Distinguished Filipino Women of 2018: Celebrating the Achievements of Filipino Women

Celebrating International Women’s Month and the Distinguished Filipino Women of 2018

The Philippine Consulate General New York celebrated International Women’s Month with a reception on Monday, March 12, recognizing the achievements of three remarkable Filipino women.

The event, dubbed “Distinguished Filipino Women 2018,” gathered the community to meet outstanding Filipino women who have found success in their respective fields. It was an evening of opportunity to meet the awardees and hear them share their stories, thoughts and experiences as they journeyed through their professional and personal lives.

The evening’s honorees were IBM Engineer Virginia Mayo Policarpio, Penguin Classics Vice President Elda Rotor and CBS reporter Hazel Sanchez.

“This event is the consulate’s modest contribution to recognizing and celebrating the achievements of Filipina and Filipina-American women,” said Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter of congratulations to the honorees, read by Joanne Choi, assistant director of constituencies for Asian American Affairs under the Office of the Governor.

“Throughout generations, Filipina women have left an indelible imprint on our statewide communities, where they continue to have a significant impact as leaders, highly accomplished professionals and catalysts for change,” Cuomo said. “This special event brings together dynamic Filipina women who have made a mark in many areas of endeavor, excelling in their given field, and improving the lives of people in their communities and beyond.”

The audience was able to hear the stories of the three honorees as they all paid tribute to their parents for paving the way for them to achieve their respective families’ American dream.

“Hopefully, their stories will resonate with your own narratives, particularly being migrant women or children of migrant parents who found a footing here in the US and faced major obstacles along the way and have built on their strengths,” ConGen Dizon-De Vega added.

Through sheer hard work, these family-oriented Filipina women with vision, talent, compassion and courage were able to rise above their peers as they broke the proverbial glass ceiling in their respective fields.

Virginia Mayo Policarpio

“Sipag at tiyaga, it boils down to that. You can measure intelligence but you can’t measure grit,” Policarpio told the Asian Journal when asked about her secret to making it in an industry that is dominated by men. “Hard work has taken me to so many places.”

Policarpio is an IBM engineer, a trusted advisor and thought leader for everyone from technologists to executives for expertise in cybersecurity, security patch management and system provisioning technologies.

Because of how technology is, Policarpio said she could basically work anywhere, chase her dreams and still be a mother.

A housewife and mother of three, she works more than 40 hours a week but the same time, she is there to raise her children, bring them to school and be there for dinner every night.

At IBM, she gets to mentor up-and-coming IBMers to rise to technical leadership roles as well as mentor young women from her high school alma mater, St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City, who have aspirations of pursuing STEM careers.

“I would like to encourage more women to look into the IT field, security and data analytics because the sky is the limit right now and there’s so many things undiscovered,” she shared. “You can really make a mark in your area of work.”

Born in the Philippines, Policarpio and her family moved to the United States with when she was 12 years old.

“It was tough, I cried a lot. We were used to having yaya and katulong and when we came here, we lived in a basement apartment and it was difficult,” she recalled.

But she persisted.

“That shaped who I am now. I was there in that journey with my mama and papa and we were all trying to make it here in America,” she said.

She went to school and took up engineering. Taking up medicine, which was her childhood dream, would consume twice the number of years so she decided that the easiest way for her to achieve her dreams and have a good career would be a degree in engineering.

Policarpio holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Computer Engineering and Information Technology and a Master of Science in Engineering Management from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“We should break the stereotypes. When you think of engineers, and technology, you can’t imagine a mother being able to do that but once we get over that notion, we will realize that it is one of the professions where it is very conducive to raise a family,” she said.

Hazel Sanchez

“My parents wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, any sure thing. But I wanted to be a broadcast journalist and that is literally what I wrote in my fifth grade journal,” Sanchez shared in her speech. “I was just 10 years old and my dreams, my life goal set before I even hit puberty.”

Initially she thought that her dreams were even possible since she grew up in a small town an hour south of Chicago, where she didn’t see many people that looked like her.

