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2007 Vagina Warriors

By Fay Olympia from the 2007 V-Diaries

Al S. Perez, San Francisco-based artist, graphic designer, founder / owner of Creative i Studio and civic leader is adding a new title to his resume: Vagina Warrior.

It’s about time. Al has been supporting FWN’s anti-domestic violence efforts and volunteering his expertise in art direction to the annual Vagina Monologues production for years.

Pulling all-nighters, creating professional layouts and original cutting edge designs for the V-Diaries and promotional materials for the show, Al is the darling of the FWN leadership, his selfless and generous spirit an inspiration to the all-volunteer cast and crew.

With a thriving and highly regarded graphic design studio serving some of the biggest names in the corporate world, and a killer schedule to match, Al guards his time for community service and involvement. He is President of the Filipino American Arts Exposition, a highlight of the San Francisco summer scene with its Pistahan Parade and Festival which, alone, is a full-time effort. Yet Al meets his business commitments on Al Perez.jpgtime and manages to give another hundred percent to his civic activities.

In an interview with LBC Foundation’s Kababayan Edition that honored him with its March 2006 Kababayan Award, Al explained his philosophy for giving back to his community:

“I work with a lot of nonprofits and they don’t have a lot of funding to begin with. It’s my way of giving back. I may not be a good public speaker. I may not know a lot of things. But I know how to deliver messages through the visual art.”

His designs for FWN’s V-Day campaigns have powerfully captured the essence of what the show and the movement is all about—that it’s time to speak up and stop the violence, especially because in his home city of San Francisco, the number of Filipina women dying because of domestic violence is tragically high.

Until the violence stops, Al Perez is committed to using his art to create a world where homes are safe havens for women, children and the rest of us.

Bettina Santos Yap is a Vagina Warrior straight out of tBettina Santos Yap.jpghe trenches. While a lot of us were still trying to get past the V and P words, she was already performing in the very first Pinay production of The Vagina Monologues in 2004. She returned to the Herbst Theatre stage for subsequent performances each year and did her turn as director in 2006 for both the San Francisco and New York shows.

Currently president of CORA Kumares (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse Filipino American Outreach Task Force), Bettina had just joined CORA as a founding member of Kumares when the casting call for TVM went out a few months later.

“The timing couldn’t have been better as I’ve always loved the performing arts,” recalls Bettina. “And now here’s this opportunity to further reach out and educate the Filipino-American community about domestic violence which I’d been learning about through my training at CORA.”

Born and raised in Manila with Bachelor’s degrees in Broadcast Communication from
the University of the Philippines and Marketing from Golden Gate University, Bettina works as a marketing consultant for high-tech companies in the Silicon Valley.

Elena Mangahasjourney toward becoming a Vagina Warrior began in 2004 when FWN launched its first production of The Vagina Monologues. It was my own transformation that made me stay with the production in the succeeding years,” says Elena. “I acted, later directed and I am continuing to spread the word that unspoken violence does exist in our immediate family and in our community.”

She laughingly labels herself a “driving fool” for her frequent forays over the Altamont Pass, shuttling between Stockton and San Francisco to ElenaMangahasHeadShot2.jpgdirect the The Vagina Monologues and volunteer with FWN’s other activities. Self-effacing yet willing to step in with firm, wise leadership when needed, this youngest of “Manangs” quietly mentors and encourages younger community members, the future of Filipino- and other Asian-Americans ever on her mind.

Her commitment to put an end to domestic violence comes from her work of 25 years in social services in the US, having had hands-on work on broad issues from inequity to mental health. Elena says, “The one thing that tugs at me hard is the abuse and exploitation of a human being—of women trapped in domestic violence and children witnessing the misconduct of adults. In my work as a job counselor for the youth population in my local community I have touched the impact of repressive cultural practices in certain immigrant groups, the negative influence of poor parenting and the lack of resources for the youth’s emotional needs.”

With her full calendar, Elena Mangahas’ strategy for community involvement is practical: “At present I put my mission where my personal strengths take me— having learned the use of theatre as an enlightening medium from my work in the 70’s with the University of the Philippines Repertory Company, and being able to mentor girls into becoming organizers who influence social action where truth is inconvenient. Having FWN support this mission makes it even more extraordinary!”

It’s a safe bet that Laureen Dumadag Laglagaron has helped more women emerge safely from abusive relationships and more Filipinos work out their immigration status than the average person who is twice her age and has a 50% shorter name.

She worked with survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking for two years as a public interest attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legal Outreach in San Francisco, providing legal help free of charge.Laureen Laglagaron.jpg

Now, this young Juris Doctor from UCLA is taking the immigration stories of her people and a substantial portfolio of personal achievements and honors to Washington, DC, having recently joined the Migration Policy Institute at its new National Center of Immigrant Integration Policy.

“For the last decade,” says Laureen, “I have aspired to be an advocate for immigrant rights. I have traveled to the Philippines to perform research on international migration patterns of Filipino overseas workers. I’ve worked as a demographer analyzing migration patterns within the United States and entered law school to become a legal advocate for immigrant rights.”

Born and raised in diverse Vancouver, BC, Laureen discovered first hand what it was like to be an immigrant of color only when she moved to Boston as a high school senior, where her being Filipina became a problem for the first time in her life. Yet she says “I was fortunate. I didn’t feel less than anyoneelsedid.Ifeltentitled,IfeltI belonged, I was confident.”

Laureen wants to set an example for young girls. “I want them to dream big, think big,” she emphasizes, remembering not seeing anyone in law school “who was like me.”

