Miya Sonya Rodolfo-Sioson

Honored by:Her Family and Friends
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Miya Rodolfo-Sioson - A Life

Miya was born in Manila, Philippines on 2 January 1968, the youngest/only girl of the four children of Sonya Rodolfo and Federico Sioson. That fall her family migrated to Ames, Iowa, after her father accepted a full professorship from the mathematics department at Iowa State University. Unfortunately an aggressive cancer ended his life at age 40 the following year. Miya attended Edwards elementary school while her mother supported the family on her PhD-student stipend. In 1978 Miya, her middle brother and mother moved to Saudi Arabia after her mother accepted a faculty position at King Faisal University. Miya attended 5th-8th grades at Dhahran Academy, a private international school for expatriate children. The family returned to Ames in 1982, and Miya graduated from Ames High School in 1986. That fall she entered the University of Iowa (UI) to major in global studies. She qualified for membership in Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board. She also won an undergraduate scholarship to assist the research of two professors on the role of women in economic and social development. In December 1991 she received her bachelor's degree with high honors in absentia.

Outside of her academic pursuits, Miya became active in issues of social justice. In her sophomore year, she helped organize a fast in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and soon became involved with the Central America Solidarity Committee (CASC), coordinating logistics and publicity for guest speakers, organizing fundraisers, and generating budgets. In her senior year she served as newsletter editor and office assistant at the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC). In early 1991, she protested the Gulf War at local rallies and a national march in Washington, DC. During the last semester of her B.A. program, she accepted an internship, promoting the work of CoMadres (Mothers and Relatives of the Disappeared of El Salvador) and WINDS (Women in Development and Democracy in El Salvador) in Iowa City. She received a certificate from Iowa City's  Ecumenical Peace Committee for her activism.

Her immersion into Central American politics and culture began in the summer of 1988, when she flew to Guatemala to study Spanish in Antigua. The next summer she joined a solidarity brigade that planted trees in northern Nicaragua. In the summer of 1991 she traveled to El Salvador, lived with a local family and participated in a North-American delegation that visited various groups of the Salvadoran popular movement. Her trips to Central America were recorded in the photos she took, and deepened her understanding of the socio-political problems faced by the poor majority of the region. In August she returned to Ames to help clear out the house her parents bought in 1968. Miya's mother had sold it and was about to be driven by her youngest son to Berkeley. We planned to be present at Miya's graduation in December. She waved at us as we drove away. Who knew that would be the last time her family would see her standing up?!

On Friday 1 November 1991 Miya was in her ninth day as a Manpower temporary secretary in UI's office of academic affairs. That afternoon Lu Gang, a new physics PhD, went on a rampage. (As his rage over losing the prestigious Spriestersbach dissertation prize in April simmered, he had developed a hit list. Johnson County Sheriff Carpenter rejected his application for a gun permit because he was not a US citizen. Mr Lu appealed to the office of state attorney general Bonnie Campbell, who granted the permit 'because he had no criminal record.' After several months' regular practice at the shooting range aiming at the heads of dummies, he boasted that he could hit moving targets; he was ignored.) That fateful day Lu enjoyed the advantage of surprise, as the people still on campus were distracted by the 'weekend mode' and the severe blizzard. At 3:38 pm Lu entered the conference room at Van Allen hall where his major prof Christoph Goertz was running his weekly lab meeting. Lu fired his Taurus .38 at the heads of Profs Goertz and Bob Smith and the prize-winner postdoc Shan Linhua. Then he went to the office of Prof  Dwight Nicholson, department head, and shot him in the face. In his aim to complete his task before the police found him, Lu ran to the academic-affairs office in Jessup Hall, where he asked the student receptionist Miya Sioson to call out her supervisor, UI grievance officer Dr Anne Cleary.  She was on his hit list because she never replied to his letter of protest. Dr Cleary hesitantly made the last decision of her life. She approached Lu, as Miya returned to the computer. Shortly Lu shot Dr Cleary in the forehead. As the sound triggered Miya's reflexes, she rose, and the bullet Lu had aimed at her forehead entered her mouth. That saved her life, but the bullet's lodging in the 4th vertebra of her neck caused her to slump to the floor. Lu exited the room as Dr Cleary's staff rushed towards the victims. Miya tried and failed to move her legs; in a split second she had changed from a runner and bicyclist, to a C4-5 quadriplegic, no motor control below her shoulders. Lu turned the Taurus on himself about 4:52 pm, ending the 14-minute spree that gutted one of the world's best  plasma-physics teams, and critically injured Dr Cleary and Miya. The police handcuffed him as he died. Dr Cleary died the next day, leaving Miya as the sole survivor. Later we learned that Mr Lu's gun permit was to own but not to carry, so his use of the Taurus was illegal (Miya's  mother's splitting hairs.)

