Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) recently had its annual gala celebration on Friday, November 17 to highlight 45 years of serving Filipino Americans in Los Angeles through health, economic, and social service programs.
With over 200 guests present at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, the theme of the night was “Embrace, Empower, Evolve.” Emceed by Krista Kleiner and DJ PJ Butta, the program was filled with performances, networking and honoring seven awardees who have positively impacted the Fil-Am community.
“SIPA is proud to recognize these passionate and dedicated leaders who share our commitment to Filipino culture and community,” said Dorothy Gamoning, interim executive director of SIPA. “Like SIPA, they are dedicated to the enrichment and empowerment of Pilipinos in America and improving the quality of life for everyone.”
The first award of the night was Lingkod Bayan (Political Leadership) given to LA Deputy Mayor for Budget & Innovation, Miguel Sangalang, who rose to the position earlier this year.
Sangalang said it is “a real honor to actually be following in [Mayor Eric Garcetti’s] footsteps” who was awarded by SIPA about 13 years ago when he was still councilmember of District 13, which covers Historic Filipinotown. Sharing his immigrant story, he highlighted the importance of community services in helping future generations succeed.
“I think this is a really big thing for us especially since we’re coming into the age where we have to make sure that everyone is counted in the future,” he said. “We have a fight to do for the next four years essentially and make sure that everyone has moved in a nation that matters and our voices are heard from Los Angeles to Washington. We really want to support our immigrant communities both within the Filipino community and our friends within [other] communities.”
The Kapangyarihang Pinay (Pinay Empowerment) honor was given to Isa Fabro, an award-winning pastry chef considered one of the best in LA known for her mango royal and ube pili nut pies.
In her speech, Fabro thanked her mentors and colleagues and acknowledged her mom as her “greatest inspiration.”
“Throughout history, Filipina nurses have traveled abroad for work and a better life. My mom is one of many who left their country and loved ones but it was their courage that helped build a foundation and a future for the Filipino-American generations,” she said. “And it is their legacy that Filipino-American women like myself can stand with respect, pride, and dignity. And so I accept this inaugural Pinay Empowerment Award not only for myself but for the countless Pinays who are cooks, artists, homemakers, healthcare workers, civil service, teachers, writers, vendors and business owners. We persevere with resilience, grace, and strength. You would not be here without us!”
Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) Executive Director Aquilina Soriano-Versoza received the Bayanihan (Community Service) award for her work in championing workers’ rights.
“We’re working so that we can work together with SIPA, work together with other Filipino organizations so we can help build a voice and leadership for Filipino workers and for the whole Filipino community because we are the largest [Asian Pacific Islander] population in California,” she said. “And we are like a sleeping giant except we have not yet organized and got to the point where can really utilize our powers, our community to make sure that every one of our needs and everyone one of our community members have their issues addressed.”
The last awards for Apo (Pioneer) Spirit Award were given to former SIPA board members, Benito Miranda (regional sales manager for Care 1st Health Plan Medicare Division), outgoing board president Leo Pandac (program director of Pacific Asian Alcohol and Drug Program), Atty. Joe Sayas, and Cirilo Pinlac (accountant).
“I have learned many valuable lessons in this journey called leadership. I have known the joy of success and as well have experienced the humility of failure. The valuable lesson, however, is the one that dictated that a person must rise up and continue to move forward,” Miranda said.
Several Fil-Am entertainers were present at the event, such as Grammy award-winning performer Apl.de.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas, actors Dante Basco, Eugene Cordero, and Roshon Fegan, and NCAA basketball player Kobe Paras. Award presenters included actors Asia Jackson and Leslie Anne Huff, along with YouTube stars Megan Batoon and Liane V. Ryan Gallagher, Jessica Reynoso, and Jeserey Sanchez performed musical numbers, with music provided by DJ Icy Ice. Philippine Consul General Adelio Cruz and representatives from the Consulate also attended.