Who is Melissa?

Every day since my abduction and torture the nightmares of what happened often return to me and talking about that experience is like going back again to that dark place, but knowing that I spoke the truth about what happened keeps that deep sea of injustice, silence, and fear from drowning me and instead I get to keep that bit of light inside.

Melissa Roxas was born on October 23, 1977 in Manila, Philippines.

In 1986, the same year after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, when Melissa was nine years old, she migrated along with two siblings to Los Angeles to be reunited with her mother, where Melissa would grow up and become a woman.

After graduating from high school in 1996, Melissa’s interest in community work, particularly in health care, manifested when she was a student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).  She had the intention of one day going to medical school.

While in UCSD, Melissa was an active member of Kaibigang Pilipino (KP), the campus-based Filipino student organization and the Asian and Pacific-Islander Student Alliance (APSA). In 1998, Melissa served as the playwright, lyricist, and director of “Kalayaan” (Freedom), a musical play about Filipino culture staged at UCSD.

In 1998, Melissa co-founded and later served as director for Active Students for Teens (AST) in which she tutored and mentored third-grade children.  In the same year she volunteered with Educational Enrichment Programs working with preschool children from disadvantaged communities, to promote reading and learning skills.

Melissa spent one summer studying abroad in San Nicolas de Hidalgo University, Michoacan, Mexico and in the latter part of her college years, spent six months in Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.  In Chile, she researched intercultural health of the Mapuche community, an indigenous people.  After her research project was completed, she backpacked throughout South America for about two months that included treks through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina.  In addition to English and Filipino, Melissa is fluent in Spanish.

While still a university student, Melissa volunteered with the San Diego Youth and Community Services, where she outreached for a mobile clinic providing free health care to homeless youth. She would later volunteer at Camp Laurel, a camp for children and youth living with HIV/AIDS.

Upon graduating Cum Laude at the University of California, San Diego, with a BS in Animal Physiology and Neuroscience; a BA in Third World Studies; and a minor in Healthcare and Social Issues; Melissa worked as a community health youth organizer with Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), in Los Angeles, where she facilitated workshops on tobacco prevention, and promoted health and well-being. She later worked as a health insurance specialist with the Center for Health Care Rights, counseling elderly Medicare beneficiaries of various ethnic backgrounds on their health care rights.

A gifted writer, Roxas’ body of poetry and creative writing earned her such accolades as a fellowship with PEN USA Rosenthal Emerging Voices and a fellowship with Kundiman for two consecutive years. Melissa also co-founded Habi Ng Kalinangan, or Habi Arts, a Los Angeles-based Filipino cultural organization dedicated to promoting community empowerment and progressive social change.  As a writer and poet, she was selected to collaborate with various artists under Great Leap, a Los Angeles-based multicultural arts organization whose mission is the pursuit of artistic excellence in the creation and presentation of original artistic works.

In 2005, Roxas helped to coordinate a 40+ delegation from the United States to take part in a fact-finding mission on human rights violations in the Philippines. The experience left a profound impression on her as she was inspired by the courage and strength she encountered talking to victims, and families of victims, of human rights violations perpetrated by the state.

Her intentions to go to medical school never became a reality.  She turned down an acceptance to medical school and opted instead to focus on grassroots community work.  In 2007, Melissa traveled back to the Philippines to conduct research for a writing project and to dedicate more of her time to community health work. On May 19th, 2009, while on a medical mission in Tarlac, Melissa Roxas became a victim of a human rights violation herself when she was abducted at gunpoint and held against her will for six days, while being subject to physical and psychological torture until her surfacing in Quezon City on May 25, 2009.