Welcome to the very first entry on the NFALA Blog! In honor of Filipino American History Month, we'll being kicking things off by sharing reflections from a few leaders in the Fil-Am legal community. Today we bring you CAPT Benes Z. Aldana, a key figure in the launching of NFALA and the recipient of the 2015 Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA).
The 2016 NAPABA Convention will take place in San Diego from November 2-6. Visit the NFALA conference page to register for our "NFALA@NAPABA" events scheduled around the week's NAPABA programming.
1) What does Filipino American history mean to you?
I was fortunate enough to know “Uncle Fred,” the late Fred Cordova, the author of “Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans.” I was very much influenced by him in how I viewed our history in the context of the American experience. His efforts, along with his wife, “Auntie Dorothy,” and the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) have significantly made visible our stories in history books – from serving in the military since the War of 1812 to strengthening the labor movement. The recognition of a Filipino American History Month gives us an opportunity once a year to not only recognize and celebrate the contributions of Filipino Americans to this country, but it provides all of us a chance to expand our understanding of history and with that knowledge widen our vision of what America can be!
2) Are there any Filipino American attorneys you've looked up to as your career has progressed over the years?
I did not know a single Filipino American attorney before I started law school. In law school and as my legal career progressed, I soon discovered and have been inspired by those who have blazed the trail, like Dolores Sibonga, Mimi Castillo, Ray Ocampo, U.S. Federal District Judge Lorna Schofield, and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye.
3) In your opinion, what's the biggest challenge facing Filipino American attorneys today?
I find that many of my fellow Filipino American attorneys are natural born leaders, and as such, combined with their legal training they have a unique opportunity to bring about social change in our communities. The personal challenge for each of us is how to do well and more importantly do good at the same time.
4) What's an important piece of advice you'd give to current law students and recent grads?
Find a job that you love and loves you back. I know that’s easier said than done, but as you explore different career paths, this is a good barometer to use whether you want to commit or not. Ask yourself, whether your job is helping you grow, are you learning new things? Additionally, central to everything else, be true to yourself – at your core is your integrity – preserve it at all cost. Remember, we are part of a noble profession (of problems solvers and agents of change) and most of us wanted to become lawyers because we want to make a difference.
5) What is your favorite aspect of being Filipino?
Chicken adobo, what else is there? Seriously though, “family” is my favorite aspect of being Filipino or you may call it “mapagmalasakit.” Whether it’s your blood relatives or your local community, Filipinos tend to have the ability to easily connect with others – you see it in bigger context of building coalitions with other groups. We like to share (did I mention food). We genuinely care about our colleagues and our friends. We stand by them in triumph and through difficulties. I’ve seen this spirit well manifested in NFALA and its family of affiliates.
About CAPT Benes Z. Aldana:
CAPT Benes Z. Aldana is the Chief Trial Judge for the United States Coast Guard. He assumed that position in June 2016, becoming the first Asian Pacific American to serve as a chief trial judge in U.S. military history. Prior to this appointment, CAPT Aldana served as the Chief Legal Officer for the Eighth Coast Guard District, overseeing the legal advice to Coast Guard operations spanning 26 states including the Gulf of Mexico. He was first appointed as a military trial judge in 2005 and as an appellate judge in 2015. CAPT Aldana is also a dedicated bar association leader and served as 2009 President of the Asian Bar Association of Washington. Although he grew up in the Seattle area graduating from Seattle University and University of Washington School of Law, CAPT Aldana’s career has taken him around the world. At U.S. Africa Command, he lead a team of legal professionals responsible for conducting and coordinating the U.S. military‘s efforts in advancing the rule of law and human rights in Africa.
In 2015, CAPT Aldana received the Daniel K. Inouye Trailblazer Award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA). Among his many other achievements and accomplishments, CAPT Aldana served as 2012-2013 Chair of the American Bar Association Solo, Small Firm, and General Practice Division, which counts approximately 20,000 members and is one of the largest entities in the ABA. He also served in the ABA House of Delegates, ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, and as the Assembly Speaker of the ABA Young Lawyers Division. He recently concluded his service as a member of the ABA Commission on Diversity and Inclusion 360 and on the board of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative. CAPT Aldana is a founding member of FLOW, the Filipino Lawyers of Washington and currently a board member of FALA DC, Filipino American Lawyers Association of Washington, D.C.
Born in Angeles City, Philippines, CAPT Aldana immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old. CAPT Aldana now lives in the “other” Washington and is married to Rowena Sevilla, his high school sweetheart. They have a son, who is a senior at Yale University.