Rising tide of Filipina political pioneers

Lawyer Malia Vella is the first FilAm woman elected in the city of Alameda.
New media producer Dianne Martinez made history as first FilAm woman elected City Council Member in Emeryville, Calif.
Former prosecutor Teresa Magno is now LA County Superior Court Judge.
Superior Court Judges Audra Ibarra of Santa Clara and Rohanne Zapanta of San Diego were appointed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Thelma Boac ran and won for Berryessa Unified School District Trustee after retiring from 37 years in the academe.
New Haven Unified School District Trustee Linda Canlas topped her race last year.

First elected in 2001, current Duarte (LA County) Mayor Tzeitel Paras Caracci took the gavel in 2006, 2011 and 2015.

First elected in 2001, current Duarte (LA County) Mayor Tzeitel Paras Caracci took the gavel in 2006, 2011 and 2015.
Sierra Madre Council Member Rachelle Arizmendi was Mayor in 2017.

Also down in Southern California, residents of Sierra Madre in the foothills of San Gabriel Mountain elected registered dietitian Rachelle Arizmendi to its City Council in 2014. In 2017 the Carmel, California, native was selected by her fellow council-members as the Mayor.

Vallejo’s first FilAm woman City Council Member Rozzana Verder Aliga was also the town’s the first FilAm school board trustee.

But a FilAm woman Mayor has yet to gain the title by election, reminded Vallejo City Council Member Rozzana Verder Aliga. The licensed marriage and family therapist and doctor of education is the first Filipina elected in the North Bay town. Prior to her election to the City Council in 2013, she served several years as elected trustee on the Vallejo City Unified School District Board since 1993, first FilAm elected to that body. In 2016, her peers voted for her as Vice Mayor. She would have to be elected by the voters at large to become Mayor, as required by the Vallejo City Charter.

Union City’s Pat Gacoscos was elected to two departments before breaking the gender barrier for elected FilAms in her town.

Ditto Union City, California’s first elected Filipina Pat Gacoscos, who earned public trust first as an elected Director with the Union Sanitary District and then Trustee for the New Haven Unified School District. Elected to the City Council in 2010 and re-elected last year, the former teacher was voted Vice Mayor in 2012 and 2017.


The year Gacoscos joined the City Council, educator Linda Canlas was elected Trustee on the New Haven USD Board. She handily retained her seat in 2014 and was president in 2017. Last year she bested 4 bets to take 38 percent of the vote.

School Boards often are the gateway to higher office. Thelma Boac dedicated 37 years to the academe as teacher and administrator in San Jose, Calif., and then in retirement, when the Berryessa Union School District Board appointed her Trustee in 2013. Though she lost her campaign for the San Jose City Council in 2015, she was re-elected to the BUSD last year.

Might current School Board Trustees be harboring dreams of governing their cities at large?

Re-elected last year was Bayshore School District (of Brisbane) Vice President Joy Gutierrez-Pilare. Rosie Tejada and Maybelle Manio are the first FilAm women elected school board Trustees in Daly City: Jefferson Unified High School District for the former and Jefferson Elementary School District Board for the latter.

Of the 25 FilAms elected in the 2018 midterms, according to the Filipino American Community Forum in San Francisco, 10 were elected for the first time and 15 were re-elected, including California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil Sakauye, the highest ranking elected Filipino American in the nation. The mid-terms multiplied Filipinas to the bench with former prosecutor Teresa Magno as LA County Superior Court Judge; former deputy public defender Rohanee Zapanta, 42, the second FilAm woman Judge (first was Judge Lillian Lim who retired in 2007) on the San Diego County Superior Court when California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her last year with appelate specialist Audra Ibarra, 49, first FilAm woman judge on the Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The new political pioneers come from diverse disciplines.

Emeryville City Council’s first FilAm member Dianne Martinez, a TV and new media producer, was re-elected last year. Senior Services Commissioner Letty Lopez is the first Filipina on the West Covina City Council. Environmental science expert Marico Sayoc kept the seat she won in 2014 on the Los Gatos (Santa Clara County) City Council.

The collective success of her fellow Filipinas elated Filipina Women’s Network founder Marily Mondejar. An appointed commissioner in San Francisco, she noted that the current crop of FilAm women officials includes those born after 1982.

Seasoned legislative aide Melissa Ramoso is the pioneer FilAm and lone woman on the Artesia City Council.

Last year seasoned legislative aide Melissa Ramoso became the lone woman on the City Council of her birth city, Artesia, in Los Angeles County. Labor and employment lawyer Malia Vella is the first FilAm woman elected in the island City of Alameda. Daly City elected housing advocate Juslyn Manalo in 2016, her first run; she will be on the ballot for 2020 . All three Millennials were born in the United States.

Ex-Mayor Juslyn Manalo was voted Vice Mayor minutes after swearing in as first-ever City Council Member of Daly City.


Their elders and predecessors lauded their ascension.

Private citizen and very much a mentor to many including her son the first FilAm in the California State Legislature, community leader Cynthia Arnaldo Bonta said she was confident that Vella has Alameda residents’ back.

“Malia won her council seat with the most votes of all the candidates, making her Vice Mayor for the past four years,” the lifelong activist said. She touted as aspirational Vella’s having “organized the first Araw Ng Kalayaan in June at the City Hall to reflect on the meaning of the Philippine Independence from Spain in 1898 and freedom today … consistent support for the Alameda-Dumaguete Sister City, the campaigns for tenant rights, just cause evictions, and housing as a human right.”

“With someone like Malia as a leader in public service, more Filipino Americans will be more actively engaged in the democratic process in our local governments,” Bonta opined.

Gacoscos praised Manalo’s mayorship as an “indication of a positive change – political maturity – which is happening not only in Daly City, but all over the Bay Area.”

The surge of newly elected FilAm women brought Verder Aliga to her beginnings.

“I remember being one of less than 10 back in the ’90s. There were only 2-3 FilAm (elected) women then,” she told Positively Filipino.  “It’s great to see (many) young FilAms in office.”

She counted herself, Asmundson and former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gloria Megino Ochoa, the first and only known FilAm woman elected to the county board. Megino Ochoa later campaigned for the US House of Representatives, which was thwarted by a billionaire who ran for the US Senate soon after, and lost to Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Megino Ochoa retired a few years ago as chief deputy legal counsel with the state Senate Judiciary Committee. She continues her private practice in Sacramento.

Three-time Ambrose Park and Recreation District Board trustee Mae Cendaña Torlakson had hoped her winning streak would hold up in her 2016 run for the Golden State Legislature. She lost then but retained her seat last year, the lone known elected Filipina in Contra Costa with the retirement of Myrna de Vera, who pierced the glass ceiling on the Hercules City Council.

Current Colma Mayor Joanne del Rosario is the first Filipina to become mayor in the 9 Bay Area counties.