Dear Uncle Fred,

Written by Kevin Nadal

Dear Uncle Fred,

Whoever said you should never meet your heroes had never met you. 

You were the founding president of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS). The co-founder of the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) of Seattle. You were an activist, a deacon, an archivist, and a historian. You created the National Pinoy Archives at FANHS. You taught Filipino American Studies to an entire generation at the University of Washington. You conceptualized Filipino American History Month – choosing October honoring the month in 1587 that the first Filipinos landed in what is now known as Morro Bay, California. You were a loving husband to Auntie Dorothy; a father to Anthony, Damian, Timoteo, Sha, Margarita, Dominic, Dion, and Bibiana; and a grandfather and great-grandfather to many. To some of us, you were also a hero, a father figure, or both.

I was enraged when I took my first Asian American Studies classes in the 1990s. Our professors never mentioned Filipino Americans. In fact, I was more likely to learn about Filipino American history in my Chicano/Latino Studies classes. So, when I read your book Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans, I felt validated. I immediately felt connected to the history of FANHS. I was so grateful for the legacy you and Auntie Dorothy created.  I learned that my anger, frustration, and sadness about the treatment of Filipino Americans in the U.S., and within the pan Asian American umbrella, were not only real but experienced collectively. You led me to become what you and Auntie Dorothy referred to as a “professional Filipino” – someone who dedicates their life’s work to advocating for Filipino Americans.

I can’t remember if it was the 1998 FANHS Conference in Portland, Oregon in 1998, or the 2002 Los Angeles conference where we first met. All I know is that each time I met you, I was nervous. You were, after all, a living legend. So, in 2009, when you and Auntie Dorothy invited me to speak at a TGIF “Thank God I’m Filipino” event at FANHS in Seattle, I was so honored, but nervous. You both eased my nerves immediately and you insisted I stay at your house. Together we bonded over our shared roots from Numancia, Aklan. We went to your favorite restaurants in Seattle. You talked about mental health and LGBTQ issues with ease despite the stigma present in our families and communities. In fact, you encouraged Filipino Americans to talk more about these things. Your generous compliments about my first book empowered me to expand the field of Filipino American psychology. Later, a small group of us started a national organization. Ten years later, that organization has hundreds of members, an annual scholarship, and a biennial conference dedicated to promoting Filipino American psychology.

You and Auntie Dorothy gave us the permission and the encouragement we needed to advocate for our community. You set the example for me and other pin@ys to create our own spaces when there weren’t any for us. Your legacy is the foundation that so many professors stand on. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Emily Lawsin, Patricia Espiritu Halagao, EJ David, and I are only a few of them. You taught us that it is never just about us. It is about using our understanding of our history and our struggles to push our community forward together. It is about making the world a better place for the next generations. I can only hope that our students will learn those lessons through us and continue your legacy.

Uncle, I feel so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to know you as a person. You taught me the value of meeting one’s heroes. Especially when those heroes encapsulate humility, genuineness, compassion, and love. 

Thank you, salamat, saeamat for everything,

Kevin

Dr. Kevin Nadal is a Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York. He is the author of 10 books, including Filipino American Psychology. A past president of the Asian American Psychological Association and the founder of the LGBTQ Scholars of Color National Network, he has also served as a national trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society since 2010.

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