ELSA Saladino SARGENTO
• Community Organizing
ELSA Saladino SARGENTO
Growing up in the Philippines in the 1940s, Elsa Saladino Malapit (pronounced: El’-sa Sa-la-DEE’-no Ma-La’-pit Sar-HEN’-to) couldn’t imagine she would become a prominent leader of 30,000 Filipinos in Alaska.
She credits her father who said, “The best inheritance I can give you is your education. It will give you light wherever you go.” Elsa’s completion of an education degree and exceptional success in the national teachers’ civil service exam launched her career.
Elsa and Angel Sargento, an accountant/police investigator/musician, met in Rizal and married 2 ½ years later. In 1973, the Filipino economy struggled, and Angel migrated to Alaska. In 1974, Elsa left their infant daughter with family and came to Alaska with their 1-year old son.
Elsa worked as a bi-lingual tutor and earned credits at the University of Alaska to obtain a teaching certificate. In 1977, she received her Master of Education and obtained her School Administrative Certificate in 1981. Her many awards during 23 years in the Anchorage School District tell this heartfelt story.
In 1996, Elsa and Angel helped launch Bridge Builders of Anchorage, a non-profit organization connecting diverse racial and cultural groups. Elsa’s warmth and professionalism as a board member-president-team leader has sent ripples through both the long-term and new-citizen communities of Anchorage over the last 20 years.
Elsa’s leadership was key in the creation of the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, Incorporated. In 2003, 12 of 15 Filipino organizations consolidated with the goal of intermixing with mainstream society, sharing cultures, experiences, and strengths to cause a change that benefits the community.
Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento has been a role model for both men and women in her demonstration of professionalism, her determination to see community success, and her gracious encouragement of everyone in her circles.View Extended Bio Close Extended Bio
Elsa Saladino Malapit Sargento has been a role model for both men and women in her demonstration of professionalism, her determination to see community success, and her gracious encouragement of everyone in her circles. She has demonstrated how hard work can balance family and career, pressures of becoming professionally fluent in a second (or third) language, and a solid belief that any problem can be solved.
PERSONAL STORY (Her quotes are in italics.)
TEACHING “Education will give you light wherever you go.”
Our family was mostly educators. My dad, Sotero Aguinaldo Malapit, was principal of the Lusong Elementary School. He had served as commanding officer of SULUBAD Bolo Battalion Resistance Movement in the early 1940s. He married well. His first wife, who died too young, was a wealthy woman. I learned later that dad owned land on several islands. They had 3 children. In 1945, my dad remarried a beautiful woman inside and out, my mother Carmen Saladino, and they had 4 children.
My parents urged me to pass the teachers’ civil service exam, and I was fortunate to pass with flying colors. This (and my Bachelor’s Degree) led to my first teaching job in the Malabon District in Rizal, Philippines. I was 18. It was during that time that I met my husband, Angel. I taught for 3 years, then was a school administrator for 7 years.
This all changed when Angel got a job at a fish cannery in Anchorage, and he called me to join him. We would live with his sister in Anchorage. Our 3-month old daughter remained with my mother and sisters and our son, age 1, came to Alaska
“If you are determined to make it a happy life, you can do it.”
After a brief, menial job as a kitchen helper for Northwest Airlines Fight kitchen cleaning the lint off glasses that airline passengers used, Elsa got a job as a teacher’s aide. In spite of the extreme winter weather and a 50-mile, round-trip commute, it was the beginning of her 23 years as an elementary teacher with the Anchorage School District.
LEADERSHIP IS ONE OF ELSA’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR COMMUNITY AND STATE.
BRIDGE BUILDERS OF ANCHORAGE Somehow, I always felt I was a second-class citizen in this great country of ours until in 1996, Angel and I received a letter from the mayor at that time, Rick Mystrom. He invited us to be at a gathering to launch something he called “Bridge Builders of Anchorage”. He had sent similar letters to three couples from 14 different cultures in our city.
Six years later, I was chosen to be one of the teams of 23 people to go to the national finals of the All-America City awards program in Kansas City, Missouri. My job was to recite “The Pledge of Mutual Respect” that Bridge Builders had written and donated to our city as a gift for the new millennium. As we rehearsed on the Kansas City stage, I noticed that my fellow Alaskans were reading their speaking parts from decorated binders and I spoke up. “We must all know and memorize our own speaking parts by tomorrow, or we will not win this award.”
Mayor George Wuerch agreed and the next day before thousands in a great auditorium with the judges sitting in the front row, I looked into the eyes of every judge as I recited the following pledge:
“We the people of Anchorage, Alaska pledge to respect one another celebrating the differences that make us unique our customs, our colors, dreams, and ancestral traditions. Standing together hand-in-hand, young and old we affirm that through mutual respect we can build a stronger more harmonious community, a more unified nation, and a better, safer world.”
