Daly City turned 82 years old before residents elected a Filipino American to the City Council back in 1993. And then nearly another quarter of a century would pass before a woman from that same population would get voted into the governing body, making Juslyn Manalo's election a major milestone.
A newcomer running in her first political race in 2016, San Francisco-born Manalo succeeded where several fellow Filipinos 0f both genders had failed. She had just sworn in as Council Member when minutes later she got her peers' nod for Vice Mayor, becoming the first Fil-Am woman to take the title in the Northern California town with the highest concentration of Filipinos per capita.
Her ascension to the top seat last December was expected, and yet the jubilation that met it astounded even those who have witnessed watershed events at City Hall.
"I had never seen so many people attend an event at the council chambers," exclaimed Daly City Personnel Commissioner Perla Ibarrientos, one of the few to get a reserved seat at center row at council meetings. "The whole place was crowded all the way to the exit doors."
The moment merited a community celebration. Though the new mayor is not the first female Fil-Am head of the city in the nine counties comprising the San Francisco Bay Area, her victory is decidedly the hardest fought.
Daly City is the biggest city in San Mateo County. With nearly 110,000 residents, its political aspirants need to nab five-digit totals for victory. Final tally from 33 precincts in November 2016 showed Manalo garnering 13,651 or 29.2 percent. She was just 604 votes behind topnotcher Glenn Sylvester, also a Filipino American, with whom she had campaigned. He would become Mayor the same evening he was installed into the City Council.
Her rapid rise impressed her "sister" predecessors.
"It’s been a long time coming. Great to see Filipina women’s empowerment in action,” shared New York-born Colma Vice Mayor Joanne del Rosario, first Fil-Am woman in the nine counties to become Mayor. (Philippine-born Ruth Uy Asmundson is the first known Filipina American to become Mayor in Northern California. In 2002, she was elected to the City Council of Davis in Yolo County, just beyond the Bay Area.)
Across San Francisco Bay, Union City Vice Mayor Pat Gacoscos saw Manalo's feat as a "sign that Daly City (Filipino) voters are more unified in electing very well-qualified candidates to public office."
"Juslyn Manalo's ascension to the highest position is an indication of a positive change - political maturity - which is happening not only in Daly City, but all over the Bay Area," said Gacoscos, whose experience spans three elected posts.
"In Alameda County's 14 cities, seven mayors are women,” she added. “In Union City, women are in the majority. Political maturity means voters are look more at the qualifications, background and community involvement rather than the gender and the race or ethnicity of the candidate."
First elected Director for the Union Sanitary District and then Trustee for the New Haven Unified School District, Gacoscos lauded Manalo's "great record of public service and community advocacy."
"Mayor Manalo will inspire more Filipino women, especially younger Filipinas to seek public office or to serve in city commissions. She will be able to appoint the same as mayor," Gacoscos said before airing a note of caution. "Being the first Asian woman mayor, she may be scrutinized more closely than her male counterparts (who were elected much earlier)."
Gacoscos herself will have to campaign for Mayor if she were interested in the post because her town elects its head "separately and directly" while rotating the post of Vice Mayor. For now she is happy to defer to the current mayor, a woman, whom she describes as "popular and doing an excellent job."
In view of Daly City's density, Gacoscos sends best wishes to her newest colleague.
"I've become familiar with the many challenges in running these local agencies," Gacoscos recalled. "The main thing to remember is you cannot please everyone. You can make popular or unpopular decisions, but just do your best by studying the issue carefully; defend it and stand by it. In some cases, you can be flexible, but you have to be convinced that it is the right decision for the city."
Hercules Council Member Myrna de Vera, two-time Mayor of the Contra Costa County town, was reminded of the work ahead for a representative of a population that has struggled with media stereotyping.
