WHO in the world is Venessa Manzano, and why is she doing all those marvelous things?

For one thing, she came to our church with lots of Christmas lanterns, also known as parols, to be used as stage decorations for our Simbang Gabi celebration last year.

She was struggling to come to our place because she was due to give birth to baby Julian at any minute.

Lucky for her, she made it to the hospital on time.

But unlucky for us because we could have used her and the newborn as a real prop for the nativity scene.

The colorful parols didn’t fail to impress both the Filipino and American parishioners.

Those lanterns were actually made by children in a Bergenfield, N.J. class to have a taste of our culture.

This month, she sent out an invitation to the public for a potluck picnic at the Paramus, N.J.’s Van Saun Park to be held on Sunday, July 19.

To be featured are traditional games, like, patintero, sipa, pabitin and sarangolas — all in an effort to rediscover the richness of our heritage.

This coming fall, the Philippine School of NY and NJ, which was founded by Venessa Manzano and company, will hold classes for Philippine folk dancing in Bergenfield.

At the same time, in Jersey City, a program is slated to hold classes in Filipino language and cultural program.

Somewhere in the West Coast, in San Diego, the first Filipino School is now open, teaching Filipino language, history and culture.

They also added martial arts classes in their curriculum.

I am so proud of this wonderful woman, Venessa.

A young mother, with three kids, has taken it upon herself to blaze a new trail where others had tried and failed.

I tried once for the life of me to hold a Tagalog class.

My first students were my two grandchildren who signed up only because I bribed them with electronic games, and another one, a serious college student who was interested in learning a bit of our history.

I even persuaded my busy wife to help me set up a cooking class at Bergen County’s Overpeck County Park, with some 20 teenagers attending.

They cooked adobo, everybody’s favorite recipe, and they ate what they cooked.

Both of my attempts, the Tagalog and cooking classes, ended abruptly as it began.

But still I have one project to be proud of, when through the auspices of the Philippine American Community of Bergen County, Inc., and in collaboration with Miguel Braganza, we presented a concert at the huge Bergen Vocational Auditorium, named “Filipinos in America — A Musical Journey,” featuring Filipino songs and dances.

Then, suddenly, this wonder woman came to my consciousness, like a thunderbolt from the sky.


What an extra-ordinary human being!

When I was still working, I used to hear from my co-workers, “How come you Filipinos always go home to your country very often?”

My co-workers, some from Italy, Ireland, Poland lamented, “I wished our parents had brought us home to see the old country. We have relatives there but haven’t met them yet.”

The philosophy of the Filipino School of NY and NJ is simple: Teach them when they are still young, the language, the culture, the history — the more they know, the more they will appreciate the richness of our heritage.

As someone said, “Children of immigrants often lose their parents’ language, culture and history.”

San Diego school’s teacher Jacquiline Lapid commented, “They (Filipino children) are missing their identity...and they want to learn more about their identity, and what it means to be a Filipino.”

The demographics of 2010 Census shows that there are 19,155 Filipinos in Bergen County, with Bergenfield, also known as Little Manila) alone showing 14,244.

Hudson County has 20,638 Filipino-Americans, with 16,974 residing in Jersey City.

Likewise, Queens, N.Y. has more than 38,000.

What this means to me is there is a big potential market for the Filipino School of NY & NJ.

Somewhere in the trickle-down economics, it will have an impact on the local businesses, travels, restaurants, entertainments and activities related to our country.

Children who learned how to speak the language will most likely try to visit the old country to meet long lost relatives, or they might patronize the local businesses.

But of course, they will know firsthand, that the Philippines is the most beautiful country and has the friendliest people, and the U.S. most loyal friend.

How could we help Venessa?

First, let us meet her personally, and her group of friends, at the July 19 Summer Potluck Picnic in Van Saun Park and know about her projects.

How I wished businesses and organizations would sponsor scholarships so their children, grandchildren, and others would have a chance to learn about themselves.

Last spring, Ms. Venessa Manzano received an award as one of the Distinguished Filipino Women given by the Philippine Consulate, an award most fitting for a woman of courage.

For me, personally, she is a true hero.

I salute you, madam.

May you be blessed with more successes.

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