We all performed well and won the day and the All American City title. The crowd stood up and applauded, and we were the unanimous choice of the judges. That was a turning point in my life. Ever since I have been in the front lines of community leadership and have served in state government.
Another Bridge Builders project of Elsa’s began in 2006 when she was president of the organization. She was committed to the idea that each of the international cultural communities in Anchorage should be invited to honor one of their members for their Excellence in Community Service. Nominations should be decided by the individual communities. This annual UNITY GALA event has become a wonderful dinner dance – complete with entertainment, photos, and speeches. Since it was initiated, Bridge Builders Honorees have been from the entire spectrum of our diverse communities – honoring more than 150 individuals and organizations. Elsa’s leadership has been the core of this event. As a result, Bridge Builders is known and valued throughout Anchorage.
ALASKA FEDERATION OF FILIPINO-AMERICANS (AFFA”) As mentioned in the earlier part of this biography, Elsa was a key to the organization of 12 of the 15 Filipino organizations into a single group. With 7,100 islands in the Philippines and more than 100 languages in addition to the national language of Pilipino, it is easy to imagine separate organizations, cultures, and families. Since its incorporation in 2003, AFFA has established itself as one of the most welcoming, involved, celebratory cultural groups in Alaska.
“I do my best and go the extra mile. I show the way. I get results and win their trust and they are with me all the way.”
FILIPINO RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS CHOIR GROUP of Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church Every third Sunday of the month is Filipino Mass at Saint Benedict’s Church, Anchorage. This wonderful choir and community have benefitted from Elsa’s joy and leadership for nearly 20 years. In addition to the happiness of the Filipino Mass, the Community has had a special internationally welcoming aura to all its activities.
Walker Administration 2014 to present
Policy and Program Specialist (Office of Governor Bill Walker, Anchorage): Sargento is often called upon as the Governor’s connection to our culturally diverse Alaska citizens and reaches back out for the Governor to a number of their concerns.
Education Transition Team: Pre-inauguration of Governor Walker, Sargento was one of the 15-member team that provided perspective and priorities in public education.
Murkowski Administration 2002-2006 Executive Director of the Alaska State Community Service Commission promoted volunteerism and ethics of service.
ACADEMIC DEGREES When I was young, my family was mostly educators. My father channeled his leadership skills as Principal of Lusong Elementary school.
Alaska: School Administrative Certificate – University of Alaska (UAA) 1981
Master of Elementary Education UAA 1977
Alaska Teaching Certificate (UAA) 1974
Philippines: Philippine Normal College – Manila Master’s Equivalency 1970
Philippine National Teachers’ Civil Service Exam 1965
Northern Luzon Teachers’ College – Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education 1965
Elsa holds an Alaska Real Estate license and has been an active partner with her husband in Manila Realty since 1986.
Elsa and Angel were married on June 4, 1971, and they have three adult children and six grandchildren. Achilles “Lex” Sargento was born March 23, 1972. He has 2 sons, Aliyas (12) and Jericho (7). Golda Sargento was born on October 3, 1973. She has a son Micah (15) and a daughter Mahalya (12). Ryan Sargento was born on September 3, 1981. He has a son Esco (10) and a daughter Lahliya (9).
My life has not all been a “bed of roses.” There have been challenges for our family like anyone else. However, because of Elsa’s generous spirit and being there for her community, they have been there for her and given her the love and support to get through whatever challenges the family has had to face.
Elsa is Filipino by birth. She migrated to Alaska, January 5, 1974, and became a Naturalized American Citizen in 1979.
Founder’s Award – Bridge Builders of Anchorage 2013
Honored by Founder and former Mayor Rick Mystrom, Sargento, was honored for her steadfast leadership, courage, and commitment which benefitted her community, all cultures in Anchorage, and beyond.
President’s Award – Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans, Inc. 2012
Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation Dan Sullivan 2010
Outstanding Leadership – Filipino Community of Alaska 2009
20 Outstanding Filipino-Americans of the US and Canada Washington, DC 2006 Sargento was honored for her ”dynamic leadership and unwavering support to activities enhancing a positive Filipino-American image in the US and Canada.
Mayor’s Award for Public Service Mark Begich 2005 Public Safety Advisory Commission
Asian Academy – Hall of Fame Albuquerque, NM 2004 Sargento was 1 of the 7 global honorees “knighted” in this ceremony and the first Filipino-Alaska woman to receive this honor.
Fil-Am Showtime – Outstanding Achievement Award 2000
BP Teacher of Excellence Certificate 1998
Teacher of the Year Chinook Elementary School 1997-98
Golden Award – Delta Kappa (education honor sorority) 1997
MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT When interviewed for the ALASKA WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME honors, Elsa had to think carefully about her most significant accomplishment. Capturing her comment . . . The connection with Bridge Builders is probably her most significant. Beyond the wonderful beginnings of forming the Community of Friends . . . the teams of friends from all races and backgrounds and their support in all aspects even in the toughest of all times over 20 years . . . the success of determination to make it live beyond challenging financial time . . . to the positive ripple effect that resulted in AFFA . . . to the current assignment with Governor Bill Walker and First Lady Donna Walker. Elsa’s former students are now coming into her office as inspired, pro-active adults. It’s an honor to have been part of all this as our city and state have become a unique and welcoming place.
