Bataan Association Gala Commemorates 25 Years

Immigrants from the Philippines find a way to pass on something greater to younger generations through the Bataan Association.

Bataan Association allows immigrants to connect to their culture.

bataan association
Board Members Milna Rufin & Sonia Tuason-Rufin with Dean and alumni scholars on 2/27/16. Photo by Takafumi Hashimoto for The Montclair Dispatch.

The Bataan Association is an organization founded by people who immigrated to the United States from the Bataan Province of the Philippines. It was created in the 90s as a place in North Jersey where immigrants could connect with their culture and create new relationships in the area. In addition to being the headquarters of a diaspora community, one of the tenants of the organization is to give back to the Philippines. So each year since its creation, the Bataan Association grants 12 students a full-ride scholarship to Bataan Peninsula State University in the province of Bataan. On June 17, the organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary with an elegant black and white gala.

As time has passed, the pioneers of the Bataan Association have passed on their mission to its younger generation. The current president of the Bataan Association is Dr. Milna Rufin, a 29 year old New Jersey native inspired by the perseverance of her own mother, Dr. Sonia. Born to parents who faced poverty in the Philippines, President Rufin has dedicated her life to bettering the lives of others thanks to her mother’s move to the U.S. and subsequent commitment to the early days of the Bataan Association.

President Rufin has cited her background as her primary motivation. “My mother grew up in poverty as one of 11 siblings. It was important for her to bring her children to a better environment. She begged my grandfather to go to college and he found a way to send her to medical school. Her siblings followed suit, got their degrees and immigrated to the U.S.  It was important to me to do well because I knew if I did well, I could create an even better future for my family.” Rufin began in the Belleville public school system and has gone on to achieve graduate degrees from Colombia University and Weill Cornell Medical College.

Many of the founding members of the Bataan Association were doctors and educators much like Rufin’s mother. However, the environment of the group is much more familial. Events like community barbeques and senior trips to Atlantic City are traditions. There have also been opportunities to meet some of the scholarship recipients.

Right now, the Bataan Association is in the process of rebuilding since the passing of some of their senior members. It is important to President Rufin to keep the legacy alive. “I had so much mentorship and scholarship to get through my process of becoming a physician. It’s important to me to pass that on. Education and scholarship [have] been this thread that has brought the entire narrative of our lives together,” said Rufin.

bataan association
Bataan Association Co-Founder, Emilio Medina, with alumni scholar on 2/27/16. Photo by Milna Rufin for The Montclair Dispatch.

Although she is relatively young, Rufin has great visions for what the Bataan Association can achieve. “One of my goals moving forward is to one day create a memorial scholarship for a medical student,” said Rufin. “Right now, we’re just funding undergraduates but I’d really love to be able to support a student to go to graduate school. Graduate students end up becoming the leaders of the community and we want to support people who want to become leaders within the community.”

Presently, the Bataan Association is gearing up for its largest event of the year—a black and white themed Bataan Association Gala that will take place June 17. The 25th anniversary of the organization will include Filipino line dancing and ball dancing, auctions for luxury handbags donated by Lord and Taylor, a 50/50 raffle where prizes are estimated around $500.00 and huge television door prizes. As always, the group will be collecting money for charity based out of the Philippines. Tickets will be sold at the door for $60. Tickets sold in advance are $55.

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