Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Civic Action Leader Helena Berbano

By Trish Fontanilla

I met Helena Berbano a few years ago when I was volunteering with ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence), and emceeing their Asian American Women in Leadership Conference. There was a volunteer potluck afterwards, and while I do remember Helena pretty well, I remember the food she brought even better. Seems like the Filipino way, right? The way to our hearts is through food? I’ve been incredibly impressed with Helena’s work (we’ll be doing a followup piece on more opportunities for civic engagement), so I figured she’d be perfect for our “Filipinos in Boston series!

 Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena and her mother in  Batangas , Philippines

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena and her mother in Batangas, Philippines

Where's your family from?
I’m from Boston, by way of Bronx, NY and Winter Park, FL. My mother and father are from Quezon City, and my grandparents are from Quezon City and Cavite. My dad’s side is Ilocano, and my mother’s side is Tagalog.

 Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena knocking on doors for Newton City Council Candidate, Nicole Castillo

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena knocking on doors for Newton City Council Candidate, Nicole Castillo

What do you do?
During the day I work with grassroots groups on their civic action and electoral work. Off hours I’m involved in progressive political campaigns and nonprofits. I’m also a full time karaoke queen. Other hobbies include fiction and poetry writing, hiking, amateur baking, and binging Law and Order: SVU.

What inspired you to be so civically engaged?
What compelled me to get involved in civic action work is reality. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but what I can describe it as...is that I faced a self-reckoning on the reality of access, power structures, and privilege. I confronted myself about the model minority myth, growing up “middle class”, and I reflected on my experiences as a 2nd generation Filipina who grew up in the South. The result of this reckoning was an unyielding passion and motivation to dismantle oppressive systems.

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
I’ve been in the Greater Boston area for almost a decade. I’ve lived in Metro Boston for about 4 years.

Favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Food: The Beehive (South End), Avana Sushi (Chinatown), Eldo Cake House (Chinatown), Le's (Allston), Thinking Cup (Downtown), L’Espalier (Back Bay), and many more.

Places: Jin Karaoke (Brighton), Lawn on D, Brighton Music Hall, Boston Public Garden, and the Museum of Science.

What's your community superpower?
Keeping up constant humor despite the disheartening political situation. Like I always say, “I laugh, so I don’t cry.”

 Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena at the  Taal Volcano  in the Philippines

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena at the Taal Volcano in the Philippines

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Kare Kare hands down. It’s savory, funky, and decadent.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
I love making Chicken Adobo (writer's note: including a recipe we recently published on the blog). It’s simple, delicious, and magical. When I am having a bad day, the smell of toyo (soy sauce), suka (vinegar), bawang (garlic), and peppercorns is the most comforting thing. Also, sinangag (garlic rice) with adobo is NOT OPTIONAL.

On staying in touch...

How can people stay in touch? 
At me: @helenaberbano (Twitter)
Spam me: berbanoh@gmail.com


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at info@bosfilipinos.com.