Thank you to the Board of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for this inclusion in your valuable group. Elsa
(This is pending publication. It provides a valuable understanding of the Filipino-American culture.)
Celebrating Filipinos in Alaska By Elsa Malapit Sargento
It is a pleasure to write about Filipinos and what we have brought and continue to bring: our cultural heritage. I would like to highlight a few characteristic traits that stand out to this day.
Survivability Filipino presence in Alaska speaks to our mastery at survival as a people. There is a saying that comes to mind: what won’t kill you will make you strong. That our culture is intact and our people continue to populate the world even in places one would least expect- even in a place like Alaska- is a testimony to our ability to survive, AND thrive. The earliest presence of Filipinos in Alaska on record, according to a book Filipinos in Alaska by the late Thelma Buchholdt, goes back to 1788.
“It appears that the first Filipinos to reach Alaska’s shores came as merchant seamen seeking fur trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. The earliest record accounts for at least one unnamed Filipino seaman who, in 1788, arrived as a crew member on a merchant ship which bartered with Alaska Natives for sea otter furs.”
The ability to survive as people presupposes endurance, the ability to bear suffering by generating the power to resist, and at various times even to revolt. We emerged from an environment of oppression called colonization. What did not kill us made us strong. This is why we are survivors.
Adventuresome That Filipinos are found in just about every corner of the world gives testimony to the Filipino spirit of adventure. Sons and daughters of islands in the pacific far-east, we became explorers by necessity. We are forced to always look for better and more suitable lands on which to build homes and start our families. Today, this exploration translates into seeking a suitable livelihood to support our families and people.
Fun-loving We are a fun-loving people. If Americans evolved a work ethic for survival, Filipinos evolved a play ethic for the same reason. We cannot allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity. A healthy sense of humor can combat the often chaotic and less-than-ideal conditions in which we find ourselves. So we share jokes, we sing songs, recite poems, and we dance. We tend to be non-confrontational. Instead, we value a kind of “smooth interpersonal relationship.” It is very difficult for us to say no. What we have developed are the many levels of meanings for the word YES, where sometimes saying YES means NO. This is because we value relationships.
Hard workers Filipinos are known to sacrifice self for family. Overseas workers (or contract workers abroad) then and now are in the millions. These individual Filipinos not only sacrifice themselves for their families but for the group. They contribute more to the Philippine economy than all of the local businesses in the country. Nothing is too demeaning for Filipinos. They’ll take on anything if it means better living conditions for their families and relatives back home. This is particularly noticeable in Alaska in the many assisted-living homes run by Filipinos. Over 90% of assisted-living homes in Alaska are owned and run by Filipinos. Taking care of the elderly and the homebound is more than a business. For Filipinos, this is an expression of a Filipino value: respect and care of elders especially when they are weak and nearing life’s end.
Utang na loob (OO-TANG’-na-loo-ob) We never forget kind deeds. We are forever indebted to someone who has shown us kindness. We, therefore, have developed a sense of moral obligation, a sense of indebtedness whether to another person, a neighbor, or country. The long-standing relationship between the United States and the Philippines comes out of that Filipino sense of indebtedness we call “utang na loob.” We Filipinos in Alaska feel a sense of gratitude to our state and we have a sense of indebtedness towards this great state that we have adopted as our home. We want to give back to Alaska what Alaska afforded us: a livelihood and a home.
Faith Filipinos are very religious. Religion is more than going to church to us. It is a life-style. It is deeply embedded in our customs and traditions. In a religious environment, we learn moral and ethical behavior. We are pre-dominantly Christian although we have a large population of Muslims in our southern islands. We take this religiosity and piety wherever we go.
Pakikisama (Pa-KEE-KEE’-Sa’-ma) The social nature of every Filipino lends itself to cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity. Filipinos can get along with everybody. A fun-loving nature is only the starting point. Much deeper than the pleasure of company is the value of the inter-personal relationships. There is a sense of loyalty that comes with community, with the neighborhood, and in a bigger picture, loyalty to society. This is why citizenship is so important to Filipinos. It gives them a sense of belonging and ownership and obligation.
When all is said and done, I think I am speaking for all Filipinos when I say, “We are proud to be Alaskans, and we are proud to be Americans.”Elsa Sargento is the founder of AFFA, the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans; a retired 23-year teacher in the Anchorage School District; a founder and former president of Bridge Builders of Anchorage; and a co-owner with her husband Angel Sargento of Manila Realty. She is currently a Policy and Program Specialist in Governor Walker’s Anchorage office. (March 2017)