Hazel Benigno, PsyD
Hazel Benigno, PsyD
You could consider me one of the lucky ones, in the sense that I’ve always had opportunities to connect to my culture as a Filipina. I was born in the Philippines, and my family moved to East Side San Jose when I was six years old, among a network of community and family supports. I attended public schools where there were plenty of other Filipino/a/x kids who connected to their culture in similar ways, while still wanting to learn and understand more. In high school, I was able to join the Kasama Club and learn different folk dances as part of regular performances at school and in the community. However, it was in my undergraduate career at the University of San Francisco that I truly began to explore Filipinx culture and my personal connection to it.
Somewhere between taking several Philippine Studies classes and participating yearly in Kasamahan’s Philippine Culture Night, I was also introduced to Eric Solano and other leaders of what would eventually become Parangal Dance Company. From the historic moment when Parangal was founded in May 2008, I found meaning and connection to community and history as a performer and member of the administrative and executive team. During our early years, figuring out attire changes in under a minute and how to navigate four performances in one weekend taught me as much as being our Internal Communications Lead did. I would have never imagined that I would eventually be our Executive Assistant and Public Relations Manager; then again, I also never imagined I would go on our first tour with the Folkmoot Festival and meet folk dancers from other countries (2015), or that I would dance at President Barack Obama’s White House (2016) or on the sacred Merrie Monarch stage in Hawai’i (2017). While continuing to dance has not always been possible, being connected to Parangal Dance Company has felt like an inevitable part of my journey as a Filipina American. When I was asked to join Parangal’s Board of Directors in 2019, I was honored at the chance to continue to be involved in the ways in which the organization grows and evolves.
In the early years, the phrase “aspire to inspire” always stayed with me, because it spoke to the ways we were inspired by popularized and indigenous dances, and in turn hoped to inspire others to learn more about the Filipinx culture. That desire to be a bridge between communities has driven some of my favorite non-performance moments of teaching cultural dances to youth, college students, and organizations over the years. More recently, I have been especially proud of how Parangal utilizes art as a means to advocate. In today’s climate, as the injustices of the world are more readily known, it is increasingly important to provide our communities, and especially our youth, with a sense of hope and empowerment. Parangal has taught me how cultural dance is a form of resistance and decolonization, and I am excited to see how our future generations further this work.
Dr. Hazel Benigno Karmaz
Parangal, Board of Directors Member
Dr. Hazel Benigno Karmaz received a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Bachelor’s in Philippine Studies from the University of San Francisco before obtaining her Master’s and Doctorate (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. She is now a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Mental Health Program Director at Homeless Children’s Network in San Francisco. Dr. Benigno is driven to see racial, economic, and social inequities addressed, and draws from her intersecting identities as an academic-artist-activist.