A BRITISH-Filipina was elected councilor of the Hertfordshire borough Hertsmere and town Elstree and Borehamwood in the United Kingdom on May 8, marking the highest level of public office any Filipino has ever held in the European state.
Cynthia Barker, originally from San Pablo City, Laguna, ran under the Conservative Party and garnered 1,513 votes in the UK national elections.
“I am really humbled to have been selected by the residents,” she said, according to the Watford Observer. “I never imagined I would be standing here. I am looking forward to the challenges and working with residents.”
Barker first moved to the UK in the mid-1980s to join her family. Her mother arrived first in the 1970s.
“[My mother] will always be my hero. She made the same sacrifice that most OFWs make, sent all her money home while she worked long hours to ensure that the family was well-fed and educated. We now have four generations of family in the UK,” she said in an interview with the magazine The Filipino Expat.
Barker said she has become accustomed to the British lifestyle since relocating and has immersed herself in the country through studying and exploring the city.
“I was quite insular before and I only went out with fellow Filipinos. This gradually changed as I continued my studies here. [I] realized we are all the same, people wanting to protect our country by becoming involved with our local community,” she said.
Still, Barker said she remembers the Filipino values her parents instilled in her and that they helped her in adapting to British society.
The newly-elected councilor is an experienced immigrant advisor who previously served as president of the Rotary Club of Elstree and Borehamwood, as well as other charitable organizations including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In her local town of Elstree and Borehamwood, she is actively involved in the local church and residents’ association. She is also chair of the town’s museum and is a school governor at St. Nicholas School.
“I have always been curious about everything that happens in our local town,” she said.
Barker said she has always found politics important. She said she has always supported the Conservative Party because of how it ran policy in her local town. Barker became involved with the party’s campaigns even before she became a full member.
The British-Filipina hopes her recent win will inspire more Filipinos to become more active in British politics.
“It is important to be a part of the political machinery – the British are open and they embrace us. But we Filipinos need to make the first step and adapt,” she said.
Gene Alcantara, an immigration adviser in London, called Barker’s victory “a very encouraging wake-up call to the Filipino community in the UK,” as it is indicative of Filipino empowerment and representation in the British community. Alcantara said more political involvement is expected from Filipinos after Barker’s election.
“The vital point about it is that British-Filipinos are participating in the political process,” he said.
Alcantara added that he hopes more Filipinos will also be encouraged to vote not only in the UK, but in the 2016 Philippine national elections.
Prior to Barker’s win, the highest public office ever held by a Filipino in the United Kingdom was a town councilor.
(With reports from Inquirer, Rappler, PhilStar, The Filipino Expat, Watford Observer)
(LA Midweek May 13-15, 2015 Sec. A pg.7)