We could be heroes—Lea Salonga in the eyes of an Asian American child

Published May 13, 2021, 6:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

Our Broadway star honored by a child at American pay TV channel Universal Kids for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A VISION OF THE FUTURE IN THE EYES OF THE YOUNG Lea Salonga, art by Oteph Antipolo

I woke up this morning with my phone ringing.

It was Ligaya Salonga calling. I answered right away. She made a comment about my bedroom voice. I didn’t even take my time to clear my throat.

As always, Mrs. Salonga’s call was about Lea Salonga. She would only call if it was about Lea or her son, orchestral conductor, musical arranger, musical director of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, and resident conductor of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra Gerard Salonga.

In her official website, Lea Salonga is described simply as “a Filipina singer and actress.” It goes without saying that she is a star in the global music and theater circuit, both on Broadway and on the West End, where she is best known for her award-winning performances in Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, Mulan, and more. She has a Tony up her sleeve, the first Asian to have won the prestigious award. She also has the Olivier, the Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle. She has been no stranger to awards since she was a child, when she snagged multiple Best Child Actress awards in the Philippines even before she made it out in the world.

‘The first time I saw Lea sing, I felt so happy inside. I had never seen someone who looked like me singing on a stage that big.’

But her mother, Mrs. Salonga, called me this morning because this month, she has received a particularly heartwarming distinction, the future in a child’s eye. Although it’s been true for a while, with many children across the world who have dreams of making it to the world stage idolizing her, it’s nice to see a child make a video to spell out what impact Lea has had on her.

In the 30-second video, the child said, “The first time I saw Lea sing, I felt so happy inside. I had never seen someone who looked like me singing on a stage that big. I wanted to be just like Lea. I practiced in the mirror at home. Everything I could hold became a microphone.”

The tribute, made by the US TV network Universal Kids, is part of the celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, sometimes shortened to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, an annual observance in the month of May. This year’s theme, “Advancing Leaders through Purpose-Driven Service,” particularly relevant in the context of the waves of anti-Asian racism sweeping over the US, is celebrating, recognizing, and elevating Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

And Lea Salonga, our very own, is one of them.

“My heart is very full,” wrote Lea when she shared the post on Facebook. I wrote her and said, “To be a hero in a child’s eyes is the greatest honor.”

I forgot to mention that in the eyes of her mother, Mrs. Ligaya Salonga, whom Lea credits for everything, she is a hero as well. Except for admiration sparkling in a child’s gaze, there is no honor greater than seeing pride beam in a mother’s eyes.