Plaridel Award for Outstanding Editorial Essay
Plaridel Award for Outstanding Editorial Essay

COLMA, CALIFORNIA |  A Song for My Mother,” a two-part personal essay I published in The FilAm, won the 2013 Plaridel Award for Outstanding Editorial Essay.

The Plaridel Awards, a national competition honoring excellence in Filipino American journalism, were announced by the Philippine American Press Club USA (PAPC USA) at gala dinner and awards ceremony which took place on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at Rene’s Fine Dining Lucky Chances Casino in Colma, California.

Led by Esther Misa Chavez, Philippine American Press Club USA President and Vice President for Sales of INQUIRER.net, the Plaridel Awards is a project of the Philippine American Press Club, and The Plaridel Awards Committee.

The Plaridel Awards is named after Marcelo H. del Pilar, a Filipino journalist and publisher who over a century ago went into exile in Europe. His fearless commentaries against the oppressive Spanish rule in the Philippines made his exile inevitable. He was unrelenting in his pursuit of truth, fairness, and the upliftment of his constituents. Plaridel was his nom de plume, the anagram of his surname, Del Pilar.

PAPC USA is composed of members active in the media, which includes publishers, editors, reporters, correspondents and columnists of newspapers, magazines and the internet; broadcast media owners, managers, producers, directors, writers and production staff; advertising representatives of media organizations, public relations and communication professionals; and invited community leaders.

In case I won, I wrote a thank-you speech. Here it is in full: 

I am sorry I am unable to fly to Colma, California, to attend tonight’s Plaridel Awards ceremony. Just like the 19th century Filipino publisher, journalist and writer Marcelo H. Del Pilar who was more popularly known as Plaridel, I am not a wealthy individual. For a freelancer, the cost of last-minute flight from the East Coast was simply too prohibitive.

Although I have evolved into becoming an artist, the truth is that I started out as an editor, writer and journalist. When I was a young teenager in Manila, I was a news editor for the high school gazette of Paco Catholic School. I served as a staff writer for Guidon, the official newspaper of Ateneo de Manila University in the English language, as well as wrote news and feature articles for Matanglawin, the official student newspaper of Ateneo in the Filipino language.

After immigrating to America to join my mother, I continued to work hard at writing and editing. Just like Del Pilar, who later left the Philippines for Spain, I continued to harness the power of the written and spoken word. In the U.S., I wrote plays, stories, poems and texts for performance. I wrote articles for the Reno Gazette Journal, The New York Times, The Daily News, The New York Times, The Star Ledger, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, American Theatre Magazine and Filipinas Magazine. I was a longtime staff writer at The Village Voice where I managed to survive through three editors-in-chief.

This past spring, my mother Cleo Driessler passed away at a hospital in Reno. My entire family (my sister, brother, father, and brother-in-law who is reading this thank-you speech on my behalf) — all of us visited her bedside every day. We took care of her. We advocated for her during her time of greatest illness. We mourn her death.

Since returning to New York to resume what was left of my life, I have been in the throes of grief and pain. But as a writer who has faith in the power of restorative narrative, I felt compelled to celebrate the life of my mother.  “A Song for My Mother” is a two-part personal essay about an extraordinary but unsung woman. She lived an immigrant American life. Her joys and personal glories were hard-earned. She struggled for the sake of her children but persevered. Parts of the long essay the Philippine American Press Club USA has honored here tonight with this Plaridel Award were literally lifted from the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral service.

For me, this award is an ironic life-moment: Because of the great personal cost behind this recognition. Because my mom had worked for decades as a cocktail waitress in a Nevada casino, and tonight’s event is also taking place in a casino. Some of the most memorable family celebrations we shared with her in America took place at fine-dining restaurants at casinos in Nevada. It is strangely appropriate that a member of my family is picking up this Plaridel Award. My mother’s passing was not one son’s setback but our family’s collective loss.

I thank Lex Blair for representing me at this auspicious event tonight.

I thank the Press Club’s President Esther Misa Chavez for encouraging me to submit this essay even though its subject was probably less politically engaged or socially themed than previous submissions in the category.

I thank Cristina DC Pastor, Editor-in-Chief of The FilAm magazine, for publishing the entire length of my essay in two parts. And for publishing it on my mom’s birthday.

Most of all, I thank the Philippine American Press Club, and The Plaridel Awards Committee. This award is not for me. It is a recognition for my mom. You, the Awards Committee and the Press Club, have paid her this amazing tribute.

I cannot be so happy when I think about how broken my heart is that Mama is not here.  May this Plaridel Award serve as a healing coda to the songs of love and pain we sing in praise of my fiercely loving mom. And in memory of the American life she had fought with the depth of her soul to live.

This year’s Plaridel Awards were recorded live; you can see the video here.

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