“The birth of Jesus Christ took place this way: When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they lived together, he found out that Mary was with child from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:18
By Elsie Olmido Sy-Niebar
As we all know the Biblical story of the birth of Christ Jesus, His Mother Mary was found pregnant of Him and was no longer a “virgin” when she was betrothed to a 90-year-old widower named Joseph, a poor carpenter in Nazareth. As a human being himself, Joseph had second thoughts about marrying the 12-15-year-old Mary. He thought she was unfaithful to him. But in a dream, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to trust Mary and to name the child Jesus. True to the Words of the Angels, the peasant Virgin girl Mary was chosen by the Lord to be the Mother of God.
In my adult life, the scenario which haunts me every August 24th — my Birth Date — was about my then, poor young mother, the late Iluminada Sy Villanueva, suffering not only from the physical pain of bringing me into this world with the help of “loving quack midwife” but her suffering from being called un-Christian names by the townspeople for delivering a “bastard child” (me) without a husband. My Mother was one of the best elementary school teachers during her time. As Fate had it, an “illegal love affair” hit her and my late father, the late Mr. Domingo Jamero, then a powerful regional public school supervisor where my Mother was one of his teachers. My mother was not the only one who suffered name-callings from the general public, especially in our small town called Carles, Iloilo, but Me… a robust Baby Girl who was called hija de bastarda or a bastard child of sin. I was bullied not only by my peers but by the “holier than thou” adults in our town. No less than a Nun at a Catholic College, not only refused my application as a working student, but told me, “we cannot accept you. You are a child of sin.” There was a time (I was maybe five years old) when I came home crying to my Mother telling her: “Everyone out there hate me for being a bastard. Why did you give birth to me? I wished I were dead.”
I could never forget what my Mother (we called Inday) told me. “I understand how much you are hurting. But don’t lose hope. Be good in school and when you grow up, go to America. The American people are very kind. They do not look down on poor and sinful people like us.”
Her impression was based on her own experience. During her time, the Americans were in control of the Philippine government which was then a colony to the United States. The American Superintendent of the Public School she fondly called “Mr. McBride” was so helpful to her legal case against my Dad. To my Mother, Mr. McBride exemplified all the Americans.
My mother got married and I became the “Manang” (Filipino respect for an Eldest Sister) to 10 siblings. My mother and my stepfather, the late Ciriaco Villanueva worked hard to support us 11 children. However, higher education was beyond attainable. By God’s grace, God led me and my sister Vilma to Silliman University in Dumaguete City, founded by the American missionaries in 1901, then, known as “the Harvard of the Philippines.” Gifted by God with brain and brawn, Vilma graduated cum laude in business. I finished journalism, my childhood dream. I got along pretty good with the American professors, but not mostly with the Filipinos. I earned the name of being a “trouble maker” with a “poisonous pen” as associate editor of our Weekly Sillimanian. I was the favorite catch of the Campus Guards for violating Dormitory Curfew hours. Silliman U not only gifted me my future but most importantly, made me a better Christian belonging to the Presbyterian faith. For long now, I am an ordained Ruling Elder of Faith Community Presbyterian Church in Chicago, my life not very well known to everyone. The Life which only the Good Lord knows what kind of a Christian I really am. My personal mission is never done I will never die…
My Most Misunderstood Personality: Having been a victim of ridicule and bullying as “a child of sin” gave me my kind of “personality” for “calling a spade a spade” and standing up for causes against the underdogs. As a journalist in the Philippines – freelancing in almost all top newspapers and magazines, my “pen” was able to help people with their personal needs for justice. Mrs. Imelda Marcos sent me to Scotland and London as a press officer for our cultural participation in a 25-county festival in Scotland and shows in London. As a government official – Confidential Assistant/press officer to a Senator – I was able to have access to the powers-that-be on behalf of the people. But my forte is more about youth development as National Coordinator of the National Youth Organization called SABAKA or Samahan ng Bagong Kabataan, initiated by the late President Marcos. My job in the Philippine government was so exciting: it included being an “Undercover Government Investigator” wherein I was sent to visit barrios where the NPA or National People’s Army live and the Muslimland, to find out the reasons of their rebellion against the government. This job included being a guest at their homes and be treated as a friend they believe as a newspaper reporter they read about. As God knows it, I never betrayed them in my report to the Department of Public Information. I told the truth why these Kababayans were acting negatively towards the Philippine government.