“I remember when I was six years old, I used to rub my skin so hard in the bath tub, thinking that I could, maybe, wash off my skin color,” Sanchez recalled, her voice breaking.

There was this girl who would look at her funny in church every Sunday and would ask her if she and her family slept in tanning beds.

She was so upset that when her dad saw her, he told her a story – one that is politically incorrect but all too familiar among Filipinos, the story of God baking bread and how He got it “right” in the third try.

“That story would totally not fly now but it is what any parent would do soothe the broken heart of a child. Appropriate or not, that story made me stronger knowing that I was perfect in God’s eyes,” Sanchez said.

Now a mother of two daughters – Avery and Kenzie – Sanchez also paid tribute to her mom who she called a silent hero.

“What struck a nerve with me is that we are now parents, I am now a mother and I am experiencing the same things that my mom experienced when I was a child. She is the silent hero here, with the sacrifices she made and giving up her career by retiring early to raise all of us,” she said.

Sanchez joined CBS in 2000 as a general assignment reporter. She was the weekend anchor/reporter for WBAY-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin prior to her move to New York City.

She has received numerous awards for her body of work, including a Midwest Emmy, a CINE Golden Eagle Award and one from the Wisconsin Broadcast Association.

“Don’t rush to get the big story. Take your time and report the truth because being factual is what gives you credibility and without it, you tell one bad or false story, no one will hire you,” CBS reporter Hazel Sanchez said when we asked about her advice to young people thinking of a possible career in journalism.

Sanchez earned her BA in broadcasting and electronic communications from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Her husband, AIG insurance executive Peter Rapciewicz, was at the event to support her.

“It means a lot,” Sanchez quipped when asked about being recognized as one of the three honorees tonight.

“I get very emotional when I talk about where I come from because I know how much went into getting me here starting with my parents who grew up with nothing and had the challenges and rose out of that,” she shared. “I am a first generation American in my family. Despite the challenges, here they are, two professionals who are now retired. It is not just my story but a story of so many people.”

Elda Rotor

Elda Rotor is Vice President and Publisher for Penguin Classics and she oversees the U.S. editorial program including the works of John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, Shirley Jackson, among others.

“It is such a heartwarming event and what it means to me is that I feel like the whole Filipino community is here to celebrate the power of women. There’s so many people to be inspired by,” Rotor said in an interview after the program.

Rotor received her BA from George Washington University and prior to Penguin, she worked at Oxford University Press. She has also published poems in The Literary Review, The Nuyorasian Anthology and Flippin’: Filipinos on America.

She is part of the “two percent Asian American” in higher management in the book publishing industry, a field where there’s not a lot of people of color.

“There are a lot of systemic issues with recruitment and retention. It is very hard to get into the boys’ club but there are now systems in place like diversity committees that want to think about that more carefully,” Rotor shared.

Asked about what advice she would give to their younger selves, the honorees were united in saying that it would be the same advice they would give to their children today.

“I’d probably tell my younger self – and my father – that it’s okay if you don’t want to be a doctor. If you follow something that you’re passionate about, that you recognize really makes you who you are. If you love what you do – and I love what I do – try to be the best you can in that job,” Rotor said.

For Policarpio, “If anyone can make me feel like I was ten, it’s my mom. She’ll tell me to take care of my body because I only have this one. So I’ll tell my younger self to take care of our body.”

“It can be best summarized by the two things I tell my kids every single day when I wake them up – “Rise to shine!”. I’ll tell my younger self to rise to shine and that every day is a gift. I’m that mother that chases them to school and yelling “Make good decisions today!,” she added.

“I’d tell my younger self what I tell my daughters every day, ‘Anything is possible if you put your mind and heart in it,’” Sanchez said.

Consul General Dizon-De Vega wrapped up the discussion with her own advice to her younger self.

As a Type A person she says she still firmly believes that one should never argue from a position of ignorance, one has to be prepared because there is simply no substitute for good preparation.

“At the end of the day, however prepared you are, sometimes the universe just takes over. It has its own vibe, it has its own movement, it has its own cycle and you have to just let go and do the best that you can,” she said.

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