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Paying it forward: Small gestures lead to big things in life
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Widowed at 36 with five children to raise, Esther Tabancay was able to send them all to college with the help of scholarships from the United Bacarreneos of America. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

So goes an old Chinese proverb, attributed to Taoism founder Lao Tzu.

I was thinking about these lines as I perused the special commemorative issue published by the United Bacarreneos of America (UBA) to mark the 80th year of its founding. The organization celebrated that special occasion over the weekend, starting with a formal dinner-dance fund-raiser at the Clarion Inn & Suites in Stockton on Saturday, followed by a picnic at Valverde Park in Lathrop on Sunday.

As I leafed through the souvenir book, my attention was particularly drawn to the brief biographies of some of the many UBA scholarship recipients through the years, where they are now and how they are “paying it forward” today.

The low three-digit scholarship awards were, and still are, very modest when compared to the more generous offerings given by other non-profit groups. But, as the folks in Bacarra – Lathrop’s Sister City – often say, “marikna ti puling.” Loosely translated, the phrase means in English, “the eye can feel even the smallest speck of dust.”

Widowed at 36 with five young children

That must have been the case with UBA member Esther Pascua Tabancay who came to the United States in 1950, got married and then settled in Watsonville. When her husband died, she was only 36 years old with five young children to raise as a single parent. But by dint of hard work coupled with a lot of sacrifice and motherly love, all her children became very successful in their chosen careers. The financial leg-up from the Filipino organization in the form of scholarship awards helped them continue their education after high school, the Tabancay children pointed out in their congratulatory messages to UBA.

The oldest, Ruth, was the first of the five siblings to receive a scholarship. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Bacteriology. After working as a medical technologist for two years, she started medical school at the University of California San Francisco. She received her medical degree in 1979. She met her husband, Michael Austin, during their pediatric residency. He is currently the anesthesiologist at Children’s Hospital in Oakland. After practicing pediatrics for nearly a decade, Tabancay turned her professional attention to another lifelong dream of being an artist. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Textiles in 2001 from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. For the last 10 years, her artistic creations have been exhibited in galleries all over the country including the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., and the World Financial Center in New York City.

“I thank the United Bacarreneos of America for providing a scholarship that helped me realize my goals as I began my education,” she stated in the brief bio she submitted to the commemorative publication.

Another success story that was spurred on by a scholarship award from the UBA is that of Anthony Federico Acosta. Armed with the financial infusion that he received from UBA, Acosta went on to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he graduated with merit and was on the Dean’s List and Commandant’s List. For the next five years, he served in the Navy, first as main propulsion assistant and communications officer for USS Lake Erie at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and later, as assistant officer-in-charge of the Afloat Planning Systems Pacific at Camp Smith in Hawaii. After leaving the service, he attended Duke University, The Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina, and received his Master of Business Administration degree in 2002. He is currently the consultant for Bickel and Brewer law firm in New York where he lives with wife, Melanie May Po, a professional singer, dancer and actress for 15 years, and their two children.

Acosta’s other siblings whose successful careers were also helped by a UBA scholarship are Yolanda Acosta Burstein who graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Miriam Acosta Bogart who earned her Doctorate in Dental Surgery from UCSF, and Christine Marie Acosta who is a project manager at a software company in Mountain View.

More than 120 scholarships awarded

In his biographical note in the commemorative book, Marlon G. Ramilo, a cardiologist and a partner at Valley Heart Associates in Modesto, thanked the organization “for the scholarship award given to him many years ago (and) is hoping that UBA will continue this program for many years to come.” After graduating valedictorian of his high school class in Santa Maria, he continued his education at UC Berkeley graduating summa cum laude with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology. He received his medical degree from UC San Francisco, and finished his residency in internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern where he was also recognized as outstanding resident instructor. He completed his cardiovascular medicine fellowship at the University of Southern California.

Leticia M. Acosta and Aleli Suguitan, past and present chairperson, respectively, of the scholarship program, said more than 120 scholarships to date have been awarded to “young adults” in the United States and Bacarra. To qualify, recipients have to be children of active UBA members, and must meet academic requirements as shown in the official transcript of records from their schools. They also have to write an essay about themselves and their plans for college.

Other scholarship recipients and how they are paying it forward today in their respective careers include:

• Brother and sister Derryl and Renelle Acosta, both East Union graduates; he finished his bachelor’s degree in construction management engineering from Sacramento State and now works for Innovative Tech Solutions, Inc. in Walnut Creek; she received her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Sport Science from University of San Francisco, and her bachelor’s degree in nursing from San Jose State, and is working at El Camino Hospital-Labor and Delivery at Los Gatos.

• Siblings Aileen, Anne Liezel, and Alexander Asis – the two sisters are graduates of UC Davis, with Aileen going on to pursue a master’s degree in nursing and a Nurse-Practitioner degree with sub-specialty in clinical genetics at Columbia University where she graduated in 2011, the same year she passed the board certification for nurse practitioners in New York. She is currently working at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. Anne Liezel passed the California Bar exam in November 2011 soon after graduating from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, an after completing her internship at the San Francisco DA’s Office. She is currently working with the Law offices of Charles A. Jones in San Francisco specializing in estate planning, probate, trust administration and conservatorship. Alex, who attended Bellarmine College Prep School, just graduated in June with a degree I biomedical engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he will start in the master’s program in the fall.

• Nellie Suguitan Yu, a validation engineer at Genentech, Inc., attended Skyline College San Bruno, San Jose State where she received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with emphasis in biochemistry, and where she is currently pursuing a master’s degree. The scholarship award she received in 1995 “gave me the inspiration and encouragement to go to college and get a good education like my parents,” said the mother of two young boys.

• Karmina Sociano Zafiro, director of digital and social media at a public relations firm in San Francisco, said her 2004 scholarship award “went towards my education at UC Berkeley” where she received her bachelor’s degree in political science and rhetoric. But, she stated, “the support I received from the Bacarreneos community was so much more than financial. Because of the strong ‘kailian’ bond among fellow Bacarreneos, my family had a support system when we immigrated to the U.S.”

• Katrina Soriano Zafiro, an immigration and family law attorney in Seattle, said she used her scholarship award to continue her college education, first at DeAnza College and later at San Jose State, graduating summa cum laude from both. She earned her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law in 2006 and manages her own law firm in Seattle.