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How a Filipina Health Educator Became an Ethnic Media Columnist

Words From the Wise -- a regular column from NAM's Ethnic Elders News Beat

New America Media, Essay, Aurora S. Cudal Posted: Nov 04, 2009

Editors note: New America Media senior editor Paul Kleyman recently met popular columnist Aurora Cudal, of San Diego's The Filipino Press, when both attended an educational workshop of the Association of Health Care Journalists in Miami. Cudal, 76, is not only a veteran health care professional, but she is also the mother of seven and grandmother of 20. New America Media invited her to share her story of coming to newspaper journalism later in life.

Ive lived a colorful life and pursued a fulfilling career in public health in the Philippines and held various jobs such as Senior Health Education Adviser of the Bureau of Disease Control and Department Chair of Social and Preventive Medicine at the Manila Central University College of Medicine.

As a health education consultant, I traveled around Asia, Europe and the United States. I was contented with my life in the Philippines until one of my daughters, a staff nurse at a hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., invited me to come and take care of her newborn son. That was a request I couldnt deny. My daughter had regularly sent money back home to the Philippines to help her siblings attend school. I immigrated to the United States in 1994, and became a U.S. citizen in 2001.

New Filipino immigrants in San Diego are derisively referred to as FOB or fresh off the boat. I was an FOB, when I was asked to write a column for The Filipino Press, a popular English-language newspaper in San Diego County, which then came out every other week.

Paste alt hereAurora S. Cudal, columnist, the Filipino Press.

I had no plans to write for any newspaper, but the opportunity came when the publisher and editor of The Filipino Press called about a thank you letter I had sent him. But thats getting ahead of my story.

For want of a job in my field and some local experience to enable me to land one, I conducted a survey of the needs of new Filipino immigrants and low-income seniors. The results gave me some facts, which provided a rationale for establishing the Filipino Help Center. I wrote the proposal and submitted it to the Commission on Religion and Race, an office of the United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. It was approved eventually, and I was able to launch the center.

I wrote a letter announcing the centers opening event and sent it to The Filipino Press, which published it that weekend -- to my surprise -- on the front page and with my byline. I was so delighted, I wrote a thank you letter to the editor.

The following evening I got a call from no less than the editor himself, Ernie Flores.

Editors of newspapers in the Philippines do not call their readers or even have time to acknowledge thank you letters. When I courteously asked the reason for his call, he surprised me even more by saying, Ive been the publisher and editor of this paper for many years and this is the first time I received a thank you letter. Not only that, it is a well-written letter.

Filipinos have a disconcerting habit of starting a conversation with personal questions about your civil status, your family background, your birthplace and your job back home. The editor, whom I had not met before, questioned me in this way like any other Filipino. Our conversation ended with his invitation to meet with him.

At his office the following morning, we exchanged pleasantries, and then, bringing up my letter, he said, You can write. Would you like to write a column for The Filipino Press?

I laughed and said, I have no experience writing for a newspaper. I can write good letters, official reports and press releases. I told him I associate with writers and journalists, but I am not one of them. I had no formal training and I didnt know what topics to tackle.

Oh, he said, that is not a problem. You can write on any subject under the sun. And as the editor, I will be able to help you.

I love to write, but I felt insecure about publishing my articles, especially in a community I had yet to know. But Ernie reassured me that Id get used to seeing my picture with my byline in the newspaper. That was 15 years ago.

My column, entitled My Personal Testimony, shares my Christian faith and upbringing, my relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and commentaries about religious thoughts and practice. My first column elicited many phone calls from friends and acquaintances, who were surprised to know that I was now a resident of San Diego. I also found encouragement for writing the column when the editor let me know I had a growing readership in the Filipino community.

Its no secret that newspaper work is not financially rewarding, so I also worked as a full-time administrator of a residential care facility for elders. One day, I went to see a prospective resident who wished to transfer from another nursing home.

I was met by the owner, a young nurse, whom I hadnt known before. When she saw me, she said, I know you. You are the columnist of The Filipino Press. To my astonishment, she held my hand and knelt before me. She said, You saved my business, you saved my family from financial ruin.

I didnt know what she was talking about. I pulled her up and asked her to tell me her story.

With tears in her eyes she explained. One morning I woke up despondent over my finances. I was thinking of selling my nursing home and leaving my husband. Then I happened to open The Filipino Press, which I picked up from a Filipino grocery store. My eyes fell on My Personal Testimony, where you wrote about the power of prayer in ones life and the Lords assurance that He will provide all our needs according to His riches in glory. I felt so light after reading your column. Since then my life has never been the same.

The Filipino Press is now a weekly newspaper. I still write My Personal Testimony, but I have expanded my interests in journalism. As a columnist and public health professional, I attended the health care journalism course at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. I now write more on health care issues that impact my community.

Ive also attended national conferences organized by the Association of Health Care Journalists, most recently their October workshop in Miami titled Aging in the 21st Century, which was partly cosponsored by New America Media. I learned many storylines from this workshop about the aging population and how articles on those concerns could make a difference in the lives of older people.

At present, I am particularly interested in writing on elder abuse, a hidden problem in the Filipino community. Hopefully, I will be able to help seniors who have been abused physically, emotionally and psychologically by writing their stories, and by advocating for more programs and services to protect elders and to enhance the quality of lives.

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