By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Conversations, discussions and debates were a normal thing in Lenore (Leny) Valerio-Buford’s household growing up in the Philippines.
Valerio-Buford was born and raised in a small town called Taypay. She was the second oldest of six children. She has four sisters and one brother, who is the youngest. She and her siblings grew up helping their mother at her bakery business.
Education was a family passion. Her father was a high school teacher, and her siblings also had positions in education. Four of the women in her family were teachers. Her oldest sister Nina was a tenured faculty member from the School of Education at Seattle University.
Valerio-Buford completed her Bachelor’s degree in education in the Philippines and taught high school for five years before she immigrated to the United States. She then went on to study British and American Literature at the University of Iowa where she obtained her Master’s degree.
Although her father wasn’t her actual teacher, she said that he was one of the best teachers she’s ever had in her life.
Her grandmother was also a huge influence in her life. She was a self-starter and businesswoman who had limited education in the Philippines, but later became very successful in her career.
“I like reflecting back and thinking about her no-nonsense personality,” she said.
The generations in her family tended to be matriarchal, so in a sense, through a cultural lens, that put them at a disadvantage. But the women in her family were strong and go-getters.
“There’s always a search for equality, especially in your professional life. That was hard to maintain and possess. I think it’s the struggle of immigration and even now among younger groups that immigrate to the U.S. , they still have to face the problem of facilitating the use of the language and adapting to the culture,” Valerio-Buford explained.
“The Asian culture does not necessarily reward assertiveness. You are supposed to observe first before opening your mouth. That was hard for many of us to learn and even harder to accept that this was an obstacle. I had to figure out a way around this,” she explained.
She could still remember the times where she had to translate things in her head, but by the time she wanted to say it, the group had already moved onto the next topic.
“I would like to think that I had been quick enough to observe what the weaknesses are in our culture and to figure out a way to accept it or overcome it,” she said.
In her current role as Director of the Upward Bound Program for the University of Washington, her focus is in developing projects to increase college retention for low-income and first generation college students. Valerio-Buford has been with the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity unit at the UW since 1991.
Upward Bound is a program that was launched in 1965 as one of the initiatives of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” campaign. According to Valerio-Buford, since 1983, the University of Washington’s Upward Bound is one of the most successful programs in terms of preparing students for college and equipping them with retention skills needed for them to obtain their bachelor’s degree.
Being a parent, Valerio-Buford knows how important education is. Without a doubt, being a mother to her daughter, Ria, has been her proudest achievement in her life. She worried that she’d be the oldest mom in the PTA, and wasn’t sure how that would resonate with Ria.
“That was the hardest work I’ve ever done, I had to be more patient, control my temper, and had to learn to share,” she said.
Valerio-Buford knows that she will continue volunteering after she retires. She already has projects laid out. She is very active at her church, Rainier View Christian Church in Tacoma. She is conducting workshops for people who are transitioning to a job. She hopes to continue holding workshops for college bound students as well. She also wants to be more involved with women of color projects.
“I enjoy my students, I get a kick out of being with young people,” she explained.
Valerio-Buford said that most people find high school students difficult to work with, but she’s always found those in the age group to be interesting and challenging.
“I believe they are at the brink of something, and that something is what I wanted to find out. That’s why this age group is enthralling, compelling and wonderful to see who’s going to fly.” she said.
Courage was a trait that Valerio-Buford wished her daughter would possess after she was born.
When she told Ria about that, she laughed and said that she has plenty of that. (end)
Nina Huang can be reached at email@example.com.