Marissa Dipasupil Kerns’ life story reflects the triumph of perseverance over adversity. Born into poverty to a loving family in the Philippines, she was guided by the values of hard work and education despite growing up poor under martial law. Now the owner/operator of a successful shipping business in Hawaii, Oahu Express, Marissa’s humble roots reveal how she formed the unshakable belief that anyone, from any walk of life, can find upward mobility and happiness despite a path filled with obstacles.
LIFE IN THE PHILIPPINES
Born into a large post-war military family in Manila (Balut, Tondo), Marissa was raised while the Dipasupil’s were making the transition to an entrepreneurial family. Her father Captain Alfonso Dipasupil served as a ‘freedom fighter’ or rebel ‘guerilla’ for the Armed Forces of the Philippines in battles against the invading Japanese army during World War II and worked tirelessly to rescue American and Filipino prisoners from the well-known POW camp later proclaimed “The Bataan Death March”. Her mother Leonarda Maranan’s family background was in the ice cream and bus transit businesses. But Leonarda spent the years of war, martial law and occupation with her sisters hiding in the forest terrain of the Batangas mountains; frequently camouflaged with charcoal ash on their faces in order to escape the brutality of Japanese armies, known for raping and killing Filipino women.
The challenging post-war years saw young Marissa working on a leased 10,000 sq. ft. vegetable farm while helping to run the family ‘sari sari’ – a neighborhood convenience store run out of her family’s home. Marissa and her eleven siblings (7 girls and 4 boys) would take the harvest from the family farm to market where their produce would be bartered for necessities such as oil, sugar, rice. At the same time, the Dipasupil’s were also raising livestock which would be traded for goods including school tuition and supplies.
Marissa’s father died in 1976 when she was fourteen. Now raised by a single mother, young Marissa attended school while working multiple jobs to help the struggling family make ends meet. While in high school in Manila, she was recognized as “Female Cadet of the Year” (ROTC) and earned several vocational diplomas and certificates which she put to use right way in jobs like stenographer for a law firm, dental technician, and documentation dock porter for a customs brokerage.
During this time, Marissa saved enough money to put herself through college — the only member of the family to earn a college degree. While attending Philippine Maritime Institute in Manila, Marissa was hired by technology company Integrated Microelectronics, later better known as computer chip maker Advanced Micro Devices or AMD. There, Marissa started as a Commodore Computer assembly worker, earning just 20% of the modern-day minimum wage. Soon, she was promoted to executive secretary for one of the company’s board of directors.
In the 1980’s, the Philippine people were living under the shadow of a very unpopular and repressive government. These tough years provided Marissa with a strong dose of what her parents experienced during the Japanese occupation and inspired her to attend People Power rallies that eventually led to an historic democratic revolution. Wanting a better life after completing high school, Marissa continued working while vigorously pursuing higher education; earning her Bachelor of Science in Customs Administration (BSCA) from Manila’s Philippine Maritime Institute (PMI) in 1986.
MOVING TO HAWAII
In December 1987, Marissa left the Philippines for Hawaii at the age of 25. As an immigrant, she knew it would take hard work to put her education to use. Working for minimum wage did not discourage Marissa, who envisioned a path to success from the time she arrived on Oahu. Her first job was working as a mail clerk at BHP Petroleum on Bishop Street, where she would commute each morning via city bus from Kaneohe to downtown Honolulu.
But her sights were set on working in the shipping transportation industry. Before long, Marissa landed a position with local freight forwarding operation where she could hone her business skills while putting her degree and experience to work. Then Emery Worldwide came knocking with an offer to step up and become an account manager at their Honolulu Terminal.
After three years with Emery, which included providing logistical support to military bases throughout the Pacific in the aftermath of 9/11, the ambitious wife and soon-to-be-mother of a son and daughter leveraged her industry experience working in various positions of increasing responsibility and compensation for companies like Menlo Logistics and UPS SCS; winning company awards and industry distinctions along the way.
SELF-MADE BUSINESS OWNER
In 2006, Marissa saw the opportunity to realize the American Dream of becoming a small-business owner. Action Shipping & Transportation Solutions was being sold by its owners who had started the shipping company in 1981. Marissa had been saving for years and keeping a watchful eye out for such possibility. Now in her 12th year as minority owner/operator of a local business which competes against local, national and international companies for shipping, trucking, warehousing, and distribution project work, Marissa successfully carved out a niche in this competitive marketplace while always making time with her husband to raise her son and daughter, while overseeing the care of her ninety-two-year-old mother.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT & POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
After more than two decades in Makakilo, Marissa was recognized in 2012 by the Honolulu City Council with an award for ‘extraordinary commitment and service to the community’ following years of financial support and volunteer work for the benefit of island charities, schools, youth athletics, student robotics, churches, civic organizations and groups preserving farmlands and historic sites. Her company Oahu Express was recognized as a ‘business success all star’ by Small Business Hawaii and ‘employer of the year’ by the Kapolei Rotary Club. An active Rotarian, Marissa has frequently hired homeless residents from across the island so her company could help those in need.
Marissa has helped lead the successful fight to halt construction and operation of a proposed dangerous biohazard laboratory which arrogant government politicians and bureaucrats wanted to locate near residential communities in West Oahu. In the wake of a tax hike of $52 per shipping container (Senate Bill 754), Marissa also led the successful campaign to stop consumers from being overcharged millions of dollars in higher prices by pressuring Matson to refrain from passing this tax on to shippers. Marissa has actively fought alongside parents statewide in pursuing major changes to the state’s controversial “Pono Choices” sex education program which targets 11-year-olds in middle school with highly sexualized, medically inaccurate, and age-inappropriate content.
In 2010 and 2012, Marissa stepped forward to represent residents of Kapolei and Makakilo as a candidate for the State House of Representatives, focusing on economic issues affecting consumers and employers alike; receiving nearly 33% of the vote during her first campaign despite a late start against a well-known incumbent. Now in 2018, Marissa is working to replace ultra-liberal politician and former attorney general Doug Chin as Lt. Governor, who has pursued and defended the failed, harmful Democrat policies of both David Ige and Colleen Hanabusa since joining the Ige administration. Marissa is committed to major economic and political reforms which aspire to deliver a promising future for all Hawaii families. Marissa and her husband Gary reside on Oahu’s Waianae Coast.
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