poetry & tsismis: emily's blog

July 11, 2015

In Memory of ISABEL A. GALURA (June 5, 1932 – July 10, 2015)

Isabel Galura w FWD Nov 2012

Remembering Tita Belle

by Emily P. Lawsin

With immense sadness, we mourn the passing of Filipina American pioneer, Isabel A. Galura, who was one of the three narrators featured in the book that her son, Joseph, and I co-authored, entitled, Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, Oral Histories from the Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan.

“Belle”, as she was affectionately known, died on Friday, July 10, 2015, after a courageous battle with cancer.

Isabel was born on June 5, 1932, in Bangar, La Union, Philippines, and immigrated to the United States on July 4, 1954, as the first Filipina accepted to the post-graduate internship in clinical dietetics at Detroit’s Harper Hospital. The few Filipina American women in the area befriended her and eventually introduced her to the man who would become her husband, Atilano Galura.galura wedding photo

When I first met Tita Belle almost 15 years ago, she and Joe invited me to her home for a delicious meal of Filipino food and then asked if I was interested in seeing some of her late husband’s photographs. She brought out several boxes that had letters and material artifacts, all neatly preserved in file folders, dating from the 1920s-90s. I peeked inside a crisp envelope and my hands began shaking when I found her husband’s boat ticket to America, dated 1929! Later, Tita Belle became the driving force behind our Filipino American Oral History Project, as she would open up her address book and call her friends from the Filipino Women’s Club of Detroit (founded in 1952), encouraging them to be interviewed for our project.

In 2004, Tita Belle became a founding member of the Filipino American National Historical Society Michigan Chapter (FANHS-MI) and was appointed Assistant Treasurer. She actively participated and regularly attended FANHS-MI’s intergenerational Filipino Youth Initiative classes every Sunday at the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan (PACCM).

Memorial services will be held this Sunday and Monday, July 12-13, in Westland, Michigan (see below).

Maraming salamat po / many thanks, Tita Belle, for being a mother/Lola-figure for me and so many others. We are eternally grateful for all that you did for us and for our community. Mahal kita / I love you and miss you.




June 5, 1932 – July 10, 2015

Isabel A. Galura, a resident of Westland, Michigan, passed away on July 10, 2015 at the age of 83.

Isabel was the beloved wife of the late Atilano; the loving mother of Joseph (Catherine) Galura, Anna (Louis) Smutek and the late Peter; the dear sister of Georgia (Cirilo) Leoncio; and the cherished grandmother of David and Genevra Galura and Christiana and Andrew Smutek.

Isabel will be resting at the L.J. Griffin Funeral Home in Westland (7707 Middlebelt Road at Ann Arbor Trail) on Sunday, July 12, from 3-9 p.m. There will be a Rosary at 6:30 p.m.

She will be Instate at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, July 13, at St. Damian Catholic Church, 30055 Joy Road (West of Middlebelt) until the time of her Funeral Mass at 12 p.m.

Her final resting place will be Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations in her memory to either the University of Michigan Cancer Center, or the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan (17356 Northland Park Ct., Southfield, MI 48075).


Sign the guestbook online:



December 15, 2011

Tomasa Parinasan Balberona (1923-2011), Filipina Pioneer of Detroit

Remembering Tomasa Parinasan Balberona, Filipina Pioneer of Detroit

(December 29, 1923 – December 8, 2011)

© by Emily P. Lawsin with Joseph A. Galura

    It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Tomasa Parinasan Balberona, one of the three women narrators of our book Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, died last Thursday, December 8, at the age of 87. As one of the first Filipinas to immigrate to Detroit in 1947 under the Fiancées Act, which temporarily waived immigration quota restrictions for alien fiancées or fiancés of armed forces personnel, she was a pioneer in the local Filipino American community.

Tomasa, or “Aunt Masy” (pronounced “MAH-see”), as she was affectionately known, was born on December 29, 1923, in a rural area of Cebu City, Philippines. The eldest daughter of seven, her father was a farmer and carpenter, who, with her mother, protected their family when World War II erupted in their hometown. After the war ended, Aunt Masy took shorthand and typing classes, and one day accompanied her sister to the nearby camp to do laundry for American servicemen stationed near their province. There, she met Homer Sheppard, who had just arrived in the Philippines after serving in New Guinea. Homer courted Masy, slipping letters to her in his shirt pockets via her sister. After a year, Masy moved to the barrio of Esperanza, on Camotes Island, to finish school and worked as a first grade teacher. Meanwhile, Homer continued mailing letters to her two or three times a week, even after he was discharged and had returned to his previous job at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn. He asked her to marry him and move to Michigan and after much contemplation, she agreed.

