Monday, January 15, 2007

Fil-Am Role Models

We all need role models. We need heroes to blaze trails for us, to inspire us to do more and achieve more, heroes toinstill in us the confidence and self-assurance we need to get to where we want to go. Those who aspire to professional careers look to the professionals who came before them to draw inspiration about how they dealt with adversity, how they overcame obstacles, how theyachieved success in their fields.

It must have been very difficult for then 22-year old Eleanor Oducayen when she entered the prestigious Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California in Berkeley in 1969. There were no other Pinays in her class; in fact,they had never seen one at Boalt Hall. In point of fact, before Eleanor, there had never ever been a Pinay at any law school in California, or perhaps in all of the United States. Eleanor had no Pinay role models to look up to in the profession she aspired to enter. She was it.

When she graduated from Boalt and passed the bar in 1972,Eleanor was hired as a Deputy Attorney General in the California Attorney General’s Office in Sacramento, the first Filipino to hold that post.Of the 32 Deputy AGs in her office, 30 were males, and almost all of them were Caucasian but being the first or being the only was nothing to new to Eleanor. In short order, she ascended the ranks and was appointed Administrative Law Judge to handle unemployment insurance cases. She rose to become Chief Judge in her department. Both were firsts for her as well.

In 1981, when there was enough of a critical mass of Filipino attorneys in Northern California, Eleanor and a dozen of us organized the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC). Although virtually all of us were men, there was no question that the one most qualified to lead us to become a professional organization was Eleanor who was unanimously elected president of FBANC.

After 35 years of working for the state of California, Eleanor quietly retired last week and was set to celebrate her retirement with her husband and her kids, all grown up, by going out to dinner all they way in San Francisco from their home in Oakland. On the way, they stopped by a friend’s retirement party in Oakland’s Chinatown.

It was not a friend’s retirement party, as it turned out, it was hers. A genuine surprise to Eleanor who saw all her family members, her fellow judges and old colleagues from the Attorney General’s office, some of whom flew in from Los Angeles, her FBANC and community friends all had been waiting at the Silver Dragon to shower her with warmth and affection in a testimonial roast.

The surprise party was planned by Eleanor’s husband of 35 years, Mike Nisperos, who will readily admit that his role model is his wife. After graduating from high school in Oakland in 1968, Mike enlisted in the US Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. When he completed his tour,finishing as a Master Sergeant, Mike returned to Oakland in 1971. There, at a party, he met Eleanor, who was graduating from law school. In terms of academic accomplishments, they seemed an odd pair at the time, but love conquers all. After a brief courtship, Mike and Eleanor married and Mike went to college on his G.I. Bill, graduating from UC Berkeley in 1975 and then, following Eleanor’s lead, going on to Boalt Hall as well, graduating in 1978.

After working in the Oakland District Attorney’s Office as a Deputy DA, Mike returned to the US military to work in the office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG)from 1982-88. He was then hired as a Trial Attorney in the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In 1991,Mike was appointed “Drug Czar” of Oakland, as Director of the Mayor's Office of Drugs and Crime, where he coordinated the enforcement, prevention and education efforts directed toward the reduction of crime and drug abuse. In 2001, Mike was appointed Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar of California overseeing the bar’s attorney discipline system over the state’s 175,000 attorneys.

In 2006, Mike returned to Oakland and ran unsuccessfully for Superior Court Judge. After considering various options, Mike accepted an appointment as Deputy Attorney General for the Marianas Islands to serve in Saipan, where he will be joined by Eleanor. They have two kids, Marlo, a Deputy District Attorney in Sonoma County, and Mike Jr., a law student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

A role model is one who is compassionate and who feels obligated to better society and work for the common good of the community; one who has developed powerful and effective habits of the mind and soul; one who can work through challenges and is committed to what he or she does; one who has the capacity to achieve goals and obtain self-fulfillment; who possesses high standards and values; and one who is admired for courage and strength.

By all these standards, Eleanor Oducayen Nisperos fully fits the bill of a positive role model for the Filipino American community. (And so does her husband, Mike).

We wish them well in their new adventure in Saipan and we thank them both for lighting the path for the rest of us to follow. Godspeed.

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