The Filipina Matriarch


Even at age 90, there’s no slowing down radio show host Magdalena Domingo and her influential work within the Filipino community.

Whether it’s entertaining listeners via her radio show or perpetuating her heritage, Magdalena Domingo — more affectionately known as “Auntie Maggie” — has become a pillar in the Filipino community.

Magdalena Domingo, who celebrated her 90th birthday a few months ago, is proof that age is just a number. PHOTO COURTESY GABE DE LISO

Her radio career began in the late 1950s. At the time, Domingo was the only Filipina with a daily radio show that was transmitted throughout the state. Aside from playing Filipino music, Domingo also shares both local and international news. While her show has transitioned into a weekend offering, her radio segment is still going strong after all these years. Guests can tune in from 5 to 7 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays on KNDI (1270 AM).

Domingo’s passion for cultivating her heritage isn’t restricted to the radio waves. It’s also displayed in the form of service. She’s held crucial roles in local organizations including the Philippine Cultural Foundation of Hawai‘i, which she joined in the 1970s. She started out as a regular member, became treasurer and eventually worked her way up to president in 2000.

Magdalena Domingo poses at the Consulate General of the Philippines PHOTO COURTESY CECILIA VILLAFUERTE

In this role, Domingo labored to grow the foundation and recruit younger members so they could help carry on the group’s goals and aspirations.

“It’s hard, you know, to become a president of any organization,” says the Kalihi resident. “If you are committed, you have to give all your effort.”

Magdalena Domingo with friends Cecilia Villafuerte and Sarah Hosaka at a high tea event. PHOTO COURTESY CECILIA VILLAFUERTE

And Domingo did just that. During her time with the foundation, she made a huge impact in fundraising with its various pageants, which not only showcase local talent, but also helps participants with college tuition. Through the foundation’s pageantry events, a whopping $100,000 was raised and went toward the construction of Waipahu’s Filipino Community Center.

In addition to pageantry, the Philippine Cultural Foundation also recognizes hard-working high school students and awards Filipino valedictorians with scholarships for higher education. Domingo, who was president of the foundation for about 20 years, shares that it makes her heart so full to help others.

As an active member in the Filipino community, Domingo (center) has made a lasting impact in local radio and in education. Of special note, she’s assisted in raising thousands of dollars to help students ful~ ll their dreams of higher education. PHOTO COURTESY GABE DE LISO

“It is encouraging to see these people getting their degree and to see these parents happy and grateful for what we are doing,” Domingo says. “We were able to help them with their dream of attaining their education.”

Seeing students succeed is very important to her. As a descendant of sakadas — Filipino migrant workers who were recruited from the early 1900s through the 1940s to work in the plantation fields — she understands the value of hard work.

“My family was poor in the Philippines,” says Domingo, who is originally from Northern Luzon in the Philippines. “My parents were struggling to earn money, and so I know how hard it is. To help out these students here, it will help them with their future and to realize that education is important.”

Just as Domingo believes in helping the younger generation, she also believes in acknowledging those who may not always get the thanks they deserve: parents. An event that has occurred annually since Domingo’s presidency is its Parents of the Year celebration. The night honors guardians who made sacrifices so their children could have access to higher education.

But Domingo’s work in the Filipino community doesn’t stop there. In addition to being the president of the Philippine Cultural Foundation, she was also the first female president of the United Filipino Council of Hawai‘i in 1990. She assumed the presidency again in 1996. While it is clear that Domingo has had to work hard in order to successfully juggle multiple obligations, she credits each organization’s various members and says her victories have been a team effort.

The United Filipino Council’s foundation celebrated its 63rd anniversary last month with an awards ceremony. This year featured a special edition of its Progress Awards, called the Order of Sakadas Awards.

“It recognizes outstanding Hawai‘i residents of Filipino ancestry for their excellence and accomplishments in their field of expertise, as well as civic mindedness and sustaining service to the community-at-large,” explains Leo Rojas Gozar, president of the United Filipino Council of Hawai‘i and chairman of the board of the United Filipino Council of Hawai‘i Foundation.

Considering all Domingo has done for the Filipino community, it should come as no surprise that she was selected as one of the recipients of the Progress Awards. The ceremony, which took place at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikīkī Beach Resort, recognized 10 individuals.

“Because this is a special edition of the award, we called the recipients ‘heroes’ and we are so proud of the quality of our selections,” Gozar says. “Maggie Domingo is our community hero.”

Even though Domingo has accomplished so much, it’s her humble demeanor that shines through — so much so that she initially declined the award.

“Sometimes, you know, I feel like I am bragging,” admits the 90-year-old matriarch. “I am very honored and very humbled because I thought that what I am doing is just my job, just like an obligation to help out the community. I thank the Lord for his guidance and giving me strength and talent to do all the things that I have done.”

According to Gozar, Domingo was chosen for the award because of all the success she’s had in her endeavors, including her work as a business leader, radio host and travel agent.

“Her impact has made many changes in the Filipino American community, and she has created many opportunities for young individuals through her educational initiatives,” Gozar says. “Always an advocate and an indefatigable humanitarian, Ms. Domingo has become everyman’s auntie, exuding maternal care and ardor.

“Although semi-retired, she continues to be an active part of the community, which she loves dearly.”

In 2015, Gov. David Ige signed a bill designating every Dec. 20 as Sakada Day. Being that Domingo’s parents were sakadas, the upcoming event holds a special place in her heart.

While the official day is not until later in the month, the Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee of Hawai‘i, in collaboration with the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu and the Filipino Community Center, celebrated with an event titled Kired – Sakada Through The Years, back on Dec. 11.

“This is indeed a great milestone for us. Now we have a day we can call our own day in Hawai‘i,” says Cecilia Villafuerte, chair of the Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee. “We are thankful to all the sakadas and honor those who paved the way for a better life for many Filipinos.”

The fun kicked off at 5 p.m. at the Filipino Community Center. The event’s name, Kired, seems only fitting as it means strength, vigor or endurance in Ilocano.

“We have missed celebrating for several years now, and it’s been time again to bring it back so the younger generation will remember where we Filipinos came from, how we got here and how we have sacrificed much hardship to get where we are today,” Villafuerte adds. “We have come a long way. We are now about 400,000 Filipinos, the second-largest ethnic group in Hawai‘i.”