Bas, 50, is among a multitude of women elected in last year's midterm races. From the United States Senate and House of Representatives to City Councils and School Boards, women have taken ownership of policymaking. Five new US Senators are women. The House has a record 102 women or 23 percent of the chamber, 35 of them topping their contests on their first try last November.
While the landmark arrivals on Capitol Hill do not include a Filipina American, women of Philippine descent did crash race and gender barriers in their quest for representation in local government.
Bas herself has ended the 166-year-old absence of Filipinos from the City Council of Oakland by bumping off an incumbent for District 2, a progressive stronghold east of San Francisco Bay.
"We care for our community, our city, like a mother cares for her child. When there’s a rainstorm or the air is filled with dangerous smoke, we make sure our children have safety and shelter," Bas characterized female leadership to the thousands celebrating sisterhood.
The wife and mother to a 14-year-old explained the rising tide in today’s women's movement.
"We, as women leaders, are healing our own trauma and calling for an end to violence," she roared, disclosing a shared experience and her motivation to share it.
"In the Fall of 2016, when Trump boasted about his sexual assault in the infamous locker room tapes, I came out as a sexual assault survivor when I blocked Trump Tower in New York City with other survivors. I had to talk with my daughter about consent and violence. These are conversations we are having with our children at younger ages, every day, because of the patriarchy and misogyny that we must break through."
Known for her commitment to social justice by volunteering at and then heading advocacy groups in the East Bay, Bas’ involvement in a milestone case that obtained restitution for underpaid seamstresses has impressed her progressive allies like Lillian Galedo, retired executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice. Galedo called Bas "inspiring” for her victorious initial political campaign.
Bas pays her triumph forward, urging women of every background to empower themselves.
"There are so many ways that we can all be leaders in our communities. From getting involved in our neighborhood, school or union; to serving on a local board or commission; to running and winning elected office, to campaigning to be a delegate to our political party," she listed the steps toward gaining clout.
First Race, First Win
The women's wave swept a number of Fil-Am women to seats of power throughout California, most in their first-ever race, ensconcing a new generation of Filipina American political pioneers. Whether born here, in the Philippines or elsewhere, armed with post-grad degrees or not, they paid their dues and built alliances before staking claim on a government seat.
South San Francisco resident Flor Nicolas strode a similar terrain as Bas by volunteering at her town's civic organizations like the Police Athletic League, the parishes of All Souls and now Mater Dolorosa Church, and as appointed member of the SSF Conference Center Authority Board and the Historic Preservation Commission and Housing Authority.
Though her family from Batangas was immersed in politics, public office was not in Nicolas' sights when she immigrated with her husband Nenar in 1988 from the Philippines. Last year, however, she said yes to South San Francisco Council Member Karyl Matsumoto, who had been consistently assuring Nicolas of her readiness to govern. As did 8,042 residents who voted Nicolas the first Filipino woman on the City Council of South San Francisco since the town’s incorporation 110 years ago. She unseated an incumbent, also an Asian American.
A chemical engineer by education, Nicolas, 59, learned from tragedy how a community comes together. She, her husband and their two children had just moved into their second home when a fire broke out and razed it, while they were out of state for the Christmas holidays. Their parish rushed to the family's support, waiving the children's tuition at the parochial school and providing food, supplies and cash.
Surviving cervical cancer further reinforced Nicolas' desire to give back.
The executive at a Menlo Park biotech firm told Positively Filipino she feels responsible to "mentor women in general to seek elected office or be the best they can be."
"I would like to assure women that nothing stands between us and our dreams or our goals but ourselves. Be positive and take the challenges as they come. You are not alone and there is always a way. There are always lessons learned," she said with a quote from Kelly Clarkson’s hit survivor's anthem.
Now that she has achieved what her mentor-role model, Alice Bulos, had broached but did not live to witness, Nicolas is coordinating an event honoring the woman recognized as the "Godmother of Filipino American Empowerment" in the spring.
"The late Alice Bulos would have been ecstatic if she was here today," Nicolas said in her Dec. 11 oath-taking remarks. "When I look back and recall what my family had gone through in the last 30+ years ...all I feel is gratitude. We were able to overcome the challenges because of the community’s support. Along the way, I met extraordinary people who inspired me to always give back and be a part of this tightly-knit city."
Gratitude does fuel victorious campaigns.
When architect Myrna de Vera in 2010 became the first elected Fil-Am woman in Hercules, California (then voted Mayor by the council in 2013), she intimated to Joanne del Rosario that the latter had inspired her. Del Rosario, current Mayor of Colma, was the first Filipina to hold the title of Mayor in all 9 counties in the San Francisco Bay Area when she first took the gavel in 2009 upon selection by her Council peers. (Beyond Bay Area borders, chemist Ruth Uy Asmundson, originally from Isabela, Philippines, became the first FilAm woman Mayor in Northern California when she led the City Council of Davis in 2004-2006 and then again in 2008-2010.)
First elected in 2001, current Duarte (LA County) Mayor Tzeitel Paras Caracci took the gavel in 2006, 2011 and 2015.
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.
But a Fil-Am 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, the first Fil-Am 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.
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, California, 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 Fil-Am 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 Fil-Ams 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 Fil-Am 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 appellate specialist Audra Ibarra, 49, first Fil-Am woman judge on the Santa Clara County Superior Court.
The new political pioneers come from diverse disciplines.
Emeryville City Council’s first Fil-Am 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 Fil-Am women officials includes those born after 1982.
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 Fil-Am 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.
Their elders and predecessors lauded their ascension.
Private citizen and very much a mentor to many including her son Rob Bonta, the first Fil-Am 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 Fil-Am women brought Verder Aliga to her beginnings.
“I remember being one of less than 10 back in the '90s. There were only 2-3 Fil-Am (elected) women then,” she told Positively Filipino. "It's great to see (many) young Fil-Ams in office."
She counted herself, Asmundson and former Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gloria Megino Ochoa, the first and only known Fil-Am 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 only known elected Filipina in Contra Costa with the retirement of Myrna de Vera, who pierced the glass ceiling on the Hercules City Council.
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 to Rappler and GMA News Online.
More articles from Cherie Querol Moreno