Friday, May 15, 2009

Community Cheerleader

Filipino American community leaders regularly receive recognition for their initiatives but the many who serve quietly behind the scenes, the ones who really make the community engines run, are barely known and rarely receive any credit. And that’s fine with them because the community’s success is their goal.

No one I know personifies this behind-the-scenes Community Cheerleader role more than Lina Susbilla who has been active in the Filipino community for more than 50 years.

Lina was a member of the Fil-Am Council of San Francisco in the 70s when the Council set up employment training programs for newly-arrived immigrants. She was the force behind the Pearl of the Orient and the Soroptimist clubs when they were actively involved in Filipino community events.

Any effort, locally or nationally, to organize and unify the Filipino American community always received her enthusiastic support. She was in Anaheim when the National Filipino American Council (1987) was organized in 1987 and was a charter member of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) when it was formed in 1997 in Washington DC.

Lina is also a member of the San Mateo County Commission on the Status of Women and has been an active member of the Filipino Task Force in CORA (Community Opposed to Relationship Abuse). As a member of the Filipino Women’s Network (FWN), Lina performed in the FWN 2007 production of “The Vagina Monologues” when it was performed at the Herbst Theatre.

In her private life, Lina has been happily married to Len Susbilla for more than 45 years. Together, they have two kids, Len Jr. and Lynette, and nine grandchildren. Lina had been working at the Presidio Officers Club until the Presidio closed down 16 years ago, an event which provided Lena with the opportunity to open her own flower shop (Lina’s Flowers and Gifts) in Daly City.

In September of last year, Lina relayed the sad news to me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Where normally there would be a bright cheerful smile, this time there was worry and fear in her eyes. “I’m frightened,” she said. “You’ll lick it, I know it,” I assured her.

As the months passed, we would hear sporadic news of her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And then in March, Lina appeared at numerous community events with her omnipresent camcorder, announcing with her buoyant smile, that she had indeed licked the cancer.

On April 9, Bataan Day, last month, Lina and her sisters accompanied their father, 89-year old Pablo Lising Mesina, to the rotunda of the San Francisco City Hall where he and other Filipino WW II veterans were honored by SF Mayor Gavin Newsom for their service to the country. Lina was so proud of her father who had served with the Philippine Scouts and who, because of that service, was able to immigrate to the US with his family when Lina was just a child.

With news that Lina had successfully licked her cancer, all was now well with the world. All was well until last week when Lina suddenly suffered two brain aneurism attacks which required her to undergo an emergency craniotomy surgical procedure on May 8 at the Redwood City Kaiser Hospital.

For the last four days, Lina has been heavily sedated in the Intensive Care unit of the hospital as her doctors monitor her condition. She was still unconscious or asleep when I visited her at the hospital on May 12. Lynette wasn’t there when I came but later left a message for me in my voice mail which I would like to share with everyone:

“Thank you for coming to see Mom. Right now, I just saw Mom open her eyes for the first time in a long time and she wouldn’t let go off my hand. I wasn’t supposed to touch her last night but I couldn’t resist so I held her hand and I told her how much I loved her. And she started crying. I didn’t know what that was so I asked her “Mom, do you hear me?” She grabbed my hand, she squeezed my hand.”

Lina will not go quietly into the night. Her will is indomitable. Let us all pray for Lina.

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