poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

January 22, 2010

In Memory of Nancy Abinojar (1957-2010)

Two funerals in one week

Sorry I haven’t kept up this blog. This has been a busy year and an even more difficult week. Last week, one of the pioneers in Michigan’s Filipino American community, Bonifacio Manzano, passed away at the age of 85 (blog post to follow soon). The same day that I had found out that news, my own 85-year-old father in Seattle was rushed by ambulance again to the emergency room for shortness of breath, and is still in the hospital. A few days later, my husband came down with Shingles, but is recovering. The next day, I found out that another Filipino American and former coworker, Nancy Abinojar, passed away at the young age of 52.  Both Mr. Manzano and Ms. Abinojar were remarkable participants in our Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan.

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Honoring Pinays: Remembering Nancy E. Abinojar

(July 17, 1957 – January 18, 2010)

I met Nancy Abinojar when I first started teaching at the University of Michigan (UM) in the year 2000.  She was, literally, the first fellow second-generation Pinay (Filipina American) that I had met in Ann Arbor, as she worked in Women’s Studies, where I am jointly appointed. It felt comforting to see a sistah’s face the minute I walked in to the office (a rare treat at Michigan). I remember one day, watching Nancy sort out a pile of student applications to the program that had accumulated so high, she had to spread them out on the floor. I would go in her office just to hear her unique laugh. Weeks later, when I told her that I research and write about Filipino Americans, she told me about her father, Alberto Rivera Abinojar, who was born in 1908, graduated from UM, and still lived just down the street in Ann Arbor. “You are all pioneers!” I told her. When I asked if I could interview her and her father, Nancy was guarded at first, as she was understandably protective of her elderly father.

The next year, I performed on stage at UM’s McIntosh Theater for “Tapestry: A Special Presentation of Dance, Music, and Poetry by Selected Filipino and Filipino American Artists”, sponsored by the UM Philippine Study Group. After the show, a Filipino man, not looking a day over the age of 65, walked up to me in the lobby. He introduced himself as an UM alum, asking me to guess how old he was. After a round of him saying, “No, older than that, older,” he pulled out his driver’s license and said, “I just turned 94!”  When I read his name, I said, “Oh my god, you must be Nancy’s father!”  I went into the office the next week to tell Nancy and she laughed.  After that, they both agreed to be interviewed for our Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan, offering us photographs and stories of their early lives in Ann Arbor.  We are eternally grateful to Nancy for arranging this, as just a few months after we interviewed her father, he passed away at the age of 96.

Nancy was born and raised in Ann Arbor, graduated from UM with a degree in Sociology, and lived in the area her entire life. In a 2003 interview with former UM student Erica Solway, Nancy recalled growing up as one of the only Filipino American families living in the college town in the 1950s and 60s, stating, “Every weekend we would go to Detroit because there is a larger community there and that was where all [my parents’] friends were. . .  Both my parents knew a lot of people in that area.  So we would always go to Detroit on the weekend and they would always socialize.”

In 2003, Nancy received an award for 10 years of service at the UM. A few months later, after a change in leadership in Women’s Studies, Nancy left the office.  I was surprised and sad to see her leave, but she said it was for the best. She called me a few months later when her father passed away; she was sorting through all of his photographs for the memorial and wanted to give us more for our next book. As I’m sure her grown children can tell you, she was so generous, even in her time of grief.

Two years later, Nancy went on to become the Office Manager at the new National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID)
 at the University of Michigan.  I was so happy to hear that she had found a new home there, with partners in the struggle.

Dr. Phillip Bowman, Founding Director and Professor of NCID, sent the following email about Nancy’s passing the other day:


>Dear NCID Community,

>With great sadness, we are writing to let you know that Nancy  Abinojar passed away yesterday morning, following a courageous battle with cancer.  As the NCID Office Manager since 2006, she provided first-rate administrative support for the NCID that was vital to its successful launch.  Even during the last weeks of her life, she remained deeply invested and involved in her work with us.

>As you can surely attest, she was a very dear colleague and friend, and her passing is a profound loss for all of us.  We look forward to honoring her memory with you in the coming weeks and months.

>For now, here is information about the visitation and memorial service, both of which are open to everyone:

>Friday, January 22nd

>11:00-1:00      Visitation with Family

>1:00                Memorial Service

>Muehlig Funeral Chapel

>403 S. Fourth Avenue

>Ann Arbor, MI  48104

>Phone Number: (734) 663-3375



>Phil Bowman and NCIDStaff


I am sure Nancy’s family and closer friends who knew her better will have more to share later today at the service. My deepest condolences to the Abinojar family. Thank you for sharing her with us.

Mahal at maraming salamat / love and many thanks, Nancy, for all that you did to make this world a better place.

© Emily P. Lawsin

Lecturer III

Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies, American Culture, and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan www.emilylawsin.com

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Here is Nancy’s profile from the NCID website


> Nancy E. Abinojar


Nancy Abinojar provides secretarial administrative support to the Director and Associate Director of NCID. A lifelong resident of Ann Arbor, she received an A.B. in Sociology from the University of Michigan and has worked at U-M for over ten years, with prior appointments in the departments of Chemistry and Math, as well as the Women’s Studies Program. Nancy was also appointed to a 14-member President’s Task Force on Violence Against Women on Campus during the tenure of U-M President James J. Duderstadt, as part of his Michigan Agenda for Women. Her interests in social justice include domestic violence and child welfare. She has previously served as a volunteer for SafeHouse, a shelter for domestic violence survivors and their families in Washtenaw County. Presently she volunteers as a court-appointed advocate for abused children.


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