It’s been a hard week. Not only for me, but for her family, asawa (we love you, Uncle Jesse), colleagues, students, community fam, and the hundreds of people who came in contact with her or saw her at one of her many conferences, classes, and presentations. Dawn spoke to us in a way that made people listen. Her content was robust, engaging, and unforgettable. Her presence dominated in whatever room she was in. I loved her voice and her humor when she spoke.
After the Association of Asian American Studies Conference panel we had in March, I talked to her about FANHS. I wanted her to be a part of an idea that I had for it called, “Filipinas in the Kitchen.” She agreed to be a part of it right away. We had plans to do more together especially after the feedback we got from AAAS.
Jasper Pugao, owner of No Worries Vegan Filipino Food, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, PhD - Professor at SFSU, Chel Gilla, owner of Tselogs, me, Manang Dawn, PJ Quesada, Chairman of FFM, Dominic Ainza, chef at Facebook and Ninong of Filipino food in the Bay Area, Charleen Caabay, owner of Kainbigan, Evan Kidera, owner of Senor Sisig at the AAAS Conference
FANHS would be the first session we’d do together, and I was scared shitless. We discussed (lightly) about the panel in the weeks leading up to FANHS. I say “lightly” because there was no real urge to have a “sit down” to talk about logistics or formatting or anything. She said something along the lines of, “I do my presentation, you do yours and then discuss with audience.” In my head, I thought, “that’s IT?” Like it was TOO EASY. She basically said that whatever we did would turn out good. Her confidence in me gave me even MORE anxiety. This was Dr. Dawn *freaking* Mabalon. She’s a legend. I did not think I would be able to be as good as she would have believed me to be. Her agreeing to partner with me already blew my mind, so I was a mess. A hot nervous mess.
She bust out the Skyflakes, the Danish Butter Cookies in the blue tin (I went for the sugar-covered pretzels and Manang Dawn took the spirals), pastillas, and chicharron WITH suka. I mean, how else can we fill a room? FOOD!
The room fills up and we are about to start. I told her, “Manang, you do not have to say that I am part of so-in-so organization or so-in-so company which I am not involved with anymore.” Sensing my lapse in confidence, she replied, “You created that shit! OWN IT!”
Then she goes to the podium and works on her tech. We watch Ruby Ibarra’s “US” video to get everyone in the mood. She does her presentation and all the while, I am sweating bullets. I drink half of my water bottle and have a nervous coughing fit. Her presentation is flawless, of course (I am still bitter that we were not allotted more time, but that’s another story). She makes everyone laugh, but she also instills our audience with so much knowledge and history. So many “Ohhhhh’s” and lightbulbs turning on. I can literally see the audience beam with every word Dawn spoke.
Shaking my head, I was already thinking of the shit I would get for this, but then I thought about it and started to convince myself, "Hell yeah, I did something to contribute to this company/organization." Dawn saw it.
I laugh, look at my feet, and realize that she believes in me. She saw what I was working so hard for. Validation from her meant so much. She did not allow me to doubt myself. I do not come from an extensive educational background. I am still in school and the most I got is an AA. I never went to a university when I was “supposed” to. I am probably one of the least qualified people to have a presentation at FANHS, but here we were, and here is Dr. Dawn at this panel that we were all experiencing and enjoying.
I ended the session in tears. The audience was captivated by Manang. We were touched by their stories. Again, I am super maalat that we did not have enough time. We saw that people wanted to make our session longer, so we overstayed our time and ran into the lunch hour. People wanted more, so we made plans to have a longer session when we got back home to San Francisco. Lily Ann from City College, Mayo from USF, and Dawn from SFSU were going to be my targets when I got my feet planted and secure in the Fall. I wanted to do something with them for Filipino American History Month and do something focusing on Filipino food and history. I was so sad when I opened up my Passion Planner to October and saw “Dr. Mabalon” on my calendar.
If someone told me that Friday, “Jo, Dawn is going to pass away in exactly 4 weeks.” I would have punched them in the throat. When I found out about Manang 4 Fridays later, I was in disbelief. I was in shock. I wanted to wake up from this nightmare. A world without Dawn? Who would be our source and our backbone? She stood up for us. She spoke up for us. She dropped knowledge like no other and she educated young and old. I look at my army of Pinays and while we are broken inside, I know Manang would want us to get up and continue her legacy. She would tell us to get up, dry our tears, and keep pushing even when it is so hard.
#DawnMabalonInspiredMeBy teaching me that I shouldn’t let anyone derail me when it came to my mission and goals. Other people would tell me to avoid certain tasks or events just so that I wouldn’t have to deal with certain people or situations. Dawn knew there were snakes in the community. She told me straight up. She told me that not everyone is going to like what we do. She said “haterade” a lot when we would vent to each other about the crabs in our community. I am sensitive and I would hide, but she told me to continue and to keep pushing. She said, “All these people can say whatever they want about you to make you look a certain way, but your actions and your accomplishments will make everyone see the truth.” So for Dawn, I will keep going. I will never let someone or some people make me believe I am not good enough or I am not worthy of owning the work that I have done.
Dawn was more than just a friend to me. She was foodie buddy, my venting partner, my hero, my Manang. She supported so many of our events. She was loyal and she is loved and respected by so many. I miss her and will continue my work for her.
Happy Birthday, Manang Dawn.
We love you.
PS: I think of you every time I hear this song:
Hi. I'm Jo.
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