Presidential Awardee Laura Garcia: ‘I like to serve, and sometimes give a little bit more’

By Marivir R. Montebon

After a grueling day at school, Dr. Laura Garcia, a nurse educator, recharged herself through a short nap and had the energy to answer my interview questions in the wee hours of the night.

She is a woman of accomplishments and of many titles in com-munity organizations in the Big Apple. So aptly, I asked which achievement is most important to her.

Laura is an associate professor of Nursing at the College of Mount St. Vincent and a clinical instructor at the New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing. She served two terms as State Chairperson of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations-New York (NAFFAA-New York), one of the largest and oldest organizations of Filipinos in the U.S. She completed her degree in Doctor of Nursing Practice at Fair-leigh Dickinson University.

“I am not my accomplishments. I am not the title next to my name. I like to serve. Sometimes, your commitment to serve is good enough. But sometimes, you give a little more. You just do your work, you serve. One day, you just might find that you made a difference. That is why the Presidential Award is very important to me. It is my most recent accomplishment. I won’t say it is the most important, but the impact you have made has reached the highest official of your country of birth for you ‘have brought the country honor and recognition through excel-lence and distinction in the pursuit of your work or profession.’ To me, that is so cool!”

Laura is actively involved in Filipino-American and non-Filipino community concerns in the East Coast and serves on the Manhattan Community Board District Five (CB5). She has gone a long way since she arrived in the U.S. in 1985 working as a nurse at the Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn.

Born in Butuan City in Mindanao, Laura was one of the 2020 Ten Outstanding Butuanons. She is a mother of two grown chil-dren: Teresa Esperanza Anderson who lives in New Jersey with her family and Pablo John Garcia IV who recently was elected mayor in the town of Barili, Cebu. To date, she has five grand-children whom she regards as her pride and joy. Her life partner Fernando Mendez, President and CEO of Fiesta In America, has long been a source of inspiration in her life in the U.S.

I have known Laura for several years now as a friend and a community leader who puts her heart into public service and as a teacher and nurse. She definitely is one of the most beautiful and glamorous women in N.Y., but more importantly, she is beautiful deep inside. She is a refined woman, strong, reliable, and kind-hearted.

Behind that sweet smile and gentle demeanor is a formidable community leader. Laura said that she looks to her mother Te-resa for strength who helped her raise her children into becom-ing kind-hearted individuals.

As a media professional, I have been privy to Laura’s struggle as a mother in 2021 during the lockdown when her daughter Teza and son-in-law contracted the dreaded coronavirus. Being a nurse and mother, it must be awful feeling helpless and monitor-ing her daughter and her family (two small grandchildren) re-motely through a cell phone.
With strong faith and love, she had been their strength. Her caregiving experience for daughter Teza and her family has been one of the many inspiring stories I have ever written in 2020.

Laura is a staunch advocate for human rights, particularly on ac-cess to public health, family unity and racial justice. On various occasions, I have interviewed her position on racism, educating the public on the proper approach and attitude towards it. She said she had called out immediately those who discriminated against her – in the workplace, for instance. It is a chance for that person to have a fresh look at people, so you need to speak up, she once said in my interview.

She was passionately against the separation of families at the U.S. borders. As a mother who had experienced being away from her children, she empathized with the families being torn apart. You cannot do that – or the society is making monsters out of these little ones, Laura opined in a video interview which I produced.

During the pandemic, she used her position at the Manhattan council to access masks for FilAms. The press club where I be-long benefitted from several boxes of masks for our members from the NYC Mayor’s office through Laura.

In small or big ways, Laura is a tried and tested woman lead-er. Asked about her plans in the immediate future as a leader, Laura said she would continue to mentor other people, especial-ly the young ones.

“I have noticed there are so many rising young stars in our community and in my work who need just a little push to be-come leaders. When you are successful, there are people who will pull you down. I will teach the youth to rise above the neg-ativity. My nieces and nephews are growing. I would love to mentor them. Some of them I see transform from shy individuals into confident young adults.

“At some point, I will step aside and let the new generation take the lead. I will continue to inspire, to motivate and bring out the best in myself and everyone around me,” said Laura.

Marivir Montebon is a journalist in New York who founded her online magazine OSM! (awesome) in 2012. She recently published ‘Awesome at 10’, a curated compilation of news features and essays about the FilAm communities to cele-brate her online magazine’s 10th anniversary.

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