Dr. Juanita Santos Nacu



2003-2006 President, UPAA-SD

The Roots

1971: When I came as an adult, immigrant professional to the United States, I left behind my family, people, and everything I grew up with. However, I took with me the roots of who I have become. These roots will forever be a part of me.

Growing up, I was always conscious of who, what, when, where and how I represented my family, my school, and – when I immigrated to the United States – my Filipino heritage. My mental makeup was enhanced by my mother Flora Mendoza Toledo’s religiosity and by witnessing my father Dr. Isidoro Dino Santos’ service to the poor as a medical doctor and a civic leader in our hometown of Dinalupihan, Bataan. My personal credo of “Identity, Service and Faith” grew out of observing them and serves as the foundation of my becoming fully human as I continuously evolve into who I am up to now.

At the young and tender age of eight, I realized I was gifted with athletic skill when I started traveling to nearby towns with our volleyball team. In high school, we represented the Central Luzon private schools for four years taking us to Baguio, Bicol, and even to the Visayas in Cebu and Iloilo. Sports taught me early to give my best and to work with the team regardless of the odds against us.

Varsity Memories

1962 UAAP Champion Women’s Volleyball Team – As a freshman in a new environment, for my Physical Education, I decided to take the Volleyball class where I felt at home. In that class, I was recruited for the Women’s Volleyball Varsity Team. It turned out to be “The Team” that would win for UP its first Women’s Volleyball UAAP Championship. (I wonder if it’s been done again because UP is known for academics, not athletics.)

The final game was held right before the basketball game at Rizal Memorial Coliseum. Usually we did not have an audience. But, the game took so long with the overtime that the UP band and the audience that came for the basketball game ended up playing and cheering for us!

Our team players were small and more feminine as compared to our opponents. In the end, it wasn’t with strength that we beat them but with my quick thinking of simply tapping the ball gently to empty spaces between the players of the opposing team. In the next day’s newspaper, our championship photo showed me kneeling down in front with my coach behind who handed the trophy for me to hold. And, I was not the Captain Ball.

UP has never been strong in sports but our UP Women’s Volleyball Team that no one expected to win finally won a UAAP Championship! I stayed with the team until I graduated and went to Silliman University twice for the annual tradition of UP-Silliman U athletic meet.

Student Nurse Days

At UP PGH School of Nursing, I was an active UPSCA member. Our UPSCA representative from the College of Medicine strongly suggested that an UPSCA member run for representative of the School of Nursing to UP Diliman. It so happened that I was the only UPSCA member among the officers responsible to nominate the candidates. So, there was no alternative but to nominate myself. Of course, I did not get the nomination because the rest voted for their sorority member. But, I tried. This and other student life experiences at the University of the Philippines further strengthened the mold of who I was to become in my adult years.

The Journey Away From Home

I immigrated to the US in 1971. I worked at Queen of Angels Hospital Emergency Department in Los Angeles. Here, I met my future husband Florentino Vitug Nacu, a Mapua Instittute of Technology Mechanical Engineer graduate. In 1978, Florentino was hired by General Dynamics in San Diego where happily we’ll find our home away from home in America’s Finest City. I worked at Mercy Hospital Emergency Department and trained with the first group of Mobile Intensive Care Nurses in San Diego County to work with the Paramedics.

Our children John Joseph, Hannah, and Paul Nathan were born in our first five years stay in San Diego. In 1984, I decided to give up my nursing career and stayed home for ten years to take care of our three growing children.

In kindergarten, without our knowledge, my son John Joseph was placed in the English as a Second Language/ESL classes because Filipino was spoken at home. This started my new “career” as a parent volunteer and an advocate for the Filipinos. I started the first Multicultural Festival for an elementary school in our district. This event eventually became an all K-8 schools annual event. For my work, I received the 1991 California PTA “Honorary Service Award for Service to the Children of our Community” Poway Unified School District, San Diego, California

As an advocate, I applied for several grants and obtained a total of $14,000 grant money to support the different projects including the founding of the Filipino Parents-Student Group for PUSD and its Project Bayanihan for the Filipino parents and their children to meet their school principals.

I co-founded the Filipino American Institute of America/FAMILIA under the Diocese of San Diego at the same period. I designed and coordinated the annual Filipino Catholic Conferences and Youth Retreats. Also, I finished my certification as a California Master Catechist.

