Monday, October 30, 2006

Pinay Power

The history of Filipinos in America, from the arrival of the first Luzon indios in Morro Bay, California in 1587 to the coming of the Manilamen in Louisiana in either 1763 or 1830 to the immigration of Sacadas to Hawaii in 1906, is the history of Filipinos in America. It is not the history of Filipinas in America.

There were thousands of Filipino men who served as mariners on board the Spanish galleons that plied the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade from 1565 to 1815. Many of these mariners chose to remain in Acapulco rather than return back to Manila and many thereafter boarded other commercial ships that traveled throughout the Americas and Europe.

Many of these men jumped ship and later lived in communities like the ones established in the Louisiana bayous in the 1800s. Throughout this 319 year period (from 1587 to 1906), there is no record that any Filipino woman ever served as a mariner on any of the galleon ships nor were any among the first 15 Sacadas who arrived in Honolulu in 1906.

This thought came to mind while attending the Filipina Women's Summit from October 27-29 at the Philippine Center in San Francisco.

Considered a "valued stakeholder in the Filipino American community", I joined other Pinoys who were invited to join Pinays "Coming Together as a Community" to discuss "How to Advance Filipina Women in the US," a project of the Filipina Women's Network ( of Marily Mondejar.

The goals of the conference were to determine how best to develop the "leadership pipeline" of Filipina women and how to bring the Filipina voice to the national leadership table "to ensure the debates on policies being developed are equitable and inclusive".

An observation I shared with the delegates to this conference is that Pinays have advanced more in the political and economic spheres in the US than their Pinoy counterparts.

Under US presidents before Bill Clinton, the only Pinoys in the White House were cooks and stewards. Newsweek once reported that under US President George H. Bush, the residents of Kennebunkport, Maine, would always know when the President was in town by the large number of Filipinos who were shopping for food at the local groceries.

A Korean American White House official told a Filipino community forum in San Francisco in 1989 that "the last persons the President sees before he sleeps at night and the first persons he sees in the morning when he wakes up are Filipinos." How proud we must be, he said. ["We want to go through the front door, not the back door!" Dennis Normandy told him].

This changed under President Bill Clinton when he brought in Maria Mabilangan Haley as his White House Director of Personnel, Irene Bueno as his Assistant Director on Domestic Policy, Dr. Connie Mariano as his White House Physician, Kathleen Flores as his Director for Asian Outreach, Irene Natividad as a Fannie Mae Director, Mona Pasquil as a Special Assistant in the White House Political Department, and Gloria Caoile and Tessie Guillermo as members of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans.

Haley was thereafter appointed as a Director of the Export-Import Bank, the first Fil-Am to ever go through and receive a US Senate confirmation. Dr. Mariano was later promoted by Clinton to be a Rear Admiral of the US Navy.

Aside from being professionally competent and politically astute, they were all Filipina women.

This trend was not just with a Democrat. With Republican President George W. Bush, we saw the rise (and fall) of Susan Bonson Ralston, as a Special Assistant, with perhaps more power and influence than any previous Filipino in the White House. And, of course, there was the appointment of the White House Executive Chef Cristeta Commerford [Hail to the Chef].

In the economic sphere, there are role models like Loida Nicolas Lewis (CEO of TLC Beatrice), Josie (Josefina Almeda Cruz) Natori (CEO of the Natori Company) and Lilia Calderon (CEO of Calderon Capital). [The Pinoys have Dado Banatao.]

At the national empowerment conference of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) held in Honolulu recently, the three top officials elected by delegates from throughout the US were women: Alma Kern (national chair), Rozita Lee (national vice chair) and Joann Fields (National Youth Chair).

I would say, without fear of contradiction, that our Filipina women can mentor our Filipino men anytime of the day, 24/7.

The trend continues. Even now, a Filipina woman - Hydra Mendoza - is poised to be elected to the San Francisco School Board, Joanne Del Rosario (youngest sister of the former RP ambassador to the US) is set to win in the Colma Town Council race, and Lisa Normandy should also secure a seat in the South San Francisco School Board. Let's support them on November 7 to ensure their victories.

Let's not forget our men. Mike Guingona and Adelman Angeles are running for the City Council of Daly City, Fel Amistad for the San Mateo County School Board, and Henry Manayan as Mayor of Milpitas. They deserve our support.

If you live in the Tenderloin or South of Market districts of San Francisco, please vote for Rob Black for Supervisor. His election will end the tyrannical rule of Supervisor Chris Daly who unjustly destroyed the community programs of the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center ("The Dream of Ed De la Cruz"). Join Browns for Black.

If you live in San Jose, please vote for Cindy Chavez for mayor. She has been a true and loyal friend of the Filipino American community throughout her political career.

For California statewide office, I encourage readers to vote for Jerry Brown as Attorney General. When he was the state's governor, Brown appointed more Filipinos (and Filipinas) to statewide commissions than all the previous state governors combined. He also appointed Ron Quidachay and Mel Recana as Superior Court judges. Join Browns for Brown.

Vote on November 7.

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