Home Youth empowerment When an Icon Turns 90: Celebrating Aunt Dorothy

When an Icon Turns 90: Celebrating Aunt Dorothy

Doctor Dorothy Cordova. Photo from the Cordoba family collection.

Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova is a mother of eight, grandmother of 17, and great-grandmother of 22. To many across the country, she is affectionately and figuratively our beloved Aunt Dorothy.

Dorothy’s daughter, Bibiana Cordova Shannon, asked her mother to reflect on her 90th birthday. She replied that she “first thinks about (herself) being a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother…and then she dives into the memories of her work on youth empowerment , social justice and historic preservation”.

Dorothy was born on February 6, 1932 in Seattle. She grew up on the 27thand and Denny in the Madison Valley neighborhood of Seattle in a house owned by his family. She was the child of immigrant parents – the mother of Ilocano artist Bibiana Montante Laigo Castillano who came to the United States in 1928 and the father of Ilocano businessman Valeriano Laigo who came in 1919. 1930s, his parents owned two businesses in the international district of Chinatown – the VM Grocery Laigo Co. at 408 7and Ave. S. and the Laigo Café at 410 6and S. (the old post office) on what is now the western extension of the old Hing Hay Park. Dorothy remembers spending time in the cafe as a little girl, with the boardwalks, sitting on the food counter and walking down two flights of stairs in the back of the restaurant before there were walkways of bricks.

Cafe Laigo. FANHS National Collection Photo

Her life changed abruptly when her father was killed in 1936, leaving her mother with four young children and a fifth on the way. In 1938 Mike Castillano married Bibiana and they had four more children together. Dorothy recalls: “He welcomed us all and treated us like his own.” These pivotal life experiences directly shaped Dorothy’s view of life around resilience and family.

Dorothy met her late husband, Dr. Fred Cordova, in 1948 during Dorothy’s senior year in high school. At this time, Fred Cordova, a native of Stockton, California, was attending Seattle College (now Seattle University) with Dorothy’s older brother, Val Laigo. Their community work began while attending Seattle University with the Filipino Catholic Youth (FCY) organization. Dorothy and Fred are both graduates of Seattle University with degrees in sociology. They married in 1953, raised eight children in the Catholic faith, were lifelong collaborators and inseparable until Uncle Fred died in 2013.

The strong sense of Filipino community and identity led the Cordovas to co-found with other like-minded families the Activities for Filipino Young People (FYA) in 1957 so that their collective children could engage in activities. productive and meaningful youth. In 1959, Fred and Dorothy Cordova founded the award-winning FYA drill team, which remains vibrant today, 63 years later.

Dorothy volunteered to be FYA’s first and longest serving Executive Director. The award-winning and highly competitive FYA Roaming Drill Team included young immigrants and American-born people, many of whom came from mixed families. As the FYA promoted Filipino-American cultural awareness and engaging activities for the growing population of young Filipino Americans, Dorothy’s perspective as a sociologist saw and felt the struggles of parents against racism and discrimination that have impact on all aspects of their lives.

The decade of the 1960s saw Dorothy become fully committed to this call for racial, socio-economic and gender justice. She has written community grants and hired FYA staff to provide immigration and employment services to parents. She advocated for legislation to employ bilingual immigrant teachers in Seattle public schools, as well as for medical testing and placement of Filipino-trained doctors to practice in the United States. This made FYA the first Asian social service agency that focused on racial and social rights advocacy while providing comprehensive services.

Dorothy Cordova as beauty queen, 16. Photo from the Cordova Family Collection.

Dorothy’s strong sense of community development comes from her parents. Just before the Great Depression, (Valeriano) Laigo was a member of a small group of Filipino businessmen who started a fund in 1927 and 1928 to purchase a building for a Filipino community center. Young Dorothy participated in a community fundraiser at a young age. At the age of 16, she complied with her parents’ request to enter the Filipino community queen pageant. She won by raising the most money from family, friends, and the many “uncles” the family knew in Chinatown. She was also a teenage board member of the Philippine Community Council.

