Pinay Power in Washington DC
By Momar G. Visaya
WASHINGTON, DC – It was a veritable who’s who at the gala night of the Fifth Annual Filipina Summit as the Filipina Women’s Network honored 100 of the most influential women in the United States.
The awarding was one of the highlights of the three-day summit at the nation’s capital.
Among the awardees were business executives Loida Nicolas Lewis; Oahu state Rep. Rida Cabanilla; Washington State Legislature’s Velma Veloria; Davis, California Mayor Ruth Uy Asmundson; former President Bill Clinton’s personal physician, Dr. Connie Mariano and US Navy Capt. Paz Gomez.
The nationwide search was a key initiative of FWN’s Pinay Power 2012, a campaign to identify the Filipina women who are shaping the Filipino-American community’s influence in American society today.
The network identified these influential leaders based on their impact, innovation, involvement, mentorship, sustainability and professionalism.
“It was a daunting task to come up with the process of honoring all these wonderful women,” FWN president Marily Mondejar said.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa congratulated the awardees and thanked them for their contributions in uplifting the image of Filipinos in the country.
The Filipina Summit, attended by women leaders from different parts of the U.S., had different plenary sessions for its participants.
Some U.S. congressmen joined the gathering during the first day of sessions, which was held at the Rayburn Building near the Capitol.
Rep. Mike Honda expressed his congratulations to the event organizers and called on the participants to call their congressmen and be “very angry about the veterans issue.”
“I know that Filipinos are very passionate about liberty and freedom. If we break a promise, we have to correct it. This country promised something to the veterans. We should expect no less,” Honda said.
Rep. Jim McDermott shared tat in his district in Washington state, Filipinos are the largest minority. He focused on immigration issue and said that this is an issue that the government needs to deal with in “a very humane manner.”
On the veterans issue, McDermott said, “The veterans are old and most of them are dying. They are entitled to be respected.”
Rep. Laura Richardson, who represents the cities of Long Beach, Carson and Compton in California, promised the participants that they are working very hard on the veterans issue.
That morning’s keynote speaker was Gloria Caoili, one of Washington DC’s Filipino-American community leaders.
“This is such a momentous occasion to be with a distinguished group of women. The next three days will redefine us,” she said.
Caoili shared that there are 74 women in the House and 16 in the Senate.
“Access equals influence equals power. Register, get active and vote,” she told the participants, “If our community votes, we count.”
Pinays in politics
Kris Valderrama, eldest daughter of former Maryland State Delegate David M. Valderrama, took over a post her father had for four terms. Her father was the first Filipino American to win as representative to the Maryland Legislature.
“I got into politics because of my father’s influence. I echo Gloria’s call for all of us to be involved. Let us all vote and make our voices count,” Valderrama said.
She also mentioned her support for Vellie Dietrich-Hall, a fellow Filipina running for a Board of Supervisors seat to represent Mason Dsictrict in Fairfax, Virginia. Valderrama is a Democrat while Dietrich-Hall is a Republican.
“We may not share the same beliefs but regardless of our party affiliations, I am supporting her. I want to see more of us taking the risk in running for public office because this will advance the cause of our political empowerment,” Valderrama said.
She also shared that running was “a humbling experience” and advised those who want to consider a career in politics to not be overly sensitive.
“People will say mean things just to spite you,” she said.
Ruth Uy Asmundson, Davis, California’s current mayor pro-tem and future mayor, joined Valderrama and other elected Filipinas at the panel dubbed “Run Filipina Run”.
“I never allowed anybody to discriminate me,” the Isabela-born politician said.
Asmundson said that her husband, a former mayor himself, mentored her. “I made my own decisions though, and the people in Davis know that I am my own person. I am very hard-working and I’m just as good as any other man, if not better,” she said.
Hawaii’s Rida Cabanilla, state representative for District 42 said, “We must know how to run if we want to change the face of power in America.”
A first-generation Fil-Am from Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Cabanilla said she faced some challenges along the way, among them the language.
“English was not my first language but that did not stop me. Don’t let that stop you,” Cabanilla, a nurse by profession, said. (AJ)