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Originally published January 8, 2014 at 7:39 PM | Page modified January 9, 2014 at 6:29 PM

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Fred Cordova, advocate for Filipino community, dies at 82

Fred Cordova, who died Dec. 21, was hailed as “an irreplaceable part of Seattle’s civil-rights history and a giant within its Filipino community.”


Seattle Times staff reporter

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As Fred Cordova’s eight children were growing up there was one thing about their dad they had to accept: They had to share him, not just with each other, but with the entire community.

On Dec. 21, Mr. Cordova died of complications from an illness, leaving behind an entire community who mourned his loss and believed they personally knew him.

“Few individuals command the depth of respect that Fred inspired,” U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, wrote in a letter to Mr. Cordova’s family. “He was an irreplaceable part of Seattle’s civil-rights history and a giant within its Filipino community. He was a pioneer and leader in so many causes and organizations.”

Born June 3, 1931, in Selma, Calif., he was adopted and raised in a family of migrant-contract-farmers. He moved to Seattle in 1948 to attend Seattle University. While there he met Dorothy Laigo. Both were studying sociology, and they later married.

Mr. Cordova became a sports editor at the Catholic Northwest Progress, later worked for Seattle University and then the University of Washington as a public-information official.

Despite his professional success, he never forgot his roots or the challenges and prejudice he faced growing up among farmworkers.

In 1957, he co-founded the Filipino Youth Activities of Seattle and created the award-winning Filipino Youth Activities Drill Team. For more than 50 years, Mr. Cordova mentored thousands of young people, his friends say.

During the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, he was an outspoken advocate for economic justice, racial equality and ethnic identity. He was the weekly commentator on issues important to communities of color for KYAC-FM Radio’s “Dark Voices” series.

In 1982, he was the founding president of the Filipino American National Historical Society, creating its national archives.

“We had a lot of respect for him,’’ said Frank Irigon, an Asian-American activist. “He was known to all of us as Uncle Fred Cordova. He was a person who personified being Filipino, someone who was proud of being Filipino American and wanted us ... not to lose sight of it.”

Alma Kern, president of the Filipino American Community of Seattle, wrote on the organization’s website that Mr. Cordova was “one man, who dreamed, spoke and accomplished what millions of us only wished for and talked about. He was one man in a sea of millions of Filipino Americans, and yet, he looked deep into our hearts and saw our potential and showed us by example what we are all capable of doing.’’

Mr. Cordova lectured on Filipino culture and history at the University of Washington. In 1998, Seattle University awarded him an honorary doctorate for lifetime achievements in research, writing and promoting Filipino American history and community.

He started the national effort to make October Filipino American History Month.

For many years, the family gathered for Sunday night potluck dinners at the Cordovas’ Montlake home.

“If you were a Cordova, you had to share Dad with the community. That was very important,’’ said Cecilia Cordova, one of his daughters. “Ever since I can remember, my parents were always volunteering ... with the civil-rights movement, with education, with youth groups. There are so many people whose lives he touched. So many people who feel they know him intimately.’’

He was a member of Immaculate Conception parish for 50 years and was ordained as a deacon about 10 years ago. Despite failing health, he created the San Pedro Calungsod Guild, in honor of the Filipino saint, and led efforts to propose a national shrine at Immaculate Conception, an ethnically mixed congregation.

“When he would preach he would say, ‘Look around. This is what heaven looks like,’ ’’ Monica Hall, an Immaculate Conception parishioner, recalled. He was “very honest about his faith journey’’ and, she added, “He was a character.’’

A die-hard Seahawks fan, he didn’t hesitate to add “Pray for the Seahawks!’’ when he addressed the congregation, Cecilia Cordova said. His most prized possessions included a Doug Baldwin (Seahawks wide receiver) jersey, which, she said, Mr. Cordova will be dressed in beneath his burial vestments.

Mr. Cordova is survived by his wife of 60 years, Dorothy; his children, Anthony, Damian, Timoteo, Dominic, Dion and Cecilia Cordova and Bibiana Shannon, all of Seattle, and Margarita Cordova, of New York City; 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He is survived by brothers Don Bilar, Phil Ventura and Ernie Balucas, all of California. His sisters Feling Dangaran, Catherine Autentico, Pauline Panetto, and brother Sam Balucas died previously.

Rosary and vigil service is set for Immaculate Conception Church at 7 p.m. Friday; the funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, with interment following at Calvary Cemetery, 5041 35th Ave. N.E., Seattle. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Filipino American National Historical Society, 810 18th Ave., or Immaculate Conception Church, 820 18th Ave., both Seattle, 98122.

Nancy Bartley: nbartley@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8522



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