The following is the full text of the welcome remarks given by FWN Founder and CEO Marily Mondejar at the Fil-Am Victory Celebration held on January 31st in San Francisco. Her speech appeared as a guest column in Cherie M. Querol Moreno’s “Upside” column in the February 6-11 edition of the Philippine News.
Presented by the Filipino American Community Forum in partnership with the Filipina Women’s Network and FAAE/Pistahan, the FilAm Victory gathering is more than a celebration of all the candidates who won in the November 2018 midterm election cycle. It is also a meeting of the incumbent elected officials, appointed commissioners at the local and state levels, consultants/staff members of the elected incumbents, and community leaders who are critical to the FilAm community’s political voice.
Distinguished guests, welcome to a celebration of victory.
My goal this evening is to deliver a rousing, inspiring and unforgettable speech. And I know of no worse way of doing so than by starting with some statistics.
I thank you all for joining us this evening and for your commitment to our people, our state and our country.
How can a minority know if they have been accepted by the majority? It’s a fair question. And the fair answer is: election results. We make up 3.8% of California’s population. Joining us tonight are 24 women and men who successfully won their campaigns during the 2018 November mid-term elections.
Notably we are joined this evening by two Filipino Americans who have broken “glass ceilings” - Assembly Member Rob Bonta who has broken the marble ceiling at the California State Assembly representing our fellow Filipino Americans from District 18 covering Alameda, Oakland and San Leandro and United States Congressman TJ Cox, who represents Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.
Think about this: 24 Filipino Americans were elected in November; 15 were re-elected for their second, third, or multiple terms and 9 were elected for the first time. Of these, 15 were elected to city councils and 7 to school boards. As the founder of the Filipina Women’s Network, I’m proud to say that 15 of the elected are women. If you add the 7 incumbents, that makes a total of 22 women currently in office. How’s that for Pinay Power?
That said, 9 of our brothers are joining 9 who are currently in office, for a total of 18 including Congressman TJ Cox [D-CA] and Assemblymember Rob Bonta [CA-18] who has the distinction of having been reelected three times to the State Assembly. This means Rob is half way through the maximum 12 years in which he can serve. And if the first half is any indication of what is to come, great things are on the horizon. We need to start grooming another FilAm to follow in Rob’s footsteps
We are also honored to be joined tonight by 16 incumbent elected officials; 14 council members, 7 school board trustees, and 33 appointed commissioners, serving at the local and state levels, not to mention staff members and consultants all serving our elected officials in different capacities.
Our success this past November was no less remarkable on the local level. 4 Filipina women, who just happen to be Millennials, were elected to the City Council. Think about that for a minute. With Millennials poised to be our next generation of leaders, their cities banded together around 4 of our own, putting them on their respective Councils. We’re excited. I’m more ecstatic because they are women and 3 of them are members of the Filipina Women’s Network.
We have fellow Filipino Americans on-the-ground but we still should aim to break the marble ceiling of the United States Senate. I’m confident one of those here tonight will crack that ceiling.
I am also certain that no one will take offense when I say, most significantly, and the greatest honor paid to our community, is Her Honor, the 28th Chief Justice of California, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the first Asian, the first Filipina American, and only the second woman ever elected to that high office. Nominated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for California's highest judicial office elected in 2010, she will not term out until 2023. She is at that most important decision table shaping the law that impacts all of us here in California for many years to come. THAT, my friends, is influence.
So who do we have here this evening? In a word, influencers. That is who and what you are. You are the culmination of over a century of immigrants. You were not GIVEN your positions of influence, you EARNED them. You will not squander them and we will not squander them. We will build upon them, individually and collectively.
The conclusion is clear: The engagement of Filipino Americans in public service is significant and growing. We have been recognized for our contributions to the betterment of society. Filipinos are not electing Filipinos to public office, Californians are, Americans are. And just as we have succeeded locally, we can do so nationally.
Just because our numbers are small, does not mean our influence can’t be large. Think of the impact of elected office; how school board trustees impact the lives of the next generation of leaders; how city councils impact quality of life through social services and economic opportunities. While we are proud of the number of our people who have been elected to serve, numbers are irrelevant; it is IMPACT that counts.
And what an impact we have had, in all aspects of US society: dance, education, graphic arts, visual arts, journalism, the law, literature, theater, business, culinary arts, fashion, science, labor, sports, television, music and, perhaps most meaningfully, the military, including four Medal of Honor recipients.
Filipino Americans are not a monolithic group. We are liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, religious and secular. But we share common values. We must join together, locally and nationally, to make certain our voices are heard when it comes to those issues which unite us: combating violence against women, guaranteeing economic opportunity for everyone, protecting immigration, ensuring the highest quality education for our children, fighting homelessness, guaranteeing affordable housing for all, and public safety. We are Filipinos but we are also Americans. We must work with our fellow Americans because we are ONE. Dr Martin Luther King, whose memory we just celebrated, said, “Each of us has a responsibility of making this nation, our communities better.”
That is a very impressive agenda but this is a very impressive audience. We have it within us to do more and to do nationally what we have done locally, and that is my challenge to each and every one of you this evening. There is no shortage of capable Filipinos—look around you in this room—but leadership requires support, knowledge, community and opportunity. How do you challenge each one to take action? If we think big, we will achieve greatness for our people and our country.
This gathering tonight is a beautiful amplification of a community coming together. To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Thank you.