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Filipino Community’s Living Treasure

Nana Maggie Domingo (center) with (from left) son Noel Ramirez and wife Kim, and Tina and son Ramil Ramirez PHOTO COURTESY LEO ROJAS GOZAR

Nana Maggie Domingo (center) with (from left) son Noel Ramirez and wife Kim, and Tina and son Ramil Ramirez

The Filipino community — the fastest-growing ethnic group in Hawaii — through the years has produced a number of outstanding role models and leaders who have served as an inspiration through their personal example of sacrifice, perseverance and a record of service and accomplishment.

On Saturday night, a sold-out gathering at Empress Restaurant will honor and pay tribute to an individual, who, for nearly 60 years, has made exceptional contributions for the betterment of her people and the community: Magdalena “Auntie Maggie” Pasion Domingo.

The soft-spoken Kalihi matriarch never has been one to seek honors or awards. She is accustomed to being in the background while others pose for photo ops and take the bows. But officers and members of Philippine Cultural Foundation of Hawaii (PCFH), the prestigious organization that Domingo has championed for more than two decades and is all about preserving and perpetuating cultural heritage and traditional values, is having it no other way.

According to Janice Sevilla, chairwoman of the dinner reception, “Honoring Nana Maggie is an appropriate tribute, since she officially has retired from her radio broadcasting career. For years she had one of the most-popular radio programs on KNDI, where she was a fixture at 4:30 in the morning five days a week. From the time she moved to Hawaii in 1957, she became a successful travel executive with Phil-American Travel Agency that helped so many Filipino families stay connected with their homeland, and today she helps families give their loved ones a fitting farewell in her capacity with Valley of the Temples.

“Most of all, she has been the driving force behind PCFH,” she adds. “I can’t begin to imagine where we would be without her creative and dynamic leadership. Nana Maggie is the one person who everyone, from politicians, business and labor leaders to educators and non-profit types to hotel workers and shop owners, turns to for information, advice, guidance and help.

“She’s everybody’s aunty and is known as the go-to icon.”

PCFH was started in 1969 by Soledad Alconcel, wife of Philippines Consul General in Hawaii Trinidad Alconcel, with the help of other distinguished leaders including Rev. Joe Lazo, Annie Corpuz, Mario Bautista, Buenaventura Realica and Arturo Barba, to name a few. They got off to a great start with a variety of cultural programs and initiatives, such as raising scholarship funds to award outstanding students bound for college. It also was a great desire of Mrs. Alconcel to have a Philippine cultural center built in Hawaii. She dreamt that such a center would serve as a gathering place for Filipinos to showcase their rich cultural heritage.

A member since 1972, Maggie assumed the helm of PCFH at the turn of the century, when it started to experience challenges in declining membership, finances and activities. She refused to inherit the leadership of an organization whose best years had come and gone. So she embarked upon an aggressive campaign to recruit younger members, who would recognize the mutual benefit in learning to work side-by-side with senior citizens, and initiated an ambitious fundraising campaign, which would be fueled by exciting new initiatives that would get the attention of the Filipino community.

All of this was done with an eye toward recapturing the momentum of earlier times, and to once again raise the saliency of the importance of cultural enrichment among her people. The credibility she acquired as the first female president of United Filipino Council of Hawaii (UFCH), the statewide umbrella organization for all Filipino groups in Hawaii, which elected her to the top post in 1990, proved invaluable in helping her garner support and build partnerships for her lofty agenda.

The popularity of beauty pageants resulted in new competitions being launched with the dual objective of raising funds, such as Ms. Millennium Filipina, Ms. Philippines Hawaii Pageant, Miss Mabuhay Hawaii, Ms. Centennial Filipina, Queen of the Pacific and most recent Little Miss Philippines Hawaii contest, featuring girls between the ages of 6 and 11.

She also tapped into the Filipino people’s wholesome respect and affinity for family values and education through an annual Recognition of Outstanding High School Valedictorians, doling out thousands of dollars in scholarships, and Parents of the Year Awards, a competition among married couples determining who had the best story to share about how they raised their children to ensure that love and happiness permeated the walls of their abode. Needless to say, the highest honor that PCFH bestows annually is its Parents of the Year trophy. Having been fortunate to judge such a competition one year, I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to see not only the number of college graduates these hard-working parents financially had put through school, but that they also toiled at two to three jobs to fulfill their versions of the American Dream.

Filipino community leader Leo Rojas Gozar says, “Perhaps Nana Maggie’s most glowing accomplishment was fulfilling the PCFH pledge of a $100,000 contribution to Filipino Community Center in Waipahu, an amount not yet matched by any other Filipino organization. As a result of the donation, the ballroom gallery at FilCom Center was named Philippine Cultural Foundation of Hawaii Gallery.”

As is her style, Nana Maggie is quick to deflect praise and credit others for making this feat come to pass. But it took a leader like her to take charge and set goals and deadlines to reach the desired outcome. This magnanimous act also brought full circle for PCFH the dream of its leading founder, Soledad Alconcel, set in the early ’70s, of the establishment of such an edifice.

Given these remarkable accomplishments, it’s easy to see why UFCH awarded this humble woman with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also was moved to confer the Banaag (ray of light) Award to PCFH under Domingo’s steward-ship for “advancing the cause of overseas Filipino communities.” PCFH was cited for its “worthy achievements in preserving Filipino values, cultures and traditions … and addressing the educational needs of Filipino youth.'”

It’s hard to visualize Nana Maggie “retired,” for she still is involved in a multitude of activities too numerous to mention. I am living proof of a non-Filipino (although I have been known at times to claim being the “tallest” or “singingest” Filipino by virtue of the plethora of towns and provinces that have made me an “adopted son,” including Nana Maggie’s beloved hometown of San Nicholas in Ilocos Norte), who continues to benefit from the wisdom, knowledge and example of this amazing woman. I know that Gerry Malabed, owner and general manager of KNDI 1270 AM, refuses to let her go off the air completely.

“She has such a loyal and strong following, through decades at my station and others, of earning the respect and trust of the public — no one is ready to say goodbye,” he says.

So if you, like me and countless others, still want to touch base with this living treasure of the Filipino community, tune into KNDI radio on weekends — Saturdays from 4:30 to 6 a.m. and Sundays, 5-8 a.m. It’s Nana time.