Mayor Myrna Lardizabal de Vera of Hercules, CA: On Civic Engagement and FilVote

At the San Francisco Town Hall and Palabokan was convened as a preliminary meeting for the Global Summit in September 2011, a global gathering organized by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. The July 6 town hall was co-sponsored by the US Pinoys for Good Governance and NaFFAA Region 8. As one of the newest elected officials in the USA, Mayor Myrna Lardizabal de Vera of the City of Hercules, California was requested to make her first address (as a mayor of Filipino ancestry) to the Filipino community. Myrna is also the first Filipina to be appointed as Mayor of Hercules, California.

Here is the text of Myrna’s speech.

Filipino Town Hall Meeting
GLOBAL SUMMIT OF FILIPINOS IN THE DIASPORA
July 6, 2011 Social Hall, San Francisco Philippine Consulate
Good-evening, members of NaFFAA, US Pinoys for Good Governance, and the Philippine Consulate, friends and guests. Thank you to Rodel Rodis, Ben Menor, and my sister, Lorna Dietz for inviting me to speak. It is truly an honour to be here!

Last November, I won a seat on the Hercules City Council. With the traditional rotation of council members, my turn to be mayor was supposed to be in 2014. Surprisingly, a month after I took office, I was promoted to Vice-Mayor, and five months later, here I am, the Mayor of Hercules.

My fast track to mayor happened because of a series of unusual events. Mayor Balico resigned and two council members got recalled on June. That is a story best reserved for another day. I am here tonight to speak about civic engagement and the FilVote.

My rise to the mayor was a case of being in the right place at the right time. I live in a city where 27 percent of the population is of Filipino descent, many who went out of their way to register and vote, so most times, the Filam candidate won a council seat. Proof of the power of the FilVote is the five mayors of Filipino descent before me: Goni Solidum, Andy Paras, Ed Manuel, Ed Balico, and Frank Batara. In addition, past leaders practiced mentoring new leaders through commission appointments. I am a product of that legacy of mentorship.

I had not aspired to be a politician. In fact, I was happy being a mother, wife, and businesswoman. Yet I couldn’t ignore the call to serve my community, maybe because while growing up in Cebu, I witnessed my parents living the life of community service.

I started my civic engagement during the mid-1990’s when I joined the Hercules Chamber of commerce. Even during my ten years hiatus from working, I volunteered for my sons’ soccer and little league teams as team mom, was treasurer of their Cub Scout pack and faith formation teacher. Those were happy times when I learned the basics of leadership.

In 2005, I was appointed to the planning commission by a council that had two Fil-am leaders. As a commissioner, I moved up to Chair on my second term and formed a reputation for being an outspoken public servant. I joined the Fil-Ams of Hercules, volunteered at St. Patrick Catholic Church and the Asian American Donor Program.

Through my community involvement, I learned consensus building and independent thinking and l honed my leadership skills. I also fostered relationships with residents, who would later become my most passionate campaigners.

Members from Filipina Women’s Network and NaFFAA encouraged me to consider higher office. During events like the FWN Summit and 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the USA, I met other strong Filipina leaders who inspired me into thinking, “Hey, maybe I can be mayor one day, too!”

Last year, I took the plunge and ran for city council. The five months of campaign was a time to reap what I had sowed for the past 15 years of civic engagement. I had name recognition and a base of loyal supporters. Manny, my husband and campaign manager, implemented a simple strategy: reach out to the Filipino-Americans as our foundation and build from there. The key to winning was to attract the voters who were tired of the incumbent council and were clamoring for change, irregardless of ethnicity.

Some members from three groups — the Fil-ams of Hercules, AFAH, and Filams of Contra Costa — united for a moment to work on my campaign. The Filipino-Americans were my most generous donors, helping us raise $10,000. Most gave support with one condition: that I serve the public with integrity.

During these tumultuous times in Hercules, I feel honored to lead the city, hopefully out of this crisis. My ability to represent all 25,000 Herculeans is what my fellow council members recognized and thus, they voted unanimously for me to be their leader. But I will never forget the foundation that catapulted me to mayor — my years of civic engagement and the Filipino-American vote.

 

NaFFAA Renews Call to Congress to Pass the DREAM Act

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) is calling on the U.S. Congress once again to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, commonly known as the DREAM Act. Recently reintroduced in the US Senate on May 11, 2011, the measure passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but failed in the U.S. Senate.

The bill would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal alien students who graduate from US high schools, are of good moral character, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment if they complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning.

NaFFAA’s renewed call to get the bill passed comes in the heels of today’s announcement by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino undocumented immigrant. In a New York Times essay, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” which appeared in today’s online edition, Vargas discloses his own status as an “illegal alien.” He writes: “My story does not exist in a vacuum. I am only one of the countless undocumented immigrants from all walks of life who live in the shadow of our failed and broken system.”

Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize winner when he was a staff writer in the Washington Post, has also announced the launching of “Define American” campaign, an organization he co-founded which is dedicated to changing the conversation about immigrants in America. The campaign will “build off Vargas’ story to provide a platform for others to share their own backgrounds and will encourage members of Congress and the Obama administration to prioritize immigration reform.”

“Approximately 40-44 percent of the undocumented student population in the Asian community are Filipino students,” says NaFFAA National Chairman Eduardo Navarra. “They are among hundreds of committed activists whose tireless energy and relentless advocacy made last year’s historic vote possible. Their courage in speaking out and telling their stories made a big difference in moving this legislation forward. “
Navarra commends Vargas for coming forward, own up to what he has done and tell his own story.

“As a national organization, we completely support Jose’s personal advocacy to get the DREAM Act passed,” adds Navarra. “I urge all Filipino Americans to play an active role in getting Congress to act on this measure this year. Tens of thousands of students who came to the U.S. without legal status would benefit from passage of this act.”

“The case of Jose Antonio Vargas and thousands of fellow DREAMers like him is no longer a mere legal issue; it has become a compelling moral issue which needs to be addressed,” declares J.T. Mallonga, NaFFAA’s national vice chair and a New York immigration attorney. He heads the Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF), which is advising Vargas on his legal options.

According to his own account, Vargas was 12 years old when he was “smuggled” by an uncle into the United States with a “fake name and fake passport.” He learned that he was an “illegal alien” when, at 16, he tried to apply for a Driver’s License. He kept his undocumented status a secret so he could study and pursue a career in journalism. “I convinced myself that seeing my name in bold print, exploring my country and the people around me, validated my right to be here,” he writes. Last year, he read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the DREAM Act. “At the risk of deportation, they are speaking out,” he writes. “Their courage has inspired me.”