Filipina from South Central LA wins $5,000 scholarship for college

When it’s 12:09am and it’s too hard to fall asleep, what should a high school student do?

Earlier this year, the scenario is one that played out for 18-year-old Krizza Baniaga, a Filipina who recently graduated from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles.

“I should do something with my life,” she recalled thinking. “I need money for school.”

So she hopped on the Internet to browse the Gates Millennium Scholarship website and somehow found her way to a related scholarship called the APIASF (Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund).

Having never heard of APIASF before, Baniaga did some research and decided to try her luck. Using a previously written personal statement to fulfill the essay requirement for the scholarship, she eventually submitted an application.

Fast forward to several weeks later, the college-bound Filipina was selected as one of 22 recipients of the APIASF scholarship through the fund’s partnership with Toyota. Baniaga was also among nearly 9,000 individuals who applied for the scholarship and will receive a $5,000 award throughout a two-year period to help pay for college.

Two of the 22 scholarships from Toyota this year were partially funded by Toyota Giving Circles; part of Baniaga’s award was funded by the automaker’s Network of Filipino Toyota Associates (NFTA).

“We are thrilled APIASF and Toyota helped us find and award a scholarship to Krizza. She embodies our collective story of coming from the Philippines and working hard with our family, school and community to make a positive difference,” said NFTA leader Linda Campana. “We are honored to be a part of Krizza’s success story.”

Baniaga will attend UC Merced in the fall to study chemistry, the first step in her roadmap to becoming a pediatrician.

In the past five years, since moving to the United States from the Philippines in 2010, the young Filipina has invested much time and effort in excelling academically. In addition to attending school on the weekdays, she spent her Saturdays during her high school years taking classes to prepare for the SAT and ACT through the upward bound program at the University of Southern California (USC). She was also involved in extracurricular activities, including debate and softball.

Her efforts carried into her summers, when she would spend five weeks taking classes at USC. By the time she graduated, she had completed 12 college units.

She also finished in the top 9 percent of her class.

Baniaga credits her drive to reach her aspirations to the impoverished life she lived in Ilocos before moving to America.

Back then, her parents worked on farms all day under the sun just so they could afford dinner. At times, the family wouldn’t be able to pay for food, so she would have to request for IOUs at small stores, something she didn’t want to do.

She also remembers students having to drop out of school in their later elementary years to do that kind of work and earn money.

With no financial assistance, students needed to have their own money to attend school.

“I don’t want my family to be like that. I don’t want my future kids to be like that, not getting an education,” Baniaga said.

In many ways, life has improved for the young Filipina and her family since moving to California. Her father and mother work as a janitor at a golf club and food server at a Westwood restaurant, respectively. And now, they’re able to afford a typical Filipino breakfast – hotdogs, longanisa, eggs and rice – a meal that was considered a luxury while they were in Ilocos.

“Before, we mostly would have noodles for breakfast because that’s what we could afford,” she said.

Memories of her poorer days have had a long-lasting impact on her life, including when it comes to deciding what to do with leftover breakfast food.

“I feel bad [about throwing] it away. My parents struggled so much just to buy stuff like that. So [I] feed it to my dog,” she said.

Baniaga’s family moved to the United States to “chase the American dream,” which, to them, meant attaining a higher education.

Five years after beginning that chase, Baniaga will become the first in her family to attend college.

Just as her earlier life influenced her drive to achieve, it also contributed to her decision to choose to go into the medical field.

On the morning of May 30, 2010, Baniaga’s younger brother was rushed to the hospital. It was her mother’s birthday and it was 8 a.m. when it happened, she recalls. For an entire week, her then-2-year-old brother was pale, wasn’t eating and vomited a lot. The day he was brought to the hospital, the doctors told her family they were lucky he was brought in when he was. Otherwise, he would have died in less than two hours.

Once she becomes a pediatrician, she hopes to help children like her brother.

But for now, the first step of her 11-year journey begins in Merced, where she’s excited to live while she pursues her undergraduate degree.

While at the Northern California UC campus, she also won’t have to take out any loans due to the school’s generous financial aid offer.

And of course, that’s because of the award she received from the APIASF, which she just so happened to stumble upon one sleepless night a few months ago.

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