“I want to mentor younger Filipino women or men who want to go into corporate law. I want to tell the lessons I’ve learned,” insists Laureen who also believes that it is in our power to change the culture of violence against women. This Vagina Warrior dreams big and works hard to make those dreams come true: “An America where women and children will live in safety in their own homes.”

The name “Perla” is Filipino/Spanish for “pearl.” Some of the most beautiful and valuable pearls in the world come from the seas surrounding the Philippine archipelago.

Her name is a metaphor for all Filipina women, each one uniquely beautiful and of value beyond measure. Perla De Jesus, independent Bay Area bPerladeJesus.jpgusinesswoman, beauty expert, Vagina Warrior, knows that her worth as a Filipina woman, as her own person, is beyond measure.

It has been a long and painful journey for Perla to get to this point in her life and her participation in this year’s The Vagina Monologues is an important milestone.

She survived an abusive 18-year marriage. She survived her husband’s substance abuse and violent temper. She survived having a knife at her throat, a gun to her head. She survived being stabbed repeatedly by her own husband after she finally told him she was leaving.

“Trying to leave is the most lethal time,” says long-time anti-domestic violence advocateJusticeTaniCantil-Sakauyeof California’s Third District Court of Appeals. It’s when abused women need help the most.

So it was for Perla whose recovery after the stabbing, at San Francisco General Hospital’s Trauma Unit, took several months. Since then, with her erstwhile abuser serving a 15-year sentence in prison, she and her children have walked down the path of healing together.

When her friends took her to see The Vagina Monologues / Usaping Puki, Perla discovered a new calling. She says, “I have found courage to be part of the movement in creating awareness of domestic violence. I want to reach out to women who may be experiencing the kind of abuse and violence I went through.”

As Perla performs tonight, you might hear the catch in her throat, see the glint of tears in her eyes and feel an emotional response rising in your own gut. You’ll know it’s not because she’s a veteran of the stage or a trained actor.

It’s because Perla is a survivor who wants to let other women know that they are pearls of great worth that should be cherished and protected. Moreover, her experience shows that a woman can rise from abuse, take hold of the resiliently creative power every human being Rudy Asercion.jpgpossesses and build a beautiful life for her self and for those she loves.

Rudy Asercion may be a War Memorial Commissioner but he is also a peacemaker. He has come to be known as one who works to bring people together, heal rifts and work together to achieve shared goals. He has worked tirelessly to gain equity for the Filipino Veterans of World War II and has supported many of the Filipino-American organizations of the Bay Area, including Filipina Women’s Network and its V-Day Filipina production of The Vagina Monologues.

Rudy admits to a bit of trepidation about the new title the women of his community are conferring on him, but only because some people still stumble over the V and P words and miss the point entirely, blinded to the liberating truth by their outrage or embarrassment. His choice to stand with Filipina women against domestic violence through the V-Day movement despite disapproval from certain quarters.

It troubles Rudy that so many Filipina women in America suffer and die from domestic violence. “It used to be that men protected their women but the deterioration of family values together with our own insecurity changed everything. In my own family,” he affirms, “men do not hit women.”

And so he continues fighting for equity and justice. Says Rudy, “I would like to be remembered as someone who only needed the air that I breathe, the water that I drink, the food that I eat and the love of my wife and kids.”

BincyJacob.jpgBincy Jacob is the Training Coordinator for My Sister’s Place,  an advocacy and community education agency serving those harmed by domestic violence in the Westchester County, New York area.

After spending her childhood growing up in various cities in India, Krittika Ghosh moved to New York City at the age of 13. Krittika Ghosh3.jpgBecause of her own experiences as a South Asian woman of color, Krittika has been a strong advocate for social justice and change around issues of gender and immigrants rights in the Asian American community for the past eight years. 

After graduating Magna cum Laude from Simmons College with a Bachelors degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies and receiving her Msc Gender Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science in, Krittika has been working in the immigrant Asian community on issues such as domestic violence, workers rights and post 9/11 hate crimes against South Asians and Muslims.  She has worked for and been involved with organizations such as Sakhi for South Asian Women, Workers Awaaz, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. 

She is currently the Queens Coordinator of the Community Empowerment Program at CONNECT where she works to educate youth, communities of faith, LGBT and immigrant communities on how to prevent and respond to intimate partner violence.  She is also a board member of Andolan, a not-for-profit, membership-based group that organizes and advocates on behalf of low-wage, immigrant South Asian workers in New York City. 

Venessa Manzano.jpgVenessa Manzano is currently the Director of Programs for the National Asian American Society of Accountants, Inc.  Prior to that, she served as the Executive Director of the Filipino American Human Services, Inc. (FAHSI) and is also currently a Board member.  As Executive Director of FAHSI, she managed the organization’s direct service programs, organized several community education workshops, and was the representative of the Filipino community during city governmental functions.  Through rallies, press conferences, and meetings, voices of the Filipinos were heard by New York City’s elected officials. 
Ms. Manzano received her MPH with a concentration in International Health from Boston University School of Public Health in 2004, and her BS in Rehabilitation Science from Northeastern University's Bouve College of Health Sciences in 2001.  She is the eldest child of Bienvenido and Teresita Manzano of Randolph, MA. 

V-Day FWN 2007 San Francisco

V-Day FWN 2007 New York City
Recognition ceremonies held during
"The Vagina Monologues"
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco
Philippine Center, New York City
March 2007

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