In commemoration of International Women’s Month, the Philippine Consulate General in New York gathered the community to observe, commemorate and celebrate four distinguished Filipina-American achievers who have carved a name in their respective fields of endeavor.
Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega praised these inspirational women leaders – Analisa Leonor Balares, Ali Ewoldt, Elaine Quijano and Maria Torres-Springer – and thanked them for sharing their personal narratives as they talked about the struggles and challenges they had to face in their own careers.
“We are privileged to hear some of their stories and aspirations this evening. These are the narratives that help to define women, the direction through which women’s advocacy must traverse,” the consul general said. “[I hope they] inspire future generation of women and girls to stake a claim and to have a foothold in the world.”
“To be in the presence of so many Filipino women leaders in different sectors and industries, everyone blazing their own trail, and I think that really exemplifies what is best in the Filipino-American community,” said Maria Torres-Springer, one of the honorees.
Analisa Balares is CEO and founder of Womensphere, an organization that seeks to empower a billion women and girls between now and 2030. She started making a mark when she was still in high school back in the Philippines, becoming active in her community at a young age and joining youth development programs in school.
She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, UBS Global Visionary, a NASA Datanaut, and a former financial analyst before she delved into nonprofit work with Womensphere.
Ali Ewoldt made history last year when she got her dream role of playing Christine Daae in the longest-running show on Broadway today, Phantom of the Opera. By doing so, she became the first woman of color to portray the role.
A psychology degree holder from Yale, Ali helps elevate the presence of Asian Americans and Filipino Americans in theater here in New York.
CBSN anchor and correspondent Elaine Quijano also made history last year, when she broke the glass ceiling in broadcast news when she was tapped to moderate the nationally televised 2016 US Vice Presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, becoming the first Asian-American and the youngest media personality to do so.
New York CIty Housing Commissioner Maria Torres Springer is currently the highest-ranking Filipino-American in New York City government. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed her in 2014 as commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services and became the president and CEO of the New York Economic Development Corporation before getting appointed to the Housing and Preservation and Development.
“Maria does everyone proud not only by bringing her expertise and her experience to various portfolios in the New York City government but more importantly, she does so with a strong sense of empathy for the many underserved communities and sectors here in the city,” Consul General De Vega said.
“I draw strength and power from my own roots and from the stories of my grandmothers and my mother, who quit school when she was 14 to become a domestic helper in Metro Manila to be able to send her younger sisters to school,” Balares shared as she talked about many untold stories of Filipinos and the sacrifices they make in order to make the lives of their families better.
She added that when faced with a challenge, she pauses and thinks of the sacrifices that her own parents made along with the things they had to give up so that she and her brother could have the privileges they had.
Quijano, on her part talked about being the daughter of immigrants and echoed Analisa’s story.
“It was interesting to listen to Analisa because there’s so many parallels. When I think about the things that motivate me, things that inspire me, I think about my mother,” she said.
Her mother is the daughter of a seamstress and at a young age, she was told not to pursue school because she would end up as a seamstress anyway. Her brothers sacrificed their own education so she could pursue her dream. At the age of 26, her mother earned her accounting degree, which became her key to immigrate to the United States.
“That decision by her changed the course of my family’s life and because of her stubborn, Batanguena streak that didn’t allow her to see herself as limited. This is something that I think about a lot,” Quijano said.
Ali Ewoldt talked about her Filipina mother, who came to the United States when she was 18 years old and how they supported her dream to perform at a young age, driving her to singing and dancing classes while working full-time jobs.
Aside from talking about the challenges for Filipino-Americans and Asian-Americans to breakthrough in theater, Ewoldt narrated how one should never give up even after successive disappointments and that it took her almost a decade of auditioning for the role of Christine.
Women’s History Month
Women’s History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society, and for the past few years, the Philippine Consulate General has been honoring distinguished women in their various fields with a simple event at the Philippine Center.
This year, other highlights of the program included the presentation of a Proclamation for Women’s History Month to Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega by Ms. Nika Milburn, Assistant Director for Constituencies, Women, and African-American Affairs of the Office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Other special guests included the Honorable Patricia Cox, former Premier of Bermuda and Honorable Patrice Minors, former Minister of the Economy, Trade and Industry of Bermuda.
In her remarks, Consul General Dizon-De Vega thanked all the honorees for sharing their narratives, for giving voice to the struggles, challenges, and the ways women have faced all these squarely and positively. She also called on Filipina-American women to play a more active role in various platforms and organizations to enable women shape their own history.
The audience had the opportunity to have an interactive session with the honorees with discussion questions ranging from professional challenges, growing up Filipino in the US, future goals, and urgent issues such as violence against women.
The 2017 Evening with Distinguished Women is part of the Philippine Consulate’s month-long commemoration of International Women’s Month.