PH Presidential Awardee Dr. Laura Garcia is a mainstay in NY Fil-Am community
After a grueling day at school, Dr. Laura Garcia, a nurse educator, recharged herself with a short nap and had the energy to answer my interview questions late at night. Garcia is a woman of accomplishments and many titles in community organizations in the Big Apple. So aptly, I asked which achievement is most important to her.
“I am not my accomplishments. I am not the title next to my name. I like to serve. Sometimes, your commitment to serve is good enough. But sometimes, you give a little more,” she says. “You just do your work, you serve. One day, you just might find that you made a difference.”
That is why the Pamana ng Pilipino Presidential Award is very important to her. It is her most recent accomplishment. “I won’t say it is the most important, but the impact you made has reached the highest official of your country of birth, for you ‘have brought the country honor and recognition through excellence and distinction in the pursuit of your work or profession.’ To me, that is so cool!”
Garcia is an associate professor of Nursing at the College of Mount St. Vincent and a clinical instructor at the New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing. She served two terms as State Chairperson of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations-New York (NAFFAA-New York), one of the largest and oldest organizations of Filipinos in the U.S. She completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She serves on the Manhattan Community Board District Five (CB5).
Garcia has come a long way since she arrived in the U.S. in 1985 working as a nurse at the Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn. Born in Butuan City in Mindanao, she was one of the 2020 Ten Outstanding Butuanons.
She has two grown children: Teresa Esperanza Anderson, who lives in New Jersey with her family, and Pablo John Garcia IV, who recently was elected mayor in the town of Barili, Cebu. She has five grandchildren whom she regards as her pride and joy. Her life partner, Fernando Mendez, president and CEO of Fiesta In America, has long been a source of inspiration in her life in the U.S.
I have known Laura for several years now as a friend and a community leader who puts her heart into public service. She is definitely one of the most beautiful and glamorous women in N.Y., but more importantly, she is beautiful deep inside, refined, strong, reliable, and kind-hearted. Laura said that for strength she looks to her mother, Teresa, who helped her raise her children into becoming kindhearted individuals.
In 2021, during the lockdown, her daughter Teza and son-in-law contracted the dreaded coronavirus. Being a nurse and mother, she took care of her daughter and her family (two small grandchildren) remotely through a cell phone. Hers was one of the many inspiring stories I wrote about in 2020.
A staunch advocate for human rights, particularly on access to public health, family unity and racial justice, she immediately calls out those who discriminate against her in the workplace, for instance, making it a chance for those persons to have a fresh look at people.
She is passionately against the separation of families at the U.S. borders, empathizing as a mother who had experienced being away from her children. “You cannot do that – or the society is making monsters out of these little ones,” Laura opined in one of my interviews with her.
During the pandemic, she used her position at the Manhattan council to access masks for Fil-Ams. The press club where I belong benefitted from several boxes of masks for our members from the NYC Mayor’s office through Laura.
In small or big ways, Laura is a tried and tested woman leader who plans to continue mentoring other people, especially the young ones.
“I have noticed there are so many rising young stars in our community and in my work who need just a little push to become leaders. When you are successful, there are people who will pull you down. I will teach the youth to rise above the negativity. My nieces and nephews are growing. I would love to mentor them. Some of them I see transform from shy individuals into confident young adults.
“At some point, I will step aside and let the new generation take the lead. I will continue to inspire, to motivate and bring out the best in myself and everyone around me.”
Marivir Montebon is a journalist in New York who founded her online magazine OSM! (awesome) in 2012. She recently published “Awesome at 10,” a curated compilation of news features and essays about the Fil-Am communities to celebrate her online magazine’s 10th anniversary.