“Kaylangan lang poh ng kohntee pahng tiyago.”(We just need a bit more patience.)
That line, uttered by the character Attorney Anna (played superbly by veteran actress Missy Maramara), always got the audience breaking into hearty laughter and applause in Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street.”
The play, adapted for the stage by Rody Vera and directed by Chris Millado, was based on my novel. And I must reveal now, however, that the real Attorney Anna, the Filipino American lawyer who was devoted to helping Filipino World War II veterans in San Francisco, but who was prone to mangling Tagalog, can actually speak the language fluently.
The broken Tagalog and funny accent—I made that all up. (I decided while writing the novel to honor the United States-born Pinoys who have also taken up the cause of the beteranos and of the Filipino community in general by turning Attorney Anna into a FilAm.)
In real life, Attorney Anna is Attorney Lou, as in Lourdes Santos Tancinco, who has spent nearly two decades now helping and advocating for the beteranos, many of whom hang out outside her office near the Cable Car Stop on Powell Street in downtown San Francisco.
For her service and commitment to these men and their families, Attorney Lou was recently named an “Outstanding Local Bay Area Hero” by KQED Public Television. It’s a prestigious award given to individuals who made a difference in communities in Northern California.
And Attorney Lou certainly has made a big difference.
She served as the chair and founding member of the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center which led the advocacy campaign for the beteranos in the city. She offered pro bono legal services and held free legal clinics for the beteranos and other immigrants. She also has her own TV show, “Pusong Pinoy sa Amerika,” which focuses on immigrant issues in the Filipino community in the United States.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to know that Attorney Lou was honored this year as a result of the passing of the federal bill granting benefits to the beteranos. As a result of the law, the beteranos who have long been denied the benefits granted to regular US military veterans can receive up to $15,000 in a lump sum compensation package.
Many US and Philippine lawmakers, and some community leaders, hailed the passing of the law as a major victory for Filipino World War II veterans.
But Attorney Lou doesn’t see it that way.
Yes, the beteranos and their families could surely use the money, especially in these difficult times, she said. But it simply isn’t enough. The beteranos deserve a lifetime pension and other benefits, like those received by those who served with the US military. Fifteen thousand dollars is a substantial amount, it’s true. But that’s not going to last. These old men deserve more, she said.
Otherwise, all the waiting and fighting they did over the past 60 years would have been in vain, she told me.
We had a chat in her office near the Cable Car Stop on Powell Street, near the spot where many of the old beteranos still hang out. In her office hang photographs of some of the veterans she aided, and who eventually became her friends.
Magdaleno Duenas, a hero in the Allied campaign in the Philippines, came to America hoping for a better life, but ended up being one of the veterans who fell victim to a fraud scheme that Attorney Lou helped expose.
Then there’s Ciriaco Punla, in his fake fur coat and cowboy hat, who became one of Attorney Lou’s cheerleaders in the fight for the Equity Bill and who was a beloved figure at the Powell Street hangout of the old guys. (He was my inspiration for the Ciriaco in the novel.)
Both men have passed away. But Attorney Lou continues to honor them by having their images displayed prominently in her office.
When she received her award from KQED, Attorney Lou said she had planned to simply say “Thanks,” and keep her remarks short. But many people at the event were congratulating her for the “victory.” So she decided to set the record straight and elaborate on how she really felt: That it was not a victory and the fight is not over. That these men deserve more for everything that they have done.
Attorney Lou plans to keep repeating that message in the years to come.