The Cordovas as a couple have collaborated for more than 50 years on numerous community projects involving young people. They developed a Filipino American curriculum and served as adjunct professors at the University of Washington for nearly 10 years until 2004. A legacy project led them to be known as the founders of the Filipino American national movement. The Cordovas conceptualized in 1971 the “Filipino Young Wild West Convention: A Quest for Emergence” and Dorothy implemented it. More than 300 young Filipinos traveled from Washington, California, Alaska, Chicago and Oregon to attend the conference at Seattle University.

During the conference, Dorothy saw that young people were not as engaged and changed the design of the program. She created a rule that from then on, only young people can speak. Young people opened their hearts. They spoke passionately about being misunderstood, devalued, discriminated against and feeling inadequate. Eleven subsequent youth conferences were held, focusing on youth empowerment and the development of youth services. In October 2021, the 50and anniversary of the Conference was celebrated with a virtual national panel and meeting. At the 2021 meeting, many spoke about how the 1971 convention inspired them to become community activists and how we continue to bring a sense of community to young people today.

In 1971, the Demonstration Project for Asian Americans (DPAA) was launched to research and document the challenges of Asian Americans (including newly arrived refugees from Southeast Asia) and to provide national solutions. Dorothy served as executive director, accepting the position on the condition that her children could come and stay in her office after school was over. A lesser-known but very impactful contribution by Dorothy was to conduct a sociological study for the DPAA of Filipinos who lived in Chinatown with recent immigrant Levi Romero, a dentist from the Philippines. The data indicated that Filipino residents were moving from hotel to hotel due to poor living conditions. Bob Santos was on Dorothy’s DPAA board of directors and was aware of this research. Subsequently, as acting CDA director and later director of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), Santos redeveloped hotels in Chinatown ID for low-income housing, giving him earned the beloved title of “Mayor of Chinatown ID”.

A project funded by the Washington State Humanities Oral/Auditory History Program to research and document issues affecting Asian Americans was a preview of Dorothy’s next endeavor. In 1982, Dorothy and Fred established the Philippine American National Historical Society (FANHS). She served as pro bono executive director and Fred was a pro bono archivist establishing the National Pinoy Archives (NPA) – one of the largest collections on Filipino American history in the world. FANHS’ mission is “to promote understanding, education, enlightenment, appreciation, and enrichment through the identification, collection, preservation, and dissemination of the history and culture of Filipino Americans. in the USA”. FANHS headquarters includes the national office, research center, collections, and archives of the Immaculate Conception School building.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Dorothy. From the FANHS National Collection.

Under Dorothy’s leadership, FANHS National now has 40 chapters across the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. They meet every two years at national conferences to share Filipino American achievements and stories and to reconnect with the family of the FANHS community. In 1992, FANHS began celebrating Filipino American History Month (FAHM) in October. In 2009 Congress passed a resolution formalizing it and in 2015 President Barack Obama publicly recognized FAHM to the nation. In 2016 the FANHS Museum was launched by Stockton Chapter with Dorothy providing the first two national exhibits. The Greater Seattle FANHS Chapter will host the 19and FANHS Conference this year from August 11-13 to celebrate its 40and anniversary on the theme “Past, Present and Future”.

Dorothy’s historic preservation legacy also includes documenting the history of the central area of ​​Seattle – a historic black neighborhood and the Immaculate Conception Church which Dorothy successfully co-nominated as a historic landmark. She is currently writing the Historical Context Statement for Filipino Americans in Washington State, funded by National Parks through the WA Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. Equally important is his ongoing legacy of mentoring thousands of Filipino and Filipino American high school, college, graduate, and doctoral students, community researchers, and historians to continue the work.

Aunt Dorothy does not lack recognition. She received an honorary doctorate from Seattle University for lifetime achievement in 1998 with her husband Fred Cordova, was interviewed for the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, received the AKCHO Legacy Award ( Association of King County Historical Organizations) and many Suite.

Ultimately, she is indeed a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother first. To a much larger national family, she is family, she is Aunt Dorothy. Thank you, Cordova family, for sharing Aunt Dorothy, supporting her in so many ways, and driving her to the FANHS office six days a week to continue her work of passion. happy 90and Birthday!

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