Who is this Ticiang Diangson behind her many accomplishments and community work? As we say in Tagalog, what is her pagkatao—her humanity, her persona?
In a short memoir written before her retirement in early 2013, Ticiang described herself as a “troublemaker,” an “irritant,” “intuitive and right-brained … who learned how to shape-shift … to be “analytical and strategic.” She shared “flying below the radar,” i.e., not pursuing management, so she can “say when the emperor had no clothes” and using her intellectual curiosity to draw Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) into exploring and mitigating the under-participation of people of color in SPU services. In short, she was a bureaucrat-activist exemplar and leader.
To her many friends and colleagues, Ticiang the intuitive feeler nurtured loyal, deep, and long-term friendships and sisterhood. An avid scheduler, she would “book” friends and potential friends on her calendar three or more weeks ahead to make sure that she spent face time with folks. In between, she sent notes and cards for birthdays, special events, and thought days.
I think if you personally asked Ticiang to describe herself, she probably would get real shy and softly say that she is a “good person, a social and environmental justice activist, and a human being on her journey.” As a 40-year practicing Sufi, second-degree Reiki master and healer of oppression and the earth, Ticiang exemplified Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s thought that “We are not human beings having a human experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Among many other adjectives, others would say she was courageous, loving and ahead of her time.
From Alice Nam Park, long-term Board Chair of Community Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ): “Ticiang is an inspiration to me and, through her example, taught me not to be afraid to speak our truth and point out injustices. Her legacy will live on in future generations, which gives me such hope.”
From Jonathan Betz-Zall, Quaker, longtime (CCEJ) fellow Board officer/steward and white ally: “I appreciate her … help when I needed people of color to review an academic paper I was writing on the whiteness of intentional communities. She … contributed numerous insights that helped me right when I needed them. I’d say that this was typical of her selfless attitude—willing to help anyone involved in social and environmental justice.”
From Sharon Maeda, director of Progress 21, builders of equity and social justice non-profit: “Ticiang was way ahead. … Just now, the community is getting on board climate change and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. Her spirit will be with us on API Legislative Day!”
From Larry Alcantara, co-founder of Filipino American City Employees of Seattle (FACES): “Ticiang was among the original warriors. Although she declined a position on the board, she worked tirelessly for an equitable workplace for all. Her strength of conviction was steadfast, she led by example and was among the best and brightest … fearless, unselfish and service to others.”
From Diane Narasaki, co-chair of King County Asian Pacific Islander Coalition and Director of Asian Counseling and Referral Services: “Ticiang radiated life, love, creativity, compassion, and an unerring sense of social justice. She was way ahead of her time. … I am honored to have served with her as Co-Chair of the Asian Pacific Women’s Caucus and to have been arrested with her in nonviolent civil disobedience calling for economic sanctions, freeing Nelson Mandela, and ending apartheid in South Africa. Her zest for life, artistic spirit, and generous nature made her a fun person to be around and inspired lifelong friendships. She blazed a trail for the rest of us and will be greatly missed.”
For me, Ticiang was a powerful mentor/tormentor. She has shown me that it’s okay to be both American and Filipino, be friends with your employees, to cry in front of your boss and tell him your brain is still working, to be powerful and not arrogant, to say you’re leaving at 8:00 pm and do it, to leave after 15 minutes for no-shows … ugh, to change plans, to laugh loud and long, to snort, to self-care, to keep things simple and hold onto one’s feelings. She was generous, sharing countless “cone of silence” intel and insights. I am honored to be part of her running buddies—the Dragonflies, a play off of Dragon Ladies.
Ticiang had unexplained symptoms since the summer of 2013 and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March of 2014. As she became progressively weaker and needed to conserve her energy, she had to limit her visitors. Twenty friends co-wrote a “Salamat Ticiang” thank-you book. After her passing, her husband, Greg Sletteland, who cared for her personally during her illness, was touched to find that 120 friends showered her with cards and notes.
The note that resonates for many is Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos’ sentiments: “This note is long overdue, but please know that my appreciation and admiration of you is deeply felt. I cannot remember exactly when or how we met … perhaps because I sensed a sisterhood with you immediately, a connection of hearts, minds and spirits. And ever since then, I have sought to match your passion with my own; to live up to your no-nonsense persona (which we all know hides a wickedly devilish sense of humor); and to mirror the values you’ve lived each day. Thank you for forging the path, big sister, and for letting me share this journey with you.”
And from former Councilwoman Dolores Sibonga, co-founding mom of the Asian Pacific Women’s Caucus: “To know her was to love her … and I loved her. High-spirited and earthy, Ticiang was determined to help everyone, and her work shows she succeeded. We are blessed to have known her.”
Two weeks before Ticiang’s death, Sally Kazama passed on, a stalwart sister, one of the magnificent seven who co-founded Seattle Keiro Nursing Home and Issei Concerns and co-founding Mom of the Asian Pacific Women’s Caucus. Both founding moms will be honored by the Caucus posthumously.
Rest in peace, Ticiang, we love you and we thank you for walking through life with adventure, grace most of the time, and integrity all of the time. You are our sister.