CALIFORNIA – US Census data show that there are about 1.3 million Filipinos living in the Golden state. But even after living in California for 400 years, Filipinos have never held any position in the state Senate or Assembly.
That could change this year.
Three Philippine-born Filipinos are vying for the California's highest positions.
Rob Bonta and Dr. Jennifer Ong of Alameda, and Chris Mateo of Lathrop are all running to become California's State Representatives.
Forty-one-year-old Bonta sits as the Vice Mayor of Alameda and the Deputy City Attorney for San Francisco.
He was born in Quezon City and moved to the US with his family when he was less than a year old.
Bonta's parents both worked with the United Farm Workers and were active in the civil rights movement.
Bonta describes himself as an advocate for public schools, public safety, job creation and equal rights for gays and lesbians.
“In California, we have 120 legislators, representing different districts with different interests. We need to work together to make things work for the state,” he said.
Forty-two-year-old Ong was also born in Quezon City and moved to California with her family at age 11.
Her mother sold hotdogs at the coliseum and her father worked at the grocery store.
Ong said her personal story shapes her policy interests. She wants every family in California to have good union jobs that provide health insurance. She wants to fight for public education.
An optometrist by trade, Ong campaigns against childhood obesity and Hepatitis B.
“To have the skills in state legislation --- why not run? It's the least I can do. I feel very obligated to California for all the opportunities for me and my family,” she said.
Meanwhile, 60-year-old Chris Mateo was born and raised in Baguio City to middle-class working parents.
He joined the US Navy in the 70s and was stationed in California.
For years, he worked for the San Joaquin County Public Works and currently serves as the Vice Mayor of Lathrop.
He said he wants to represent the poor, veterans, minorities, women and children by providing them access to education and career opportunities.
“I would like to instill in the next generation that Filipino Americans need representation and participation in government in order for our ethnicity to thrive,” he said.
For Bonta, Ong and Mateo, stepping up is not confined to running for public office. They all seek to make a difference in a state that has given so much for Filipinos.