassioned plea: “We want justice for Frances and that is life imprisonment for the one who took her life.  We have to live life without Frances and he should face life without parole.”

2.   Tennessee Rep.

JUSTIN SHEA BAUTISTA JONES

The first-year lawmaker was ousted by Tennessee General. Assembly Republicans for violating House rules and staging a gun-reform protest on the chamber’s floor 10 days after a shooter fired 152 rounds at a Nashville school and killed six people.  A week later he was reinstated by the Nashville Metropolitan Council.  The Oakland, Calif.-born Democrat is the son of an African American father and a Filipina nurse reportedly of Ibanag and Aeta heritage.  One of 2 African Americans expelled among 3 legislators who had led the protest, Jones has a long record of protesting injustice everywhere.

3.   Filmmaker

GIO ESPIRITU

Las Vegas-based filmmaker, writer, actor and acting coach Gio Espiritu has received numerous awards for her diverse talents.   Most exciting for FilAms now is her upcoming first feature film “Love and Karma” and the autobiographical “Mother Land”.  The latter glimpses the filmmaker’s own struggle in the spiral of abuse that began when she was a child, worsened in her teens when she fell in with what she calls a “biblical doomsday cult” and then escalated when she entered a relationship to become the aggrieved half in an abusive marriage.  Her courage, talent and resolve carved her path out of the rapidly worsening situation.  Today she employs  her art to support her social justice causes.

4.   Savate champ

LOGAN DIÑO

Southern California teen Logan Elle Diño stunned herself, her family and her coach by bagging the gold medal at the Savate Boxing Youth World Championships June 22-24 in Podcetrtek, Slovenia. The Filipino – Vietnamese American kickstarted her way to sports celebrity status at age 14 by winning the first and only US gold in the competition.  Her team was the first ever to represent the United States in the ages 13-17 class, making history all around.

5.   Angel Flight West pilot

RAY BUENAVENTURA

Lake County Chief Public Defender and 4-time Daly City Mayor Ray Buenaventura is a volunteer command pilot with Angel Flight West, a nonprofit founded in 2013 to transport ailing people for free across hundreds of air miles for medical assistance.   He takes time from his work and politics, shoulders fuel cost and plane rental “because it’s good for my soul.”

 He takes off from Palo Alto Airport in Santa Clara County topick up patients from rural towns in Humboldt, Shasta, Tulare, Kern, and Sacramento Counties where “they need help the most because they don’t have major airports” to distant treatment centers.

6.   Boxing Coach

KAMMMM MANALO

Known in her profession as Coach Kamille or Kammmm, the four M’s for her and her mother’s maiden surname Magadia plus two extra for flair, Manalo is a world-class fight trainer, developing individuals of all ages in the sport of boxing at Cannonnation Boxing & Fitness Gym she co-owns in Santa Fe Springs, California.  Her success belies her experience with an ex-boyfriend who cheated and gaslighted her into questioning her self-worth.  Until she decided she deserved better.  “Just make sure that you have an identity outside of the partner that you are with. Learn to love yourself, so when you find someone who isn’t treating you right, you’ll know when it’s time to exit from their life and be on the road to healing,” Manalo shares wisdom applicable to all relationships.

7.   Cancer survivor/activist

DONNY DE LEON

Donny de Leon’s idol Ninoy Aquino would have been impressed by the longtime activist even without knowing of de Leon’s bout with stage 2 cancer.  De Leon underwent procedures that “nearly killed” him.  but wh with early detection, faith, and a loving family including David Swanson,his husband of 33 years.  And yet de Leon, a U.S. Navy veteran has been protesting political abuses in his birth country as his way of keeping the legacy of his role model Aquino alive.

8.   IPV prevention trainor

JENNIFER JIMENEZ WONG

While caring for her seriously ailing mother Annalee Jimenez and mothering her three daughters, Jennifer Jimenez Wong still found time to give presentations on the dynamics of family and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).  A licensed marriage and family therapist, she gave the landmark IPV prevention presentation at a South San Francisco City Council meeting on Women’s History Month on the invitation of Mayor Flor Nicolas, 2023 co-president of the all-volunteer ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment.  As 2023 ALLICE vice president Jimenez Wong fulfilled her commitment to lead IPV prevention trainings for the team, and attended meetings and events commemorating its 20th anniversary.  No surprise she was named director for therapeutic behavioral services at the Fred Finch Youth and Family Services starting January 2024.

9.        Comedian actor

JO KOY

Washington State-born Joseph Glenn Herbert Sr. or Jokoy is the biggest Filipino American standup comic today.  His observational comedy has a favorite subject, his mother Josie Harrison, formerly a bank manager in Las Vegas, where the 52-year-old comedian-actor launched his standup career in 1994, after dropping out of UNLV.  Last year was a big year despite his much-publicized relationship with fellow comedian Chelsea Handler ending and his debut feature film “Easter Sunday” coming short of expectations despite having Steven Spielberg as producer.  In December his stardom was sealed by the announcement that he would be hosting the 2024 Golden Globes in its comeback bid following a year of controversy over its organizer Hollywood Foreign Press Associations’ lack of diversity.  Viewed by millions around the world, the Globes are 100 years old this year, burnishing Jo Koy’s status.