Every March, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), joins the country in celebrating Women’s History Month. This celebration allows us the perfect opportunity to highlight the accomplishments and contributions of inspiring and influential Filipino American women. From executive kitchens to executive boardrooms, and from the halls of power to the front lines of combat, these women have made—and continue to make—an indelible mark on the American landscape. Women’s History Month gives us the opportunity to not only recognize the impact of these Filipina trailblazers, but to model stories of leadership and influence to a new generation of emerging Filipino American leaders.
With the nation experiencing a Filipino American culinary renaissance, it is only appropriate for NaFFAA to recognize revolutionary Filipina restaurateur Nicole Ponseca, owner of New York City’s preeminent Filipino restaurants, Maharlika and Jeepney. Both restaurants have made waves within the American culinary scene, standing at the forefront of an ever-expanding list of Filipino cuisine from coast to coast. From sisig to sinigang, and balut to bagoong, Nicole has helped expand the palates of American diners and ushered Filipino food into the mainstream. Her influence has helped birth a new generation of Filipino dining experiences, including Bad Saint in Washington, DC, and Ricebar in Los Angeles.
We also want to pay tribute to one the founders of NaFFAA: accomplished attorney, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Mrs. Loida Nicolas Lewis. Mrs. Lewis, who was instrumental in the founding of our organization, serves as a mentor to many young Filipino American women entrepreneurs. Beginning her career as an accomplished lawyer, Mrs. Lewis transitioned into executive business leadership after the untimely passing of her husband Reginald Lewis. The company she helmed, TLC Beatrice International, was a giant in American food processing. In addition to the company, Mrs. Lewis is the proud chairwoman of the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, which has provided critical support to various non-profit programs and organizations.
We are also proud of the growing list of female Filipino American elected officials across the nation. Their ambition and leadership provides a template for emerging Filipino American civic leaders and elected officials of any gender. Among them are:
- Kelly Convirs-Fowler, newly elected as a Virginia State Delegate for District 21 (Virginia Beach, VA)
- Anna Lopez Brosche, At-Large Member of the Jacksonville City Council (Jacksonville, FL)
- Juslyn Manalo, newly elected Mayor of Daly City, CA
- Rachelle Arizmendi, Mayor of Sierra Madre, CA
Thankfully, we do not have to look far to admire the presence of strong female leadership. NaFFAA’s long list of women leaders reads like a “Who’s Who” of Filipino American influence and leadership.
- Rozita Lee, a former NaFFAA Vice Chair, served as a Commissioner on President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
- Gloria Caoile, a former NaFFAA Executive Director, is a prominent community civic advocate and co-founder of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
- Emraida Kiram, currently in her second term as Vice Chair, was the first Miss Philippines to ever win the title of Miss World.
- Bing Branigin, former Capital Region Chair and current member of the Board of Trustees, is ubiquitous in the Nation’s Capital for her active involvement in Filipino and Filipino American issues.
- Dr. Aida Rivera, a retired Psychiatrist and outgoing Northeast Region Chair, has been a strong advocate for Filipino American youth development through her leadership of the Philippine Folk Arts Society.
- Kelly Ilagan, former NaFFAA National Operations Officer, served as Deputy Associate Director of Presidential Personnel under President Trump.
- Kit Zulueta, the newly appointed Pacific Islands Region Chair, is the past President of FYLPRO, a Philippine leadership and cultural immersion program established by former Philippine Ambassador to the U.S., Jose Cuisia.
“Every day I am in awe of the unmistakable impact Filipino American women are making, not just within NaFFAA, but across the nation. From state and local governments, to business and entertainment, it is our fierce cadre of Filipino American women—our mothers, sisters, titas, and nanays—who are leaving their mark on American culture,” remarks NaFFAA National Chair Brendan Flores.
As we close out Women’s History Month, NaFFAA is exceedingly honored to share these pioneers’ stories, and provide a platform for future Filipina American leadership.