"We are all called upon for our purpose in life --- whether we’re leaders or behind the scenes, in professions of medicine or law, business, in the arts, nonprofits, or in politics. We need to forge on, be the best we can be in our fields or endeavors, and change the perception of the world so that one day, not only will people appreciate us for our beauty. One day, when we google Filipina, we will be recognized as strong leaders, empowered women, role models and inspiration, intelligent and creative go-getters," De Vera declared.
Lifelong social activist Cynthia Bonta welcomed Manalo's arrival in "times like this when the world is in strife in so many fronts."
As she takes on the role traditionally dominated by males, Manalo "should not think she has to be like a man to be successful; that will actually be her downfall," said Bonta, the founder of Philippine National Day Foundation in Sacramento. "A woman leader has something only she knows how to give because she is a woman. Women who find themselves in leadership should ask themselves what that is."
Manalo's Vice Mayor Ray Buenaventura, the second Fil-Am elected in Daly City, offered praise: "I have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead our city. She is intelligent, determined, fearless and compassionate. She is pragmatic and will lead with conviction."
Born two years earlier than the first Millennials, Manalo, 38, brings more than a female perspective to her position.
At 18, she learned about the plight of Filipino World War II veterans and signed up with advocates, like her role model San Francisco-based lawyer Lourdes Tancinco, who has been helping the unsung heroes access services while clamoring for the benefits they were promised and denied as members of the United States Army Forces in the Far East.
"The injustice to our lolos and lolas struck a chord in me," Manalo recalled her initiation in community involvement to Positively Filipino.
While working at the Veterans Equity Center in San Francisco, she met New York transplant Eluid Palamo. They were married last spring at the Cliff House on the Great Highway.
The San Francisco State University alum has spent her adulthood serving away from the limelight. After earning her BA in Asian American Studies minoring in Women's Studies, she went on to gain her master’s in Public Administration at SFSU School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement.
By day she is Community Engagement associate for Forest City Realty Trust, Inc., which owns, develops and manages commercial and residential real estates throughout the country. Its mission is to "create sustainable value by envisioning, owning and operating places where people, businesses and communities thrive." No, she is not a real estate agent. She explained that her responsibility is to "build partnerships to create community development opportunities such as affordable housing, jobs, open space, and youth development."
She is familiar with the needs of the underserved, having managed the Bill Sorro Housing Program named for the late beloved Fil-Am community activist. Sorro and Fil-Am comrades opposed the International Hotel eviction, founded the Manilatown Heritage Foundation that paved the way for the Manilatown Center, the reincarnation of the I-Hotel.
Manalo’s resume shines with stints on the Sam Trans (San Mateo Transit) Citizens Advisory Board and Senior & Disability Action, giving voice to special needs sectors. She sits on the board of the Bay Area Water Supply Conservation Agency and Affordable Housing Committee for Daly City.
Now that she bangs the mayoral gavel, Manalo aims to use her wherewithal to steer the town where she has lived for 30 years toward her dream projects, much like her mentor Sonia Delen, a bank vice president deeply entrenched in philanthropy.
Affordable housing tops her agenda.
"If we can find ways to partner with the county and find resources from the state to create and stabilize families," she said.
She wants to stimulate small business, which she calls "the backbone of our community," local establishments and "responsible economic developments." The U.S. Census posted 7,290 firms in 2012, 5,444 of which are minority-owned. The median annual income at $79, 346 between 2012-2016.
Of 27 main incorporated and non-incorporated cities in the County, Manalo hopes to highlight not only the "beauty of the community...infused with diversity and multiculture" of her hometown, but also that it is safe and welcomes all. It’s where her parents, Carlito and Josefina Manalo, chose to plant their roots when Juslyn was 8 and her sister Carely-Anne 5, three decades ago.
As Vice Mayor last year, Manalo authored a resolution declaring support for all immigrants. The act was courageous in the face of ferocious anti-immigrant rhetoric from the new administration, particularly the 45th president. Manalo and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, also a Filipino American, were the first to confront the new policies emanating from the executive branch.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor toRappler and GMA News Online.
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