VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — To understand who Alvie Aquino Culanding is today, you'll have to know his parents, two immigrants from the Philippines who started a family in the United States and settled in Hampton Roads.
Culanding's father enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the 60s and his mother worked as a nurse. That said, Culanding always knew his eventual career would be service-oriented.
For the Virginia Beach native, things came into focus in the 90s around the time the Filipino American Community Action Group formed because of gang violence among Filipino American youth.
"During that time, something welled up in me that said, 'My mom and dad did not come here for this to happen,'" Culanding told 13News Now.
Shifting from work as a mental health technician, he embarked on a new chapter as a deputy at the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office (VBSO).
"That kind of nurtured me in a way that if I got into law enforcement, I can enforce the rules, but I can show the human side of it as well," Culanding explained.
He recalled what it was like joining the rank and file in July 1997: "I was welcomed here in the ranks even though I didn't see a whole lot of Filipinos. There were some uncles who worked here [who were] retired military."
More than 25 years and several promotions later, Culanding serves as captain — more specifically as commanding officer of the correctional support division.
He made history in 2017 as the first Filipino American to hold the title of captain at the VBSO.
Culanding is proud to put his heritage front and center, calling the way of the Filipino people as strong, humble, yet productive.
Moreover, he believes his presence on the force bridges a gap with other people of Filipino descent.
"Even though they see me in uniform, it may be intimidating but because I'm a Filipino American and I share some of the same experiences they do, it really helps to connect and it puts them at ease," said Culanding.
At the same time, he hopes to encourage the next generation to serve and succeed.
"Whether they are Filipino, whether they are African American, it doesn't matter. It can be done, but you have to put the hard work in," he said.
The sheriff's captain also serves the community in other ways, including his contributions as co-founder of the Filipino American Law Enforcement Officers Association of Virginia.