The campus Pilipinx American Alliance, or PAA, and Pilipino American Alumni Chapter, or PAAC, welcomed community members, students and alumni to celebrate the life of Grace Rualo Asuncion on Sunday.
Grace Asuncion was a UC Berkeley student killed in Eshleman Hall in 1992 — her case remained unsolved for 24 years before being closed in 2016. Community members recalled that Asuncion was a fighter who helped those in need, and spoke about how her death increased safety awareness in the campus community.
“We get to share that opportunity to really work together in the community, like Grace would have done,” said Charity Nicolas, president of the PAAC and Asuncion’s former roommate.
With about 40 people in attendance, the memorial began with discussion of Pilipinx-American identity, culture, differences and racial experiences. Attendees used the open mic and spoke about their personal lives, their hopes for the future and beliefs in the Pilipinx-American community.
Speakers included campus professor Catherine Choy, Maganda Magazine members, friends of Asuncion, including her best friend Rachel Paras, past Grace Asuncion Memorial Scholarship winners, author Dalena Benavente and campus alumni and students.
“Grace wasn’t involved in our organization, but we have other speakers (who knew her) here who are speaking on her behalf, who were involved,” Maddy Malicdem, editor in chief of Maganda Magazine, said during the event. “We just wanted to be here to support. We’re here to celebrate her legacy and her impact on the Filipino-American community in general.”
The Pilipinx community held vigils during the month after Asuncion passed away, according to Nicolas. She recalled how rainy, cold and damp that month was. She said she felt the past vigils brought more sad feelings than celebration of Asuncion’s life.
“About 10 years ago, we made the change to have the memorial in the month of her birthday, which is October,” Nicolas said. “We wanted to make it more of a bright event, to bring the community together and celebrate her life, along with what she meant to the community.”
The Pilipinx student community came together in 2012 and raised funds for a more permanent bench as a memorial in Asuncion’s honor, replacing the wooden bench that had been previously erected as a memorial.
The bench establishes a place for the community to come together — each year, the PAA hosts a memorial near Zellerbach Hall at the Grace Asuncion Bench to share Asuncion’s stories and gather as a community to reflect on Pilipinx-American identity, according to Nicolas.
This year, the community brought members outside of Berkeley to discuss their own backgrounds and philanthropy and to share their talents at the memorial.
“This gives us an opportunity to tell her story. A lot of us who were friends with her back in 1992, we still come together every year and share her story to the community,” Nicolas said. “We work with the new coordinator, a new set of students, educate them about her life and who she was.”
PAA Dedication Coordinator Dominique Pillos closed the event with remarks on the theme of identity and cultural ties, as well as bringing the group together for an isang bagsak, which in Tagalog means “one down.” Attendees joined in a circle and showed their unity by clapping together.
“This morning, I did start it off by crying. That was just because when I first heard of Grace’s story, I think it was just scary to me how similar our narratives were,” Pillos said. “I just wanted to do Grace’s story justice. I’m so thankful for everyone who has showed up today.”