Mark Deniel Sampelo, a 2016 UTD marketing alumnus, inspires hope by preserving an underrepresented identity in DFW through founding a Filipino Community Center and the first ever Filipinotown in North Texas.
Sampelo said he was inspired by God to create a sustainable community home and legacy for Filipinos in North Texas. In 2022, he shared this idea with cofounders of the nonprofit Pilipino American Community Endeavor, or PACE, which has since focused on community service, networking with small business owners and nonprofits and hosting Filipino town hall meetings.
Currently, PACE is talking with representatives from the cities of Allen, Carrollton and Frisco about plans to build a Filipinotown supporting local businesses, restaurants and education in the next 10 years. This $2.2 million project is made possible through donations and funding from the Lone Star Palengke market festival. PACE’s most recent efforts include a partnership with the Dallas Mavericks where a portion of proceeds from the April 7 game against the Houston Rockets goes to the organization.
“I want to leave it better for the people that are going to follow,” Sampelo said. “God put in my heart, [saying] ‘hey, you’re back in Dallas. There’s a growing community. And I made you this way because I want you to lead my people.’ And for me, I’m Filipino, so I gotta lead it Filipino.”
The DFW area has about 80,000 Filipinos, according to the 2020 census, making up nearly 58% of the Filipinos in Texas. Despite the fact that Filipinos are the third most populous Asian ethnicity in the U.S., Texas lacks a dedicated center for Filipino culture, in comparison to Carrolton’s Koreatown or Richardson’s Chinatown.
“We started interviewing some of the elders here in Dallas, and we found out, you know, [Filipinos] been here for 50 plus years,” Sampelo said.
Sampelo co-founded the largest annual Filipino market festival in Texas, the Lone Star Palengke, which brought together over 10,000 visitors in October 2023 to meet 120 local Filipino vendors, artists and performers. The festival included 2022 Miss Texas and 2024 Democratic candidate for the Texas House, Averie Bishop.
“We wanted to be intentional, we wanted to show that the community was here,” Sampelo said. “We invited all the Filipino business owners, Asian American minorities, Black, Latino. We made it affordable for them and then gave them exposure. We invited the nonprofits for free resources to the community because we also have to pour into our community. If our community is hurting and we’re not helping them, then what are we doing?”
However, Sampelo’s story of raising the status quo for Filipinos began much earlier than PACE. Sampelo spent the first five years of his life with his grandparents in Cavite, Quezon in the Philippines, only seeing his parents Gerry and Anafe every Christmas; they worked overseas in Saudi Arabia. Eventually his family found a home in Dallas, where he enrolled at UTD.
“A lot of the reason I’m here is from my parents’ sacrifice,” Sampelo said. “They did everything for us [me and Jermi Ann], and I just wanted to be at home, and I saw how reputable UTD was.”
In his senior year he became an influential president of the UTD Filipino Student Association (FSA), starting several traditions like field days, bringing in Filipino alumni speakers, the reciting of the Philippines National Anthem, the Filipino word of the day and balikbayan donation boxes.
“I wanted to make sure as a leader that I put back the Filipino in FSA,” Sampelo said. “What’s funny is the majority of folks aren’t Filipino. I think what’s universal is that one of the core Filipino root values is kapwa. That’s your ability to see yourself in another – finding that connection and finding that oneness. It’s very divine, and I think that’s why there’s such an attraction to FSA. You don’t have to be Filipino.”
In 2016 Sampelo graduated from JSOM, but for nearly a year, he couldn’t find employment in his industry. He referred to this period as a blow to his confidence and a time of struggle.
With the help of a fellow alumnus, Sampelo started his journey as one of the top 3% of financial advisors under 5 years at Northwestern Mutual. Today he helps 120 families find financial literacy and stability, with 92% of his clientele being minorities, Sampelo said.
Around the same time, Sampelo co-founded UniPro Texas in Houston, a nonprofit that connects the Filipino American community through collaboration, advocacy and education. While he has since passed the torch, this organization became the launchpad to support programs like the Southern Intercollegiate Filipino Alliance and local UTD FSA, which helps Filipino student professionals step into leadership roles.
“How are we going to grow as a community if we don’t invest into the future? How do we prepare the next generation so that, when we’re gone, they’re able to see themselves?” Sampelo said. “We wanted to build the leaders, the next generation of leaders, and we understood a lot of wisdom comes from learning from other people’s experiences.”
One lesson Sampelo mentioned building upon was the shortcomings of the largely unknown Philippines Community Center in South Dallas, which was the first of its kind in North Texas. Built by People Caring for the Community Inc., it’s become largely inactive today due to poor outreach, resourcing, and an undesirable location. For Sampelo, this inspires hope for what advocacy can look like, and how to overcome the challenges of the past.
“If there’s no seat at the table, why not make your own table?” Sampelo said.