In a 2001 interview with University of Michigan undergraduate Elizabeth Varas, Aunt Masy recounted her immigration story by saying, 

My parents were in Cebu. I did not tell them [that I was leaving]. . . because I know they are not going to let me go.  And I cried, because it is not the right way to do it.  But (laughs) I wanted to go to the United States, to be with my husband-to-be.  So, I left.  I was so brave, traveling alone.  I had all my papers ready because the Philippine Red Cross help me and the American Red Cross, also. . .  I took the Pan American World Airways.  It’s a big plane but it is propeller type. . . It takes a long time.  We stopped on almost every island from Guam to Wake Island to Midway to Honolulu to San Francisco. . .  It’s a long trip, it’s a long trip, honey.  I slept in San Francisco at the YWCA, free.  I did not have any money.  Well, I had money but I didn’t want to spend it.  Then I arrived in Willow Run Airport.  It is not Romulus, it is not big Metro Airport, it is Willow Run, close to Ann Arbor.  So I was there and I called my husband-to-be to pick me up. He didn’t know whether I was Downtown. . . or at the airport, so he went Downtown. That is quite a ways from Dearborn and then he went to Willow Run. . .  I arrived at his brother’s house in Royal Oak. . . early morning, about five o’clock. I stayed with his sister, his brother and family for two weeks, while our papers were being processed so we could get married. And, July 25, 1947, we got married at Most Holy Trinity Church, Sixth and Porter, Downtown [Detroit].

A patriotic person, Aunt Masy never wanted to admit that racism existed in America, even as she remembered tales of being questioned of her ethnic identity when she first arrived. “They thought I was from Hawai’i because of my brown skin,” she said. Instead, Aunt Masy found happiness in making new friends and creating community. When new Filipina/o immigrants would arrive in the area, she and her husband would pick them up, drive them around, and host them in their home in Detroit. They lovingly connected local Filipina/os together in the post-World War II period, when there were few families in the area.

In 1952, Tomasa and five of her friends founded the Filipino Women’s Club of Detroit, a mutual aid, social-civic organization that provided scholarships to students and promoted Filipino and Asian American culture. Tomasa was elected President twice of the Filipino Women’s Club, proudly co-sponsoring events like Rizal Day Banquets in the 1950s, Christmas parties with folk dancing at the International Institute in the 1960s, and the annual Far Eastern Festival on Detroit’s riverfront in the 1970s.

In our book, Filipino Women in Detroit: 1945-1955, Joseph Galura remembers fond memories of his childhood in a photo spread titled “I Saw Masy Kissing Santa Claus,” as Masy’s husband always dressed up as Santa for the Club’s annual Christmas party. Joseph states, “As a young child, I remember asking Aunt Masy why she and Uncle Homer didn’t have any children.”

“You are all my children,” she replied, “the children of the Filipino American community.”

Indeed, Aunt Masy was the “ninang”, godmother, to two-dozen Filipino American children. Moreover, as a housewife, she would raise money by sewing wedding gowns and tailoring ternos – intricate Philippine ball gowns with butterfly sleeves – for Detroit area relatives and friends, then send the money back to the Philippines so her niece could go to school.

After Homer Sheppard died in May of 1974, Masy remarried a widower, Victor Goloyugo, a year later in 1975. Victor was a Filipino American commercial artist in Detroit, whose painting of Jose Rizal now graces the main hall of the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan. Masy and Vic were married 18 years until his death in 1993.

Tired of being lonesome, Masy traveled the world. In 1994, on a visit to Singapore and the Philippines, her god-niece introduced her to Lolito Balberona, who had been working for the Central Bank in the Philippines. Masy remembered, “When I meet him, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you are such a young man, what are you trying to do, tease me?'”

“Age doesn’t matter,” Lito replied, smitten. Lito courted her, called, and wrote letters to Masy, even from Australia. On another one of Masy’s visits to the Philippines, she married Lito in a small ceremony in November, 1998, and she brought him to Detroit. (They just celebrated their 13th Wedding Anniversary this past Thanksgiving.)

Aunt Masy was disgnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2006, yet she insisted to Lito that they continue to travel, returning often to the Philippines to see her relatives. Lito fondly states, “She was petite, but strong, proud, and independent, even in her last few months. I loved her so much.”

When we launched our book in 2002, Aunt Masy and  Lito  traveled with us and the other narrators of the book, her longtime friends Rosalina Regala and Isabel Galura, to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Conference in Los Angeles, with over 500 people in attendance. As audience members posed with them in pictures and asked for their autographs, Aunt Masy said, “Thank you for this. I feel like a rock star.”

We thank you, Aunt Masy, for sharing your journeys and paving the way for future generations of Filipino Americans in Michigan.

In addition to her husband (Lolito Balberona of Detroit), Tomasa is survived by her sister, Vicenta Laurito, of the Philippines, her nieces Dolores Ramia of Maryland, and Milagros Lictawa of St. Clair Shores, grandnieces Charissa Ramia of Maryland, Naimi McAndrew of Louisiana, and Rey (Tess) Parinasan of St. Clair Shores, and several great-grandnephews/nieces and relatives all over the world.

A Funeral Mass will be held for Tomasa Balberona at 10:00 AM this Saturday, December 17, 2011, at St. Clement Catholic Church, 5275 Kenilworth, Dearborn, Michigan.

* * *

Emily P. Lawsin and Joseph A. Galura teach at the University of Michigan and are the co-authors of Filipino Women in Detroit:  1945-1955, Oral Histories from the Filipino American Oral History Project of Michigan. Emily is a Trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Joseph is the President of the FANHS Michigan Chapter.   

OralHistoryProject (at) umich (dot) edu 


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.

* * *

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

* * *

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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