America, here I came! Oh, yes, “America as the land of Honey” we perceived back in the Philippines was very wrong! “I had experienced the Nightmares of my American Dream!” Hence, I spent my time advocating on who we are to mainstream Americans about how EDUCATED and AMERICANIZED WE FILIPINOS ARE. I became a publisher of my Oriental American Yellow Pages which did not give me a dime but contributed to my “professional exposure” and gave me time for my fight against racism and injustices towards “air mail brides.” You can read about me on the internet by typing my name. And most importantly – I dedicated my time as member of the staff of some of our very own COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS like the Philippine News, Filipino Tribune, etc. I take pride saying I was one of the FIRST staffers of Via TIMES Newsmagazine since its founding. Well, I guess our lady publisher Madam Veronica Leighton and me fits in this description: “two nuts are better than one; there’s a balance when it comes to having fun!” Thanks, my dear Veronique. For putting up with me, including my personal drama. Writing for VIA TIMES NEWSMAGAZINE stimulates my brain and my heart to stay youngish…
The best things I did to “get in and become American” are getting involved not only in our Fil-Am community happenings but in the mainstream politics and eventually getting hired by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, whom we helped during election. My job for the City of Chicago as Assistant to the Commissioner — the Rev. Daniel Alvarez, Sr., played an important factor in realizing the SERVICES TO THE COMMUNITY IN MY PERSONAL AGENDA. My job as a social worker/liaison was instrumental in realizing my dreams to “lift our Asian American community”. Thanks to Commissioner Alvarez, for being an immigrant himself, who internalized the need of our community by approving almost all of my community projects and other services like giving jobs to our seniors; food, housing, etc. But of course, it was not easy “standing up to City Hall.” Twice I almost got fired for speaking up! By standing up on my own two feet! I am very very grateful to all the Asian American communities for their support to my projects for them.
Another important agenda in America: My involvement in the mainstream happenings. Yes, I am a member of some “American club or groups” on behalf of our Filipino American Community. I am not there as ELSIE SY-NIEBAR, but as a FILIPINO AMERICAN. So when I open my mouth (I always do specially during the Q & A), I make sure I will not goof up and put our Fil-Am community on a negative spot.
I love my church: FAITH COMMUNITY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. It is my Home where my Family in the Lord dwells to lend me their hands when I need them. I love our FILIPINO AMERICAN COMMUNITY where I have “adopted sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers” who treat me like their blood-related family. What a Blessing!
I love to help within my means. Not necessarily about material help. When you need a listening ear. Call me. Let’s talk, cry and laugh together. Let’s grow older and happier taking care of one another.
My 80th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION: BIG HEARTFELT THANK YOU MY DEAR FRIENDS and RELATIVES for the Honor of your Presence and your gifts from the heart. Most importantly, THANK YOU to our Honorable Government Officials who showed their desire to “bond” with us – FILIPINO & ASIAN AMERICANS in general – by honoring us with their presence at my party. These officers are: Illinois State Secretary, the Hon. Jesse White; Judge Aurelia Pucinski and another Gentleman Justice Haman; the Hon. Cook County Treasurer, Maria Pappas; the Hon. Karen Yarbrough, Cook County Recorder of Deeds, who presented me a PROCLAMATION, oh, what an honor; and a Plaque of Appreciation for “Outstanding Community Outreach” from the Social Security Administration from Phyllis Smith, Regional Commissioner and Mr. Doug M. Nguyen, Regional Communications Director, who supported all my community projects for the City of Chicago.
More about my 80th birthday on my NOTEBOOK column. And to my Lady Boss, Veronique — please give me a break this time to “Love Myself” on my column space. God is Great. He gives us what WE NEED. Not what we want. Thank you Lord.
Indeed, it was an honor not only for Elsie but our Filipino American Community to have five dignitaries from various branches of government to attend a personal celebration of “One of Our Very Own” like Elsie Sy-Niebar. From left are the Hon. Judge Aurelia Pucinski, Elsie Sy-Niebar, the celebrant; the Hon. Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer; the Hon, Karen Yarbrough, Recorder of Deeds now running for Cook County Clerk; and Judge Mike Hyman. The Hon. Jesse Whie, Illinois Secretary of State is on another photo. (Rosie Reed photo)
Elsie’s “Ladies of Honor” who captured the party scene as they paraded into the ballroom: From left is VIA TIMES publisher Veronica Leighton, Eva Maunders, Elsie’s sister from Australia, Evelyn Tolledo, past president of Bicol USA; JetJet Gruezo, “Mrs. Philippines PIWC”; Dr. Remy Escalona, retired Doctor of Psychiatry; ELSIE SY-NIEBAR, the 80-Year Young Celebrant; Lourdes Livas,”Mrs. Philippines PIWC 2005; Dalisay Villalon, immed. past president, BOT-PIW Corp., Remy Cruickshank, Elsie’s sister from Australia; Hilda Sy, retired RN; Yoly Zoleta, “Mrs. Philippines PIWC”; Carmen Estacio, Asian American Liaison, Illinois Secretary of State; Elsa Castillo, “Mrs. Philippines FACC 2005; and Vicky Fertig, Lions president, not in photo. (Rosie Reed photo)
The Hon. Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State poses with Elsie after his speech, commending Elsie, saying “in your role as a journalist and active member of our Filipino (American) community, you have been dedicated to empowering, informing and inspiring community members in various capacities for several years… your contribution to the well-being of others has made our great state a more peaceful place to live.”
Aboard the EMERALD PRINCESS “Love Boat” during our one-week cruise in Alaska with stopover in Victoria, Canada. Fun donning the lovely Mexican national costumes!
The Dancing Couple Nestor and Elsa Castillo “live” performing a Cha-Cha dance number to the delight of the 200+ guests doned in “Gatsby style” roaring ‘20s!