Tess Carlos-Micu is comfortable in the limelight. She’s been a shoe model, an international beauty contestant, a doctor’s wife, the lead singer in a band, and she helped launch a large, local association in town.
These days she stands in front of a crowd at the Santa Clarita Senior Center making announcements such as “G-eighteen. G-one-eight.” But calling Bingo is only one of the positions Micu has had in more than 20 years of volunteering there. She started in the kitchen, packing food for home delivery, eventually assessing the meals for support services. She also used to write for the Senior Center’s newspaper, The Mighty Oak – as well as other local publications – about the culture in her homeland of the Philippines.
“I do odds and ends – whatever they need me to do,” Micu says of her volunteer jobs. “Most of the time I’m there twice or three times in a week. I used to go there every day, but I have a home-bound mom. My heart belongs to the seniors, because I know how it is.”
Technically a senior herself at 72, you’d never know it due to her seemingly inextinguishable energy level. She sings in a band with other seniors who had careers as CEOs and engineers. They are featured musicians for parties and dances in the area, and on special occasions perform at the Senior Center. Micu usually starts the night off with “Proud Mary,” and her signature song is Etta James’ “At Last.”
Though she played the piano, Micu only began singing when Doc’s Inn bar started holding karaoke nights – the first in Santa Clarita, she says. And she had her inaugural experience singing with a band when she attended a party in Universal City and the vocalist was a no-show. That night she pulled off “Rock Around the Clock,” “Johnny B. Goode” and other oldies.
Born Teresita Maria Salome Esperanza Asuncion, she goes by “Tess,” which is a common Philippine nickname, Micu says. She is called “Tikya” among close friends and relatives.
Her hometown, Marikina, is the “shoe capital of the Philippines” and holds the title for “world’s largest shoe,” according to the Guinness Book of World Records. When Micu was in her mid-teens, the Miss Shoe Trade Fair was looking for models, and she responded to the call – her first experience in the spotlight.
The stage got a little larger when Micu entered – and won – a beauty contest in Marikina. The new “Miss Marikina” and her mother went to Japan for her to compete in the Miss Philippines pageant. Her rally ended there, otherwise it would’ve meant a trip to the United States as a contestant in the Miss International competition held in Long Beach, Calif.
Micu gave birth to three children in the Philippines, and when her husband at the time took a job as a physician at the VA Hospital on Wilshire in 1972, the family-of-five moved to Southern California. They first settled in the Glendale area, then Long Beach, and moved again to Canoga Park. The Carlos family arrived in Valencia in 1973.
While Micu had been a teacher in the Philippines, she wasn’t qualified to teach in the U.S., so in 1982 she took a job at the Flying Tiger Line cargo company, which was purchased by FedEx in 1989. She worked in the duty and tax department until retiring 10 years ago.
But for the first decade in Valencia she was home with her children: Giselle, now 50; Peter James, 49; and Zinnia, who is 48 years old. Micu’s children live in Southern California, as do her two grandchildren, Nicholas, 22, and Madison, 13.
When her three children were at Wiley Canyon Elementary School, the Philippine-American mother volunteered, sharing her home country’s culture with her kids’ classmates. Students wondered, “What planet are they from?” she says, so she brought in ethnic food and even had the opportunity to tutor new students who couldn’t speak English.
When the Carlos family moved to Santa Clarita in the early ‘70s there were only seven Philippine families in the area, Micu says. So, a group of them banded together to create the Filipino-American Association, which has grown to approximately 4,000 members. Micu and the other founders refer to themselves as the “pioneers.”
“The core group … decided amongst themselves to start an Association to have a “home away from home,” Micu says. “The Association, in itself, is a very unique group, because the members hail from different regions, which we call provinces. … I compared this group to a bouquet of flowers with the same color, but (that) would be more beautiful if mixed with different colors. We are given this chance to share different traditions, foods, language, and customs of various groups.”
There are only three or four Fil-Am pioneers still living, Micu says. She was the first female president of the Fil-Am Association when she was elected in 1996 and chose “Unity” as her theme. Since then, she has been chosen SCV Senior Center Senior of the Year and was recognized by the County of Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults because of her service.
Fil-Am SCV gained non-profit status in 1985, and holds an annual fundraiser sharing Philippine culture with the community. Fil-Am Academic & Cultural Enhancement, or FACE, is hosting a program on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 5 p.m. in the West Ranch High School Theatre, 26255 Valencia Blvd. in Stevenson Ranch.
There is no escaping the colorful personality of Tess Carlos-Micu, whether you see her serving at the Senior Center or catch her performing at a dance party singing and leading line dancing. In fact, many community members got that chance when she rode on the Senior Center’s award-winning Fourth of July float this month. They found her, where else, but front and center, at the mic singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” as the float rolled down the street – entertaining, as usual … and likely using her pageant wave.