6/10/1931 – 1/19/2011
I call my 3 ½ year-old son “buddy.” His real name is Paolo. My nickname for him is “Gus” (because that's one syllable easier to yell than Paolo), but when no one else is involved in the conversation, and it’s just an exchange between me and him, I call him “buddy.” On more than one occasion, I’ve wondered where that came from, because my dad never called me that, and most people I know don’t talk like that. That’s kinda why I only use it between the two of us.
Two weeks ago, I visited the woman who inspired me to become a musician. She wasn’t doing that well, but she wanted to meet my son, so we went to see her. On the way home from that visit, I couldn’t help but think about how that woman had impacted my life. That led me to think of another person that had made an equally huge impact on my life, and whom I had not talked to in a long time: Jerry Paular.
It had been too long.
I wondered whether he was even still alive. It was actually depressing to think that he might have passed and I didn’t even know. I told myself that I would have to ask around about him when I got home, but the meaninglessly chaotic and busy pace of big city living prevented me from ever getting around to it.
As fortune would have it, when my parents came up to hang out with Paolo on Thursday, January 27, they told me that Jerry had just passed away that week. My father had read the obituary in the paper that morning. This was already in the evening, so I was missing the memorial, but the funeral was the next day.
The news hit really hard.
Jerry was kind of a big deal. Not just to me personally, but to a lot of people.
When I got home, I googled his obit and made plans to take off work and skip out on my son’s science field trip the next day. I posted his obit on Facebook, writing simply from the heart, “RIP Jerry. Love you buddy.”
And then I remembered. That’s where it came from.
"He knew just about every family," said Vince Reyes, a retired Sacramento State professor of Asian American history. "He had a story to tell about every family, and he knew how the families all connect to each other."
- Sacramento Bee
Jerry didn’t just call everyone he knew “buddy,” he meant it. He loved everyone, and made everyone feel loved. It wasn’t a sell job either. He wasn’t a politician. He genuinely felt it. He was a very talented actor, and although I don’t know firsthand, I’m sure he was a decent poker player too. However, his love for all was not a front.
His passion for history is a good example of his love for all people. He wanted to know everyone's story. Not just Filipinos, but he certainly did have a passion for exploring, documenting, and preserving Filipino history in California. Jerry actually knew all the stories, and I do regret not doing a better job helping him document as many of those stories as possible. I doubt that I'm alone in feeling that way though.
I first met Jerry in person when he came to speak to a group of high school students that I was working with through the Philippine National Day Association. I had talked to him over the phone several times, and had already warmed up to him considerably. When he walked into the room and started talking in person though, I immediately sensed a monumental shift in the atmosphere in the room. Every single kid in that room was paying attention to him (if you've ever worked with teenagers, you have an idea of how amazing a moment that was). He had the entire room hanging off of his every word. I arrogantly thought that it was simply that the students were interested in learning about the history of Filipinos in America (i.e. it was MY plan that was working, not Jerry's magic).
However, in talking with the youth afterwards, I realized that they had all been floored by the simple fact that he didn't have an accent. Here was this Filipino man in his late 60s who sounded more like them than their grandparents...or even most of their parents. For these students, most of whom went to Florin High and weren't necessarily the "model minority" types, here was a guy who knew how to talk to them. Somehow, a half-century earlier, in a completely different California, he had been one of them. He didn't come from anywhere else, and that in itself let them know not only that they too belonged, but they had plenty to contribute as well.
I often asked Jerry to come speak at subsequent events I organized. The event itself didn't matter, he loved any opportunity to talk to youth. I distinctly remember one hip hop show I put on at the Rizal Center where a young rapper who didn't have a single drop of Filipino blood in him came up to me while Jerry was speaking. With a wide-eyed look of genuine amazement on his face, he said to me, "This dude is hella deep...he's droppin some serious knowledge."
Jerry was a builder of bridges. If you know anything about the Filipino community, you should know that that in itself is a rarity. A member of the "Bridge" generation in-between the Manongs and the children of the War Bride families, Jerry tied together all generations. He tied together people of different "birthrights" and different ideologies. He even tied together people of different races.
He and I were polar opposites in terms of our politics, but he chose instead to focus on our mutual interest in serving the community. He was old enough to be my grandfather, but he focused on our mutual desires to both empower the youth and preserve the memories of past generations. He was a businessman, and I was an artist, but he chose to focus on our mutual desire to create opportunities for our people. He inspired me to focus on trying to be inclusive, and not divisive.
For someone who grew up in the suburbs and had light skin, average stature, and a suburban accent, it was a paradigm-shifting attitude. I always felt that Filipinos considered me to be more "American" than Filipino. In the Philippines, I was puti or kano. I could tell Jerry understood because he often spoke about how far-flung and diverse the Filipino diaspora was, and in such a way that let me know he was proud of that connection between us. He helped me see the force that Filipinos could be if we focused on our similarities rather than our differences.
But it wasn't just talk. Jerry was all about action. He created commuity space where it was needed, and secured funding for needed services too. He changed the US census in the process.
All as a volunteer.
He had his own business, and his own clients to answer to, but he wanted to serve everyone. He believed in social services, not just social justice.
But he did believe in justice too. He volunteered his services to the NAACP, investigating "potential" hate crimes. He told me lots of stories about certain types of graffiti written on burned-out businesses that conveniently got left out of official reports. He knew that those were the stories that I was interested in, and he kept me well fed.
Jerry taught me a lot about a lot of things. Perhaps more importantly, he made me feel validated in ways that no other person could. He had a lot to offer to everyone. The world has lost one of it's star players for sure. His intelligence, jovial nature, and genuine compassion and love for everyone will be sorely missed by many.
Robert Davila of the Sacramento Bee called him “a pillar of the Filipino American community.”
I can proudly say that I have the honor of also being able to call him "mentor."
Jerry was born in 1931 in Los Angeles to Isaias Z. Paular and Felicidad A. Paular. The fact that both of his parents were Filipino was pretty unique for that time. He even said that his grandmother (not sure which side), a full-blooded Filipina, had been a former pony express rider.
As a child, he sold newspapers on the street in Hollywood, and worked as an extra in movies. His dark skin and ability to speak English got him plenty of work.
He moved to Stockton with his family, where he sold MacIntosh suits to the migrant laborer manongs.
Stockton is also where he met and married Eleanor Engkabo. The two met at a Church function as pre-teens in 1943, and married seven years later. They stayed together for 60 years, and had 3 children and 8 grandchildren, all of whom live in the Sacramento area.
He started, but couldn’t afford to finish law school. He later studied criminology at Stockton College and Sacramento State University. He settled in Sacramento in 1954, and worked as an insurance investigator before starting his own private investigation firm. Jerry owned and operated Paular Service Bureau for more than 35 years. He also ran a security patrol company called Paular Services.
He was appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan to an eight-year term on the Northern California Selective Service Board that included the height of the war in Southeast Asia.
Jerry served as Executive Director for the Philippine American General Association of Sacramento during its 10-year building phase of the Jose P. Rizal Community Center.
He helped create and run Pag-Asa, a rare Filipino American community services agency.
He was a two-term president of the South Sacramento Optimist Club and donated his time to investigate civil rights cases as a member of the NAACP.
He helped lead the effort to identify Filipinos as a distinct group in the U.S. census.
He helped found the Filipino American National Historical Society.
In 2007, he was honored for community service with an Asian Pacific American Local Hero Award by KVIE and Union Bank of California.