Mr. Hyphen 2013 Finalist: Meet Niño

April 24, 2013


Galang is our next Mr. Hyphen finalist to be spotlighted in our countdown to
April 27. Niño is a graduating senior at UC Berkeley, Quality Director at Mabuhay Health Center, student of Tagalog, public health advocate, and Pokemon
battle master.

Hailing from
South San Francisco, Niño grew up surrounded by other Filipino Americans and
didn’t think much about his identity. “Filipinos didn’t have to do much to find
other Filipinos and those who shared their ethnic background,” he said. “That
made it hard to get excited about a shared Filipino experience.” While it was
common to see other Filipino faces in school and his community, it was much
less common to know other kids who spoke any Filipino languages.

Fast forward
to Niño’s sophomore year at UC Berkeley, when he decided to take Tagalog as an
elective course.  He can’t pin his decision to one particular reason,
instead pointing to “Random things fell into place, like I thought about, ‘Why
not be able to talk to mom, dad and other Filipinos in [our language] or sh*t
talk people without them understanding?’” he said.

Niño awoke to
his Filipino American identity while studying Tagalog, and started to think
critically about this identity and connections to a broader Filipino American
community. “These classes all shaped my ideology and desire to advocate for
this community,” he said.

More pieces of
Niño’s growing interest in community activism came together when he started
volunteering as a health coach at the Mabuhay Health Center (MHC), which
provides health services to low-income individuals, many of whom are Filipino
immigrants, in the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco. Health
coaches serve as a liaison between patients and health care providers,
accompanying the patient throughout their visit to the clinic, and making sure
they understand and are comfortable with the services being provided.

MHC strives to
provide health care to people in the community who may not have access to
mainstream services because of cost, language, and lack of availability.
Providing culturally sensitive health care, including communicating with
patients in their native tongue, is an important part of their work. For Niño,
it was hard at first to talk to Filipino patients there because he didn’t know
enough Tagalog. This only made him work harder in his courses. “I
knew I needed to gain a better grasp of the language so I took my Tagalog
classes seriously and just practiced…it paid off because I got A+’s,” he said.

Niño will be
graduating in May, and even though he doesn’t have any plans yet, he is
interested in pursuing a career in public health. His experiences at MHC have
turned him into an advocate for providing critical health services in a way that is culturally sensitive. He believes that providing
adequate health care includes creating a dialogue with the patient so that they
have a full grasp of what doctors tell them and in turn, can make an informed

For example, within Filipino culture, it is not polite to ask others to do
something for fear of inconveniencing them. This concept of hiya, can
result in a patient not asking for full clarification of what a doctor said.
Whatever Niño decides to do in the future, he wants to make healthcare
accessible to the Filipino American community, especially if they aren’t fluent
in English or encounter cultural misunderstandings.

So what else does this Mr.
Hyphen finalist do when he’s not going to class, working on his thesis or
volunteering at MHC? He’s a Pokemon battle master. “My favorite Pokemon is Exeggutor. I taught it Swagger, which, strategically, is the best move.” Cheer for Niño this Saturday at the Brava


The 7th Annual Mr. Hyphen Competition is Saturday, April 27th in San Francisco. For more info and tickets, go here.