South San Francisco opens Alice Peña Bulos Community Center
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO – Four generations of community advocates on Oct. 23 renewed ties in the name of their departed role model when this city officially opened the Alice Peña Bulos Community Center on Galway Drive off the main road Westborough Boulevard.
The center’s dedication honored the beloved Filipino American leader three days from her fifth death anniversary, a reminder of the lesson frequently imparted by the lifelong South San Francisco resident and -political activist to both U.S.-born and the newly arrived Filipinos: “Be visible and speak up. You have to be seen and heard to gain power.”
So pioneers and proteges from various communities, whose causes Bulos led or supported passionately, showed up at the reception Saturday. Among those who braved the rare storm forecast were lawyer and Filipino WWII veterans champion Lourdes Tancinco, Bayanihan Equity Center executive director Luisa Antonio and Bernadette Sy Borja, who founded the Filipino American Development Fund for low-income families San Francisco with her father and Bulos friend Dr. Mario Borja.
Publisher/philanthropist and Philippine International Aid founder Mona Lisa Yuchengco and her husband Lloyd LaCuesta, retired TV news reporter who emceed annual gala fund raisers of Bulos alumni association Thomasians USA; Vennie Acebedo and Elsa Agasid of California Health Initiative; and Polly Cortez of Pasig-South San Francisco Sister City Committee listened to Consul General Neil Frank Ferrer praise Bulos’ embrace of both Filipino and American traditional values during the program.
San Jose youth and older adults proponent Ben Menor, former Fil-Am Chamber of Commerce San Mateo County executive director Blessy Valera and Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center co-founder Perla Ibarrientos, who started collaborating with Bulos in the 1970s, nodded as Father Ray Reyes of St. Augustine Church hailed Bulos as a “true shepherd.”
First Fil-Ams elected in their City Councils Mike Guingona (Daly City) and Larry Formalejo (Colma) heard San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa commend Bulos’ humility, selflessness and loyalty.
Bulos’ grandchildren Charity and Charles B. Ramilo repeated their Mami Alice’s memorable maxims that guide them today as educators and community activists.
“Tita Alice” as her admirers refer to the acknowledged “Grand Dame of Fil-Am empowerment” would have been 91 today. Few of her contemporaries attended the event presumably out of pandemic safety precautions; in their place, however, latter-day mentees rose to the occasion.
In fact, the gathering was the handiwork of Bulos mentee Council Member Flor Nicolas, the first Fil-Am woman elected in South San Francisco along with first Fil-Am male Council Member now Vice Mayor Mark Nagales, in 2018.
Clad in a kimona stressing pride in her Philippine heritage, Nicolas disclosed that a hand-written letter from Bulos’ key ally in her hometown, retired State Assembly Member Gene Mullin, had spurred the naming of the Westborough Recreation Center after Bulos.
Mullin’s endorsement was among his final acts before his unexpected passing this past April. Opportunity to heed the Mullin’s proposal “presented itself” when Mayor Mark Addiego appointed Nicolas to the City Council Naming Committee, said Nicolas.
In February the City Council agreed to recognize the contribution of town female leaders in March, Women’s History Month: Roberta Teglia, first woman council member; Karyl Matsumoto, first council member of Asian heritage, and Bulos, for a “life strongly committed to service and community involvement,” said Nicolas.
Coincidentally the Center was built in 1988, the year Bulos and Nicolas first met.
“I must have had the look of a new immigrant,” which she was, Nicolas speculated what moved Bulos, who was chair of the University of Santo Tomas sociology department prior to joining her husband in California, to reach out to her after Sunday Mass with an invitation to get involved.
Nicolas, VP of global drug safety and pharmacovigilance of Rain Therapeutics in Newark, related how she and her husband Nenar began attending meetings at the Bulos home. They discussed how to get more people of color elected in their town whose surging Asian and Latino population they believed was underrepresented in town decision-making. They poured support for Pedro Gonzalez, the first Latino on the City Council, now retired and present at the Center rites with former Council Members Rich Garbarino and Matsumoto.
Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo and Vice Mayor Rod Daus-Magbual, both Fil-Ams born long after Bulos and husband lawyer Donnie Bulos had formed their voter registration organization Filipino American Grassroots Movement, attended the event as did their fellow Council Member Pamela di Giovanni.
“I stand on the shoulders of Filipino American community leaders such as Alice Bulos, Tita Perla (Ibarrientos), or Bulletx (Marasigan) because I feel it is my responsibility to take the baton on what they created,” Daus-Magbual, a Skyline College professor of Ethnic Studies, introduced told Inquirer.net.
Seeing the center’s sign “gave me chills of joy,” said Nan Santiago, 2021 President of Alliance for Community Empowerment, the all-volunteer nonprofit whose acronym honors Bulos, their honorary chair in promoting healthy relationships through free education seminars.
Alice Peña Bulos Community Center sits on grounds where its namesake’s grandchildren and now their children virtually grew up outside their home on nearby Liberty Court.
“We’re so happy for this honor,” Bulos’ only daughter, Elizabeth B. Ramilo, told Inquirer.net. “We thank the City Council of South San Francisco for making sure Mami will always be remembered.”