Miya underwent emergency surgery at the University's hospital (UIHC) to remove jawbone and tooth fragments and repair the damage to her mouth and neck. After a week in the ICU, she was moved to the neurosurgery ward. Meanwhile the legal teams of the University and Manpower wrangled over the responsibility for Miya's medical costs (a UI person had shot a Manpower temp in a UI office).  Things came to a head five weeks later. Miya's medical team had declared her infection-free, but with UIHC bills unpaid, she could not be released to rehab. Miya resorted to her activist-group's tactics: Call the media! The ensuing hue and cry forced Manpower's workers'-comp carrier to cave in. They started to cover her lifelong spinal-cord injury (SCI) costs by paying her UIHC costs, and ordering the Lear jet that flew Miya and her mother to the Midway airport enroute the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on 9 December. In her efforts to shorten the rehab period, Miya crammed each day with as many tasks as her physiatrist would allow. Three months later she returned to Iowa City to the hurrahs of her fellow activists. Less than a year after the shooting, she enrolled in another B.A. program on UI's  'special fund' to major in Spanish, and rejoined the CASC.

[The news of the UI mass shootings on 1 November 1991 burst like a bomb on the Iowa and national media. On Monday 4 November, bank accounts were hastily opened in Iowa City and Ames to receive the donations that started to arrive. The WRAC head, Consuelo Garcia, was a creative fundraiser. She had a student volunteer deployed to each stadium entrance during the Hawkeye teams' home games. Each volunteer held a giant paper cup with Miya's photo, to receive sports-fans donations. The progressive bar donated its Friday-night receipts. A travel agency ran a ticket raffle. The grand finale: a mass mailing to all UI alumni whose postal addresses were on record. The head of a family foundation that donated an enormous check called Miya's mother to apologize on behalf of his alma mater. Miya's family wishes to express its gratitude to the many kind-hearted people whose donations gave Miya the credit to pool with her mother's, to buy a house six years later.]

Miya recruited her youngest brother to escort her to Berkeley for Christmas 1992. Her middle brother left his PhD program to serve as her head attendant; they flew to Iowa on 1 January 1993. That fall Miya was appointed co-chair of the University Lectures Committee. In her spare time she tutored students in Spanish. During her last journey to El Salvador in summer 1994, she met with disabled veterans of the recently concluded civil war. In February 1995, her very dedicated lawyer helped her win her suit against the workers'-comp insurance company for coverage of the purchase cost of her modified van. [cf paragraph 7, Workers' Compensation: An Old Model Revisited, by John Allen, U of IA law professorhttp://www.resnaprojects.org/nattap/goals/other/healthcare/comp.html )

and the profile of Paul McAndrew Jr (http://www.paulmcandrew.com/attorneys.html) ; Sioson v. Manpower Temporary Services is in the list headed Reported Cases.]

Since her injury had destroyed her ability to regulate her body temperature by sweating in hot weather to cool off and shivering in cold weather to warm up, the blistering summers and frigid winters were taking their toll. She joked that she was a lizard who needed to be on a rock basking in the sun. Berkeley's Mediterranean-type climate and the prospect of leaving her role as Iowa City's rock star became increasingly attractive to this very private person. The housing adviser at Berkeley's Center for Independent Living (CIL) directed Miya's mother to the only vacant accessible unit in the city where the disability movement was born in 1962. In January 1996 Miya's mother escorted her to that unit. After a year, Miya notified her workers'-comp carrier of her decision to live out her life in Berkeley. They installed the once-in-a-lifetime access modifications to the home Miya and her mother bought in August1997; the buyers and Miya's brother moved in. A year later Miya joined the group that campaigned for the 1998 Berkeley ballot initiative Measure E, to fund emergency services for people with severe disabilities (see attached photos taken with her camera). The 67% vote that Measure E garnered was ascribed in part to Miya's role. Since January 1999, Berkeley's taxpayer funds continue to support Easy Does It (EDI), that sends attendants to disabled people who call in when their regular attendants are unable to work. Measure E became the feather that joined the one from her Central America work, on her activist cap. We consider EDI part of her legacy to the City of Berkeley.

Miya's determination, fey sense of humor and personal-network support carried her through the next eight years in relatively good health. She kept very busy, working a 6-year term in the Committee on Disability that advised the Berkeley city council, and participating in rallies against injustice to disabled workers. In 2002, she answered a job post of SWIFT, a non-profit foreign-exchange student service, for field coordinator. Due to her disability, director Daniel Julien initially hired her on probation. He soon found that she performed better than his previous able-bodied workers. Her duties: making presentations at the high-school classes in Berkeley and Oakland in the language of the students about to visit; passing around sheets that students who thought their parents might be interested in hosting a student could sign, giving phone numbers; calling the parents; going with her attendant to the parents' homes to evaluate the facilities; matching host and visiting students; planning the activity calendar for the foreign-students' stay; meeting the arriving students; and seeing them off at the airport. It was labor-intensive but very interesting work that utilized her experience with foreign cultures and validated her life. She worked the summers of 2003-2006 and looked forward to the summer of 2007.

