It wasn’t always a walk in Central Park, but for Elton Lugay, founder and executive producer of The Outstanding Filipinos in America (TOFA), the work that goes into organizing an event that honors his fellow Filipinos is all worth it.
TOFA, which recognizes accomplished Filipinos in the United States, is on its 11th year. Through the travails of establishing it, promoting it and keeping it going even through a pandemic, Lugay and the TOFA board continue to create the platform that would honor Filipinos who have distinguished themselves with their remarkable accomplishments, raised our cultural profile and made the Filipino community proud.
Lugay, on TribuneNOW’s Pairfect recently, talked about the
11-year journey of the community organization. Here are excerpts of that conversation:
Daily Tribune (DT): What inspired you to create this awards event?
Elton Lugay (EL): Actually, a lot of things; initially, when we had our first meeting, I told the group that I wanted to promote Original Philippine Music (OPM). Then through the next few meetings, we realized that October is the celebration of the Filipino American History Month, so I said, ‘Why not make an awards event for the Filipino achievers?’ And that is how TOFA was born.
DT: What are the qualifications you are looking for and who can nominate?
EL: Everyone can nominate, except me because I’m the founder, and I want no bias. Qualifications are simple, we don’t have a lot of demands. The person just needs to have a good moral character, one who raises the profile of the Filipinos in the States. We offer different categories: Education, sports, youth, etc. We also have an LGBT category, as well as women empowerment.
DT: Now that it’s TOFA’s 11th year, how has it evolved, and considering we are in the midst of the pandemic, and this is the second year that the event will be held in spite of Covid-19?
EL: It’s hard because when we started years back, no one believed in us because we had no reference, no history whatsoever. The only thing that kept me going back then was the thought of knowing some influential people that I met when I was still a reporter and writer. Since then, every year has been unique, but the struggle during the first few years was to get financial support from people. To be honest, holding it online was much easier because logistics-wise, we didn’t have to fly anyone from the Philippines — no reservations, no venue. For me, I think another advantage of this was a lot more people can join because there are less expenses.
DT: Through the years, how has TOFA benefited the awardees?
EL: I think the benefit is more for us and less for them. These people are already accomplished so we feel honored when we award them. We appreciate that they allow us to give them the platform, to expose them to the Filipino community. If there is something that they will gain from this, it’s the acknowledgement and appreciation of their fellow Filipino people. TOFA can also serve as an inspiration to other people on how our fellow citizens made it in another country, because not everyone who joined TOFA is already famous. Some really worked their way up to succeed in life and that is what TOFA wants to honor and commemorate.
“TOFA is a homecoming; it’s reconnecting with our culture and our roots as Filipinos,” Lugay said. Boy Abunda, their resident emcee, even acknowledged the awardees last year as heroes because, according to him, we can look at their stories and be inspired by all of their achievements.
After a decade and counting, Lugay added, “We are happy because we are recognized, reminding America that we exist and we have something to say.”
When asked why they chose the Carnegie Hall instead of all the different events places in New York, Lugay said, “Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of other venues in New York City but when we talk about Carnegie, it is iconic, grand, and our achievers deserve to be recognized in a venue synonymous to what they have achieved.”
TOFA will take place on 7 October 2021 at the Carnegie Hall.
Watch the full interview of Elton Lugay on TribuneNow’s Pairfect via the Daily Tribune YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jtn6VDPEYk8)