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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Adélamar Alcántara helped mobilize support for the the construction and 2002 dedication of a stone memorial in Albuquerque’s Bataan Memorial park, rather than for the dedication of the park itself.)
Adélamar N. Alcántara, “Dely” to her family and friends, is being remembered as a mentor, a leader and one of the few high-profile role models in the New Mexico Asian- and Filipino-American community.
She spearheaded the drive to establish the institute of Geospatial and Population Studies at the University of New Mexico, founded the New Mexico Asian Family Center, was president of the Filipino American Foundation of New Mexico, and the Filipino American Community Council, was a co-founder of the Rio Grande chapter of the Filipino American National Historic Society, and was instrumental in getting the state Legislature to declare an official Asian-American Day.
Alcántara, 71, died unexpectedly Nov. 3 after a sudden cardiac event while traveling through the international airport in Tokyo, said her husband, University of New Mexico professor Ted Jojola.
She was returning to Albuquerque from her native Philippines, where she had participated in the school year opening of a Montessori school she helped to establish and which is named for her and Jojola’s late son, Manoa Alcántara Jojola, an Albuquerque Academy senior who was killed in a 2000 car crash.
Jojola called his wife “a relentless advocate for social justice and equity,” who was committed to bringing visibility to the Asian-American community in New Mexico. As president of the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico, she helped mobilize support for the construction and 2002 dedication of a stone memorial in Albuquerque’s Bataan Memorial Park, something she felt strongly about because her father was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, said Jojola.
In 2018, Alcántara received the Sí Se Puede Award from Dolores Huerta at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Cesar Chavez Day.
Jojola said he met his wife in 1975, when both were graduate students at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. Jojola was working on his doctorate in political science, and Alcántara was working on her master’s and doctorate in sociology.
“I was from Isleta Pueblo and she was from the Philippines. She was curious about my cultural background and I was curious about her cultural background, so it was that kind of synergy that led to the attraction,” Jojola said.
They married in 1977 and settled in New Mexico, where both eventually took positions at UNM.
Jojola was initially the director of Native American studies. He is currently a Distinguished Professor and Regents’ Professor in the Community and Regional Planning Program, School of Architecture; Alcántara served as the New Mexico state demographer for decades until she became director of the institute of Geospatial and Population Studies, which she established in 2011.
“She was successful in raising awareness within the state Legislature of the need for the state to have a robust demographic research institution,” said Robert Rhatigan, associate director of the institute. “It’s essential to have an independent demographic research institute here in New Mexico so that we can adequately evaluate and challenge the population figures put out by the U.S. Census Bureau.”
What started out with a modest $50,000 a year appropriation from the state has grown to an allocation of $385,000 a year.
Rhatigan called Alcántara a mentor and “the best boss I ever had.”
“I learned a lot of things from Dely, but one of the most important was empowering others. She empowered me to make my own decisions and to do what I thought best with a minimum amount of hand holding. She trusted me, she trusted everybody to carry out their duties.”
Although Alcántara greeted everyone with “the warmest of smiles and an open heart,” Rhatigan said, “she did not suffer fools lightly and was not shy about telling somebody when they were way off base.”
Kay Bounkeua, executive director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center, said Alcántara founded the organization in 2006 specifically to provide support and related services to members of the Asian and Pacific Islands community who were victims and survivors of domestic violence.
“She recognized that within New Mexico there was no space that was specifically tailored for our community to get the support they need, and we remain the only agency in the state that provides services to the pan-Asian community,” she said.
Alcántara believed in nourishing and nurturing the next generation of leaders, was “unapologetic for what she believed in,” and wanted organizations to avoid being static and instead learn from data and accumulated experience, Bounkeua said.
Kristelle Siarza met Alcántara 17 years ago, when she was 15 and she and her family relocated from San Francisco to Albuquerque.
“She welcomed us into the Filipino-American community. She was my mentor, the godmother of my son and absolutely a legend in our community. She taught me to embrace my culture at every opportunity, to serve others, and to fight against what I feel is unjust. Young Asians looked up to her. She was one of the few role models in the Asian-American community here.”
In addition to her husband, survivors include two sisters, three brothers and numerous nephews and nieces.
A memorial fund in the name of Adélamar N. Alcántara has been established with the Albuquerque Community Foundation. Donations can be made online at www.albuquerquefoundation.org.
A Mass and memorial service will be held Dec. 13, starting at 10 a.m., at the St. Augustine Mission Church on Isleta Pueblo, No. 71, Tribal Road 35.