Cora Foley, ‘Lady Fairfax’
By: Jackie Bong-Wright
Afaf from Sudan was sobbing with joy. “The U.S. is the most generous country in the world. I was persecuted in my country, but I found an education, a job, a home and a new life in this great nation.” Afaf was one of 74 newly naturalized citizens from 33 countries around the world who were administered the oath of allegiance by Sarah Taylor, USCIS Washington District Director, during the May APA Heritage Month at the Fairfax County Government Center.
Congressman Gerry Connolly, Supervisor Sharon Bulova, the principal co-sponsor of this naturalization ceremony, along with Christine Lagdameo from the White House, Tania Hindert of Cox Communications, and Indian-born Dr. Abul Hussam of George Mason University, inspired these new citizens with their motivational remarks. Delegate Mark Kim, the first Korean-American elected to the Virginia National Assembly, was also present.
Corazon Sandoval Foley was the major organizer of this event and a multitude of other projects. She started with the idea of honoring the memory of her father, who passed away in Fairfax County. Upon retiring after 30 years of public service with the Department of State, Cora found time to write about the 1898 Spanish-American War, which saw the Philippines become an American colony.
Foley subsequently organized the Filipino American National Historical Society of Northern Virginia, which later became the keystone of the Fairfax County Asian American History Project (FCAAHP). The Project was to preserve stories of Asian Americans residing in the county and share information about their heritage and their contributions to Fairfax County.
Enlisting the support of then-Braddock Supervisor Sharon Bulova and numerous volunteers, Foley held a kick-off meeting in January of 2008. The same year, oral interviews of individuals were taped. Terry Sam became the official photographer and Hank Chao helped videotape the interviews, which appeared on YouTube.
Ted Gong and many volunteers assisted in researching and recruiting other organizations to partner with the Project. Representatives from the Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian and Pakistani communities joined in. High school student Vy Nguyen was the youngest volunteer. She worked on the Project’s Vietnamese website along with her father, Dzung Nguyen.
After two years of tireless work, Cora had collected 19 written stories and readied them for publication. Without financial support, Cora’s energy and stamina never flagged. The more challenges she encountered, the more she struggled to overcome them.
Cora’s persistence and resourcefulness finally bore fruit. She received funding from Cox Communications to publish 5,000 copies of FCAAHP books, which have been distributed to all libraries, schools and government agencies in Fairfax County. They were also made available to the general public on Amazon.com.
The book, “FCAAHP: A Contemporary History Honoring 143Years of Asian Residents in Fairfax County (1867-2010),” was launched at the presentation of an award that was unanimously adopted and passed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors the day before the naturalization ceremony took place. Grant Ichikawa of Japanese descent, the longest resident in Fairfax since 1955, also received well-deserved recognition.
Cora wanted to draw others into the project as well–to enlist other Asians and create a team effort. She found in census records that by 2007 the Asian population in Fairfax County had grown to 160,000, or 16 percent of the County’s one million residents.
Records also showed that from 1870 to 1930, Chinese, Filipinos and Japanese lived in the county. By 2007, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Japanese and others including Pakistanis, Cambodians, Bangladeshis and Tibetans had also arrived. Fairfax County had become a multicultural megalopolis, with Asian residents forming the largest minority group.
Cora motivated the Project’s Asian members to hold monthly meetings at public libraries, visit a host of Asian organizations in the area, participate in Asian festivals, and document Asian activities and stories. “Remarkable educational achievements, successful large and small business enterprises, cultural festivals and traditional celebrations as well as Asian food have become an integral part of the Fairfax County home,” she wrote. She added that she didn’t want to see a “blank space” in the county’s history regarding Asian contributions.
Besides the tapes, the book, and the YouTube features, Cora also showed the Project’s development on Fairfax County Public Television’s Channel 10, in seven episodes, which were also put on YouTube.
For her achievement and leadership, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bulova, awarded Cora the title of Lady Fairfax 2009. The honor was applauded by the many who were impressed with the thousands of hours that Cora had devoted to the Asian history project.
But Cora’s odyssey didn’t stop there. With energy to spare, she enlarged her horizons even further. She created the “Burke-Springfield District Senior Center Without Walls” to provide innovative wellness programs for Fairfax County seniors. With her fellow FCAAHP members, she held a potluck dinner at the end of May to enlist their support for a virtual multicultural history museum for Fairfax County. Her enthusiasm makes it likely she will succeed again.