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Dhaliwal key speaker at sister city fiesta

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POSTED November 21, 2009 2:28 a.m.
LATHROP — Former Lathrop vice mayor and incumbent councilman Donny S. Dhaliwal has been tapped to be the guest speaker at the 77th annual dinner-dance fiesta of the United Bacarreneos of America. The event will take place tonight at Valverde Park’s Community Center on Fifth Street in the Historic Lathrop district. Social hour will start at 6 o’clock followed by a Filipino-style dinner at 7 o’clock. Tickets to the dinner-dance are $25 per person and may be purchased at the door.

The social organization, simply referred to by its acronym UBA, is the Filipino group that pushed for a sister-city cultural relationship between Lathrop and the municipality of Bacarra, Ilocos Norte located in the northern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines. According to the latest census figures, Filipinos account for one-tenth of Lathrop’s population which currently stands at nearly 17,000.

Dhaliwal’s familiarity with the Filipino community of Lathrop was cemented several years ago when he suggested the renaming of the then-Stonebridge Park behind Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School to Apolinar Sangalang Community Park in honor of the late former mayor of Lathrop. His proposal was supported by Mayor Kristy Sayles, and together they worked to make that a reality. Sangalang, a survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March in the Philippines, is considered to be the first Philippine-born Filipino to be elected mayor of a city in the United States. A graduate of the College of the Pacific before it became the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Sangalang was also a Methodist minister who sometimes served at St. Paul’s United Methodist in Manteca and one of the first five elected to serve on the first city council in November 1989 after Lathrop was incorporated as a city in July of that year.

While Dhaliwal came up with the suggestion of renaming the park, he said the driving force behind it were several families in the community who felt that residents like Sangalang should be given the recognition that they deserve.

The other part of this is that people who serve the city, either in an appointed or elected capacity, “don’t just serve their (own ethnic) community,” he said.

“They serve all the Lathrop community. Sangalang was not mayor for the Filipino community. He rendered his services to the Lathrop community at large. Like me, I’m not there to represent the Sikh community but the Lathrop community,” Dhaliwal said.

Honoring those who served the community helps make residents proud of their history
 “Recognizing all that Mr. Sangalang did was the right thing to do,” he said of the park’s renaming.
That action by the city was also significant in that it helped to inform residents about a part of the history of their town. “Sometimes, people don’t know the history of their community,” Dhaliwal said.

That, precisely, was what happened when the council was discussing the renaming of Stonebridge Park in honor of one of its illustrious leaders. A few residents went before the council vigorously opposing the move. But they were not really opposed to the idea, Dhaliwal explained.

“What they were saying was they should have been notified (about the plan to change the park’s name), and we promised that the next time we (the city and council) do something, we’ll make sure everbody was notified.”

Dhaliwal said he did not have the privilege of meeting Sangalang in person before he passed away at the ripe old age of 93, “but if you read his story, it’s amazing how much he did, how much sacrifices he made” as a public servant of the city.

“Public service, sometimes, is the least recognized. One makes lots of sacrifices. You spend so much time away from the family,” for one thing, he said.

For his part, Dhaliwal turned down a job promotion with the Department of Transportion in Santa Clara County to be able to continue serving on the city council. Tuesday is usually his day off from work, so attending the council meetings on Tuesdays is no problem.

“I wanted to do it,” Dhaliwal said about serving the city, first as an appointed Planning Commissioner and later as an elected member of the City Council.

“I want to contribute my share to improve the quality of life in Lathrop,” he said about what drives him to be in these positions of public service.

Born in Punjab, India, Dhaliwal came to America on a fiance’s visa after he and wife Ruby got engaged. Dhaliwal was, at that time, working on his master’s degree in political science in India in hopes of pursuing a profession in administrative service in the old country.

“But God had different plans for me,” he said.

Their marriage on Oct. 6, 1985 in Yuba City where his wife grew up was “kind of a semi-arranged marriage,” Dhaliwal said. Ruby’s family farmed in Yuba City where she graduated from Yuba City High and attended college. She also works for the county of Santa Clara.

The couple, who will be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary next year, are blessed with four children: Sophia who is a junior at California State University, Stanislaus where she is a bachelor of science degree in Biology and Communications; Sonia who is currently attending San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton where Sophia also took some classes; and sons Karan, 7, and Jason, 5, who are in second grade and kindergarten at Joseph Widmer School, respectively. Both daughters graduated from Sierra High School.
 
Lathrop not the same small town in 1990s but is still very family-oriented
Dhaliwal, who will turn 50 next year, and his family moved to Lathrop in the 1990s when the city’s population still stood at 6,000. They were part of the exodus of Bay Area and Silicon Valley families who were lured to the San Joaquin Valley by the affordable homes.

“Home prices were better here than in the Bay Area, and I wanted to raise the kids in a small town,” he said. While Lathrop has since tripled its population, “Lathrop is still a family-oriented city. We still have a sense of connectivity; everybody knows everybody.”

And, although Lathrop is a melting pot of different ethnic cultures, there is a common thread among these groups that unifies them, Dhaliwal pointed out.

“We all came to America in search of a better life in this country,” he said.

And these different cultural groups, like the Sikh and Filipino communities, “have made huge contributions to the development of America,” he added.

“The thing I like about both (Filipino and Indian) communities is that we all became part of the United States community but are still trying to preserve the traditional values that we have. That’s what makes America great. We can be American at the same time that we can have our own traditional cultural values. Everybody is different and very unique. It’s like New York and Arizona have totally different tastes and weather, but put them together and they become the United States of America. Everybody is unique and special; bring them all together and that’s when we become the American community.”

Dhaliwal said he is looking forward to be at the UBA fiesta tonight and to sample the Filipino cuisine that, he said, is quite similar to that of his country. He particularly enjoys the Filipino version of egg roll called lumpia.

“I have a lot of Filipino co-workers, and whenever we do potlucks I always ask them, ‘hey, bring some lumpia!’” Dhaliwal said with a laugh.

The UBA’s annual fiesta, which celebrates the feast of St. Andrew, Bacarra’s patron saint, has been held interchangeably in various cities in California where UBA members live, but it has been hosted by the city of Lathrop for the last several years.

In addition to promoting cultural activities and providing death-aid benefits to members, UBA also awards scholarships to deserving high school students who are planning to go to college. The group has also given donations for the construction of preschools in the Philippines. The group’s only major fund-raiser is the annual dinner-dance town fiesta. All proceeds generated from this event go to UBA’s programs and projects.
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