Saturday, October 13, 2012

THANK-YOU SPEECH | Accepting Fil-Am Heritage Achievement Award at LA City Hall

Tonight there is a party in Los Angeles that I am sadly unable to attend.  I am being honored as one of the country's first-ever recipients of the Filipino-American Heritage Achievement Awards. This national recognition honors Filipino Americans who, in the estimation of the Los Angeles Filipino Association of City Employees (LAFACE), "helped shape the last 425 years of Fil-Ams in United States." 

Headed by Cora Aragon Soriano, LAFACE is the only Filipino-American employee organization in the City of Los Angeles. LAFACE's Fil-Am Heritage Achievement Awards are being formally presented (right now!) at Los Angeles City Hall during an all-day celebration called "425 Years of Filipino-American History." 

A second before posting this, I received a text from LA. It says that each awardee actually receives five awards: a Heritage Achievement medal, one plaque from LAFACE, and one plaque each from the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Los Angeles.  I tell you: New York does not treat people as well as L.A. has toasted me tonight.

This is the thank-you letter I composed for the occasion.

Dear Cora Aragon A. Soriano
Dear Board Members of LAFACE
Dear Councilmembers Eric Garcetti, Jose Huizar, Richard Alarco
Dear Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay Jr.
Dear Acting Philippine Consul Daniel Espiritu
Most of all, Mga Kababayan of the Los Angeles Filipino Association of City Employees:

Sayang talaga. Sayang na sayang. Nanghihinayang ako. Kasi narito ako sa New York. At lahat kayong mga nagpupuri at mga itinatanghal ay nasa Los Angeles.

This is a letter from Randy Gener in New York. How I wish I could celebrate with you tonight!  How I regret that I am not able to express my tremendous gratitude in person. This lovely gentleman reading this letter is Mark Santos. He is my best friend from Paco Catholic School.  We grew up together.  We performed and sang in school shows. We served as editors for our high school paper.

I kid you not, but on this very beautiful Friday evening, this very moment that Mark is reading this letter now in LA City Hall, I am standing on a stage, performing my own original piece of writing at Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Manhattan. This dramatic work was inspired by the historical legacies of Fil-Am farm workers and union organizers in California and Seattle. I have been collaborating with a group of young Fil-Am writers and performers to open a theater piece about Filipino identity. Had tonight's celebration happened a week earlier or a week later, there would have been no problem for me to come to LA. I am deeply moved that, despite my absence, you decided to publicly honor me anyway.

What a stunning award! What significant event tonight is! If you consider that Filipinos first set foot on the coast of California 425 years ago, tonight's gala is remarkable. This is still a society where we exist on uneven playing fields. As long as this is the case, we need groups like LAFACE to help recognize the achievements and contributions of people of color in this country.

Johnny Itliong, who received a posthumous award for his late father, the legendary Larry Itliong.
With Bernardo Bernardo, Heritage Awardee. | Photo by Paul Consignado
Among the 21 awardees tonight, five of them are being awarded posthumously. This record is completely unheard of. This LAFACE event serves as a model for the U.S. national scene. I join everyone here to salute the late Larry Itliong, whom you have recognized with a posthumous award. An important Filipino labor organizer, Itliong died 35 years ago at the age of 63.

I am jumping for joy that tonight you are honoring the late Gladys Celeste Mercader. A virtuoso pianist with international credentials, Mercader was a hidden treasure of the American music and ballet world. She had worked in the shadows of Jerome Robbins, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She died in 2008.

Heritage Achievement Awardees
With these posthumous awards to Itliong and Mercader and others who are no longer with us, LAFACE sends an important message: that we Filipino Americans truly value and acknowledge the excellence of our own people, especially those performing artists like Mercader whom the larger U.S. culture had overlooked.

I sing the praises of Bernardo Bernardo, Heritage Awardee, also for Music/Entertainment.  Ever since we first met at Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska, Bernardo has amazed me with his lacerating wit, his joie de vivre, his acting talents, and his community leadership.

I salute Cora Aragon Soriano and the Board Members of LAFACE.  What you have created here tonight is to build an instrument of legitimacy for our people. I thank you for allowing me and Mark to play a small role in it. I thank whoever it was who nominated me for this award.

I grew up in the slums of Santa Ana river, studied near the outdoor markets of Paco church and immigrated to America with aspirations of becoming a writer. This award blows my mind. You have given this kanto boy something to treasure, something to live up to. Whenever I receive yet another rejection or life deals me another terrible or unfair hand, I will remember your munificence tonight: Once upon a time, in California, on the 425th year of Fil-Am historical presence in America, there was an association of LA city employees. These wonderful people, these kababayans, bless them, they took a look at the body of my work so far and said, "Job well done."

To be a success is about being happy with what you’re doing, constantly growing as an individual, and contributing to other people in measurable and meaningful ways. I will work hard to live up to your astounding generosity. I will find hope and good cheer and perseverance in this lovely gesture from LAFACE.

Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay kayo! At magandang gabi sa inyong lahat.

Randy Gener
Friday, October 12, 2012
New York City

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