Graduate Studies

In 1992, I enrolled at the University of San Diego for personal enrichment and obtained my MA in Pastoral Care and Counseling from the Institute of Christian Ministries. My advisor tried to convince me to proceed for a doctorate degree in education. But, it was a professor who discouraged me from pursuing it. For him to underestimate what I could do became the deciding factor for me to disregard my fear of failing and to prove that I could do it just like anyone else. The 1993-1998 Fellowship from the University of San Diego School of Education helped me obtain my degree in Doctor of Education in Leadership Studies.

While at the University of San Diego, I founded the Project Heart to Heart and co-founded the USD Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization for the purpose of providing a field trip to USD for my children, John Joseph and Hannah, and their classmates in middle school. Project Heart to Heart eventually became a non-profit as a community-based gathering of different generations for sharing life experiences stories to bridge generational and cultural gap.
Advocate and Educator

In 1997, I ended up teaching the first elective Filipino language class in the presence of a credentialed teacher at Mt. Carmel High School after several years of lobbying, due to lack of Filipino language teachers. It took five more years before the Poway Unified School District approved it as one of foreign languages that meet the college requirement. After that, our lobbying resulted to two more high schools starting the program in their campuses.

My advocacy led to a teaching career in Filipino language, starting and developing curriculum and program in different schools: University of California in San Diego, San Diego Mesa College and Palomar College District. One of my several training was through the 2002 Fulbright-Hayes Grant / University of Hawaii Teachers’ Training Abroad in the Philippines.

This advocacy also led to collaboration with students, educators, educational institutions, the government, and the community locally, state, and nationwide and recognition. Here are two examples of our collaborative work and significant recognitions:

2004: Principal Investigator for a $5,000 Grant University of California Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching “Developing Assessment Guidelines and Instructional Materials for Filipino Students and Heritage Learners.”
2005: Co-Investigator for a $20,000 Grant University of California Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching “Filipino Language Curriculum for Heritage Learners.”

Community & Professional Awards

2004: Asian Heritage Award for Excellence in Education (1st annual award)
2006: University of San Diego Author E. Hughes Career Achievement Award for School of Leadership and Education Science

UPAA San Diego President 2003-2006

During my four-year term, our chapter accomplished the following projects:
• Hosted 2005 UPAAA General Assembly and Convention
• UPAA SD sent delegates for the 1st time to the 2003 UPAAA General Assembly and Convention held in Houston, Texas
• Kapatid Project: Filipino American professionals shared their experiences as professionals with the University of California in San Diego Filipino American students
• Adopt-A Dorm/ADD: provided funding for repair and equipment for UP Diliman Molave dorm
• Books for UP in Mindanao
• Hosted the UP Concert Chorus & UP Staff Chorale
• Donated copying machine to the UP Alumni office
• College Scholarships awarded

Other Current and Past Service

Speaker, Motivational, and Cultural: International
Association of Christian Therapists/ACT, Regional Coordinator
UPAAA, Western Regional Coordinator
FILAMEDA, Board Member
UPNAAI, Lifetime
Consortium for Filipino Advancement/CAF


Author: Santos Nacu, J. (2002). Storytelling in Project Heart to Heart: A Means to Bridge Generational Gap in Post-1965 Filipino Immigrant Families. Manila. Self-Publication.

Contributor: Santos Nacu, J. (2003). Voice of the heart: Storytelling and the journey of advocacyIn J. Romo, P. Bradford, & R. Serra. (Eds). Reclaiming democracy: multicultural educators’ journey toward transformative teaching (pp.7-21). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.


When God gifted me with motherhood (after seven years of praying for a family), my children’s good became the foremost motivating factor in everything that I did. Usually that Vision becomes a Shared Vision with others who see the common good it brings to everyone. Our three San Diego-born-and-bred children are now all professionals. John Joseph is a graduate of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from California Institute of the Arts. Hannah obtained her BA in Public Policy and Management from University of Southern California. Paul Nathan our youngest graduated in 2007 with BS in Mechanical Engineering from University of California in Irvine. I thank God for my children’s successes.

There are so much more stories to share. Yet, for me, the most significant is the Transformation that I go through as I reach out and take risks, as I stand alone most of the time, as I take on the voices that are silenced by those in power, as I decide to enter the “court of competition” knowing my chance of winning is almost zero, as I cross the lines of divergences, as I create enemies, as well as allies. And, the challenge goes on and on.

2008 and BeyondLooking back, I have religiously relied on the foundation built in my childhood: Identity, Service and Faithto lead my life and I will always continue to do so with God’s help.

Psalm 31:2-6
In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me,
make haste to deliver me!
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
For your name’s sake you will lead
and guide me.
You will free me from the snare they set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
You will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God.

(A psalm of David for the leader, a prayer in distress and a thanksgiving for escape.)