That April, her attendant Kelley noted a dark-red area on her right breast. Her mother insisted that  Miya consult her primary doctor. We were skeptical of his diagnosis of mastitis, since she was neither pregnant nor lactating. After the prescribed antibiotic failed, he took three weeks to find a breast specialist. That doctor took a core sample that was found to contain cancer cells. Diagnosis: inflammatory breast cancer. Miya was only 39, but IBC, the rarest, most aggressive, least curable, with the lowest 5-year survival rate, has taken the lives of women at age 15. The tumor cells carried receptors that could be blocked by targeted therapy with the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab (Herceptin, Genentech). A PET scan showed metastases in her liver; already Stage IV! Miya's oncologist prescribed chemotherapy with Herceptin and paclitaxel (Taxol, Bristol-Myers Squibb). Miya went on sick leave and Mr Julien shut the office down. Since the cancer was not related to the SCI, we were relieved when Miya qualified for MediCal to cover the very expensive chemotherapy.

Since Miya avoided giving details about her disability, Mr Julien did not find out till someone casually mentioned it. As Miya's liver lesions shrank, Mr Julien heard the call of his old siren: film-making. He felt the pressure to get started quickly. She granted permission in October 2007, 'so the younger members of our clan can get some idea about me after I am gone'.

In early 2008 Kelley instigated a surprise 40th birthday party. The bald but hopeful patient celebrated with her family, some of whom had flown in from Texas, and local friends. At the party Mr Julien interviewed Miya's brothers and two college friends for the film. That spring he flew to Iowa City to interview Miya's friends there. Meanwhile the PET liver scans showed that the IBC was becoming resistant to all treatment. Mr Julien raced to get the first draft of Miya of the Quiet Strength (www.miyafilm.com) ready to screen in her hospital room on 2 December. Present were the same people who were at the birthday party 11 months earlier. Miya was slipping into a coma a month before the 41st birthday she was striving to reach ('if I die at the same age as my father, my mother will freak out'). Her eyelid movements and small sounds in response to greetings, made us hope that she could hear the film's soundtrack as she started to exit this life. She breathed her last the following morning, 3 December 2008, with her brother by her side. We had her cremated. The memorial service and premiere of Miya of the Quiet Strength were held the first weekend of January 2009. Both events were well attended; the premiere audience overflowed the 180 seats of the Parkway Speakeasy theater in Oakland, CA. The website contains a list of the venues at which the film was shown, including Miya's 1986 alma mater Ames High (13 April 2009),  University of Iowa (12 April 2009), and the annual international Hot Springs documentary film festival founded in 1992 in Arkansas; Miya's film was among the 100 chosen from the 1000 submitted.

Miya is the latest in a line of strong women. Her maternal grandmother Sophie Schmidt's Volga-German family  migrated to Chicago before World War I. Sophie earned her bachelor's and master's degrees as a union scholar at the University of Wisconsin, where she met Agustin Rodolfo, a Philippine government scholar. The couple were married and moved to the Philippines. After WW II they founded an academic/vocational high school in his home town (cf Sophie's memoir Goodbye to Winter and the documentary Women of Summer about the Bryn Mawr summer-school program for women workers). Miya's paternal grandmother Maria Mariano raised three children as a widow. Despite her second-grade education, she helped her eldest child Federico Sioson attend college, culminating in his PhD in mathematics from the University of California in Berkeley. Like Maria Mariano, Pilar Pascasio, mother of Miya’s maternal grandfather Agustin Rodolfo, was widowed early and had little formal education. She helped three of her 11 children attend college, then scraped together the money for the steamship fare of her youngest to go to the University of Wisconsin, to earn his PhD in zoology and animal science.

The relatives and friends of Miya Rodolfo-Sioson are pleased to honor her and her female ancestors by including their names on Miya's paver in the Plaza of Heroines of Iowa State University’s Catt Hall.

To Miya and her father Federico, the quote from Lao Tzu's Te Tao Ching (quoted in the cult film Blade Runner) applies in spades:

The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long

May Miya's life serve as a model for all of us, not just people with severe disabilities.

Sonya Rodolfo-Sioson, 25 May 2015

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Ma Rosario S Rodolfo
Sigrid S Rodolfo
Renato L Rodolfo-Sioson
Sonya A Rodolfo-Sioson
E Lucille Rust
Lourdes and Kiyoshi Sadanaga
Shirley and Kenneth Shaw
Rudy F Sioson and Brenda Ackarman
Ronaldo M Sioson
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Submitted on 2/14/12; updated on 5/25/2015

 

Paver Inscription:

"Miya Sonya
Rodolfo-Sioson
Sophie Schmidt
Maria Mariano
Pilar Pascasio"