Daring greatly to have Fil-Am representation in the state Assembly

“When we treat people as objects, we dehumanize them. We do something terrible to their souls and to our own. Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat like objects – people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy. Buber wrote, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them. After spending a decade studying belonging, authenticity and shame, I can say for certain that we are hardwired for connection – emotionally, physically and spiritually.” – Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW., “Daring Greatly,” 2012

When I met then-California State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa decades ago, he was making a bid to become the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles. His handler called me at work and asked if I could endorse him. I said no. His handler was puzzled — why not?

I had a specific experience to share: he went to the memorial for Joseph Santos Ileto and he basically showed up for a hot minute and then left. He was accused of disrespecting the community by Joseph’s brother, Ishmael. I relayed that example to his handler.

His handler asked me to convene a house meeting and Antonio would show up. I asked — “When?” He said, “tomorrow,” like “tomorrow in 24 hours,” I asked? He confirmed that he would show up in 24 hours. I told the handler that I was a working mother and wife and would have no time to put together dinner for folks. He said Antonio would eat whatever folks would have for that night. He did. He showed up. We all had Chinese takeout food.

We asked him what he stood for. We were prepared. After all, we had just done a community planning strategy meeting where two dozen of the who’s who in the community showed up. I asked them basically one question – “If funds were not an issue and you had unlimited resources, what programs would you like to see in our community done?”

We had a bunch of post-its in yellows and the philosophers, community organizers and professional social workers categorized our community’s agenda into four pillars of community building: leadership development, curriculum reform, civil rights and discrimination prevention, and building non-profits.

When he sat down with us, we were synergized, all 24 of us, that we gave him the four pillars of community building, including the sub-components plus the rationale for each pillar. I felt we came out so solid and so strong, that Antonio at the end of the evening relayed back to us what he heard. We became part of his campaign volunteers: door-knocking and phone-banking. The end-result – he won and became the Mayor of Los Angeles.

Fast forward to Sept. 14, 2017, 19 days before the special election on  October 3 for the state Assembly’s 51 District, and we are all gathered at a hosted dinner. This time, it is not Chinese takeout — it is hot dinner of four entrees and desserts. Times have changed for our community. In this circle of 20, more than a quarter are medium to large businesses and the rest are community members.

We are listening to Alex de Ocampo who just did a candidates’ forum in El Sereno. He looked energized. Around the table are registered voters from both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

I was impressed by how candid and accessible Alex was that evening. He answered all our questions as to electoral tactics in reaching the community, but mostly he knew the community by heart.

He knew where the clusters are. He knew that we have a chance, a very rare chance to have an assemblymember elected coming from the 51st Assembly District in Southern California. He believed in himself and his community.

But more than anything, he knows how he was supported by a hardworking mother who worked 80 hours a week to support a family who shared housing, all 11 to 12 of them in a small apartment.  Can you imagine sharing the restroom with 11 or 12 folks, rushing to get ready in the morning? Can you imagine how breakfast must have been with pan de sal and surplus cheese from the USDA? He believed he is here now but only because his family got the community support who gave them rations and “take home food” while they were growing up.

Alex walked us through their hardships and the crowd listening to him was moved to tears. I too was in tears. I remember the days when seven of our family members shared a two-bedroom apartment and only one bathroom.

Yet, here is Alex sharing his story, unfazed, appreciating the value of his childhood, even his journey and how he started as a janitor and worked his way to being an assistant to the managing director of the Saban Family Foundation and overseeing their foundation projects with $400 million budget, which included Children’s Hospital Los Angeles that utilized unionized labor.

It was an impressive rise, from being so poor to now in an enviable position of humbly offering himself to be of service to the community.

He remembers those days of pan de sal and queso as his breakfast and first getting an internship position in the entertainment industry, just as clearly as he does now, hobnobbing with the leaders and members of our community. He told us he could simply stay put but as a foster parent who has been caring for an infant since three days old, he feels compelled that the Filipinos and Filipino-Americans have not had any Southern Californian representative elected to the California State Assembly.

When Rob Bonta became the first Filipino American elected in the state Assembly, he was quick to say, “Yes , I am the first, but I will not be the last.” After all, when Rob Bonta assumed office, he was the first Fil-Am in the 165 years of history of the Assembly.

He held out hope for all of us to work hard to elect our very first Fil-Am assemblymember from Los Angeles.

Here in Los Angeles, founded as a city by 44 pobladores, it is now known that a Filipino was one of the founders of this city, as Los Angeles Almanac described as “A twelfth settler, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, a 50-year-old Filipino, and his 11-year-old daughter were also slated to settle in the new pueblo. They set out with the rest of the pobladores in early 1781 on the journey to their new home. While in Baja California, however, they were among those who fell ill to smallpox and remained there for an extended time to recuperate. When they finally arrived in Alta California (the present-day State of California), it was discovered that Miranda Rodriguez was a skilled gunsmith. He was subsequently reassigned to the Santa Barbara Presidio in 1782 to be an armorer.”

In 236 years of the city of Los Angeles’ existence, we now have to dare greatly, dare to dream that we can elect this meritorious Filipino-American representative to the state Assembly, the seat of power and the source of legislative bills that become state laws that we must live with in as residents of California.

Should we not grab this opportunity for the 51st Assembly District that will hold its special election this October 3?

Should we care that the person we elect is a Filipino American in a district that is populated by 10,000 registered Fil-Am voters?

Imagine that in 236 years of history of Los Angeles City, this is now our rare chance and opportunity to be represented by one of our own, community homegrown and community-supported, Alex De Ocampo?

Should we care that an Angeleno represent us in the state Assembly? Yes, as resources are allocated according to advocacies done by the representation that we have.

Can we honestly believe that we must continue to be underrepresented historically and geographically as Filipino and Filipino Americans when now, we have a meritorious candidate in Alex De Ocampo? Should we not stop that disparity as citizen voters?

Just as former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa dared to become the first Latino Mayor of Los Angeles, Alex De Ocampo is humbly asking for those of you who can, who live in the 51st Assembly District, which includes Eagle Rock, Silver Lake, Highland Park and Historic Filipinotown, to vote for him to represent the area.

We must dare greatly to come out and vote on October 3, and even before then by using the absentee ballots.

I do not live in the district, so I cannot cast a vote for him, but I sincerely hope that my column can influence some of you to vote early and come out on Oct. 3 to vote.

After all — it is an I-you relationship and he certainly knows us!

Should we not extend ourselves to reach out to friends in this October 3rd election and make sure all the 10,000 registered Filipino voters come out and vote?

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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