API Month Leadership Spotlight: Melissa Saulog Nagar

By Jackie Bueno

This year, the Restorative Justice blog is highlighting community leaders from the community for Asian Pacific Islander Month (API). Because the voices from the Pilipinx community often are underrepresented in U.S. media, our center recognizes the importance of uplifting voices like these.

For our API series, we’re highlighting various leaders from Pinay Aspirations (PA), a non-profit organization created to promote the aspirations of Pilipinx youth in education, the community, personal growth and career development. Pinay Aspirations achieves these goals through scholarships, mentorship programs, community service and other activities or resources that will enhance their personal development and advancement in life.

To learn more about Pinay Aspirations, see this link here!

For our second feature, we’re highlighting Melissa Saulog Nagar. Melissa is a native of San Francisco and is the Head of College Counseling at Archbishop Riordan High School. We thank Melissa for the work she continues to do in her immediate community and for making a difference in the lives of young Pilipinxs.

Here’s my interview with Melissa:

Jackie: Tell me about where you grew up.
Melissa: I was born and raised in San Francisco, which was unique because nowadays in San Francisco, there aren’t too many natives around. I grew up in San Francisco in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. I went out-of-state for college, but I came back to the Bay Area after earning my undergraduate degree.

Not many people are aware of Visitacion Valley. I always described it to people as the neighborhood across the freeway from where the 49er Stadium was. I would say there were a lot of ethnically and racially diverse families in my neighborhood that came from low to middle income backgrounds. As kids, we would play in the street with neighbors, which doesn’t really happen anymore.

Jackie: How was your experience growing as a Filipin@-American?
Melissa: That’s kind of a loaded question. I didn’t really know what growing up as a Filipin@-American meant to me until I went to a less diverse city for college, and so growing up Filipin@-American, I didn’t really know what it was like grow up outside of the Filipino culture, which for me always meant family, food, and fun.

In terms of choosing a career, I didn’t really know what other career options were available to me outside of the idea of becoming a nurse. In terms of looking up to someone for my career development, there wasn’t too much of a reference point, and I didn’t see too many careers as other options I could really pursue. I couldn’t really look to my family to see what I could be because a large majority of them were nurses. It was really difficult. It was difficult because I didn’t really have role models.

Jackie: How did you get involved with Pinay Aspirations?
Melissa: After earning my Bachelor’s degree and having a full time job, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to give back to my community. Being a part of Pinay Aspirations helped me fulfill that desire. I understood the power of having education and getting a college and Master’s degree. I thought it was important to be part of an organization that not only gave a scholarship to help access higher education but also provide a mentorship component to it.

Jackie: What has been your favorite part about being a part of Pinay Aspirations?
Melissa: The application process and getting to read young women’s stories and getting to know them during the interview. You know, you get excited to learn about who they are. On the flip side, it’s awesome to see how in five years, they’ve come a long with the scholarship.

Jackie: The work you do is not considered one of the typical jobs for Filipin@-American womxn. What inspired you to pursue your path of work?
Melissa: You know, for me, I went to a big public high school. I had a college counselor, but no one who really told me where I should apply or what might be a good fit for me. Knowing what I may know now, I may have done things differently. I chose this profession because I’m inspired by the work I do now, which allows me to help all students access higher education.

Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at jacquelinebueno@berkeley.edu.

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