By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Rey Pascua was the persistent and committed man who helped proclaim October as Filipino American History Month for several years in a row. He also spent decades devoting his life to public service in Eastern Washington.
Pascua was born in the Philippines in 1950, after his parents were introduced to each other through a matchmaker.
When he was 3 years old, Pascua and his mother sailed to the United States from the Philippines. His two younger sisters were born in the United States several years later.
The family settled in Eastern Washington, where they found farming opportunities as well as other Filipino immigrants. Pascua’s father partnered with his cousins and began farming in Yakima. They lived in a compound and often gathered for activities, including singing, at the Filipino Hall.
“I think I knocked them dead by singing an Ilocano song,” said Pascua, “because there weren’t very many other Filipino kids that immigrated. I was probably an oddity going into that party, but I also felt the adults appreciated that, too. They saw a child who sang the language, but I didn’t speak a word of English until [age] 6, when I went to school.”
Pascua’s father passed away when he was only 11 years old, but not before teaching his young son “to work hard and not complain, and respect what you do.” After his father’s death, his mother dedicated her life to the family, working hard as a seamstress for the community.
Pascua’s friend of 30 years, Pio DeCano Jr., described him as someone who has done a lot for the Filipino American community, noting Pascua’s work with the Washington State legislature to proclaim October as Filipino American History Month.
“He won’t give up on something, he will find a way to overcome difficulties and challenges,” said DeCano Jr. “It’s not a matter of stubbornness, but having a good, clear vision of what he wants to accomplish.”
According to DeCano Jr., Pascua is also a great family man who is loyal, down-to-earth, and an excellent athlete.
Another friend, Frank Irigon, said he was surprised when Pascua went to California to work with and learn from Larry Itliong, who led a farm labor strike that pre-dated Cesar Chavez.
“Rey’s very passionate and committed to social justice issues,” Irigon said. “He didn’t just want to read about it, he actually went down there and lived through it.” Irigon is the godfather of Pascua’s son.
Pascua’s favorite sport is basketball, and he also competed in track and field. Currently, he coaches middle school basketball and fast pitch, and previously coached high school track and field.
In 1978, Pascua received his master’s degree from the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Public Affairs, now the Evan School of Public Affairs.
Pascua knew that public service was a high calling. He was a member during the transition of the Asian American Advisory Council to a legislatively created commission in 1974, and an appointee of governors Evans and Gregoire. He also served as the Legislative Liaison for the Commission in 1980, focusing on bilingual education, health, and civil rights issues.
Pascua explained that his most rewarding career move was becoming the area manager for Child Protective Services, with offices in Clarkston, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla, and Toppenish, from 1986 to 2005.
“You make sure you’re protecting children and trying to keep families together. I was very proud of that work; no child ever died when I was the manager,” he said.
Pascua feels the Asian Pacific Islander community is growing and contributing more to American society.
“We were a solid voting block in the last election. I hope we continue to educate the children growing up and they become a full part of society, and learn to appreciate the diversity that we have as APIs. I love my community,” he added.
Pascua has been an officer for the Filipino American Community of the Yakima Valley for more than 25 years, and was president of the 350-member organization for 10 years. He helped create the Mabuhay Foundation and the Yakima Valley Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society. He is instrumental in diversity work, political advocacy, and API historical preservation in central Washington.
Pascua was married to his wife for 37 years before she passed away two years ago after battling sarcoma. Pascua said he was grateful that he and his wife both led fulfilling lives with great careers.
Pascua says he will continue to try and memorialize the Filipino American experience in America, with plans to write books, including a memoir of his own life. He also hopes to write a book about Larry Itliong’s life achievements and influence on the Filipino American history.
Pascua splits his time between Eastern Washington and Seattle, where his children live. (end)
Pascua will be honored at the Top Contributors award dinner on Dec. 6 at the House of Hong Restaurant in Seattle, from 6–9 p.m.
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.