Cynthia Alcantara Barker, who was born and raised in San Pablo, Laguna, made history in June when she became the first ever Filipina to be elected as town mayor in England. She will be leading the town of Hertsmere, Hertfordshire.
This isn’t the first record-breaking feat for the daughter of an overseas Filipina worker (OFW). In 2015, under the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party, she was elected the town councilor for Borehamwood Brookmeadow ward and borough councilor for Potters Bar Furzefield ward—also the first Filipina to have achieved this honor. We seem to keep making a mark on that side of the world. In 2019, Filipino nurse Danny Favor became the first Filipino mayor in England. He was the first Philippine-born migrant to be elected into public office in England.
According to the Filipino Guide, Mayor Barker has been living in Hertsmere for almost 29 years, and with her new position, she hopes to prioritize raising money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The daughter of teachers
On June 28, 2015, the Philippine Panorama, published an “as told to” piece written by Amyline Quien Ching using Barker’s point of view. “The least we can do, as their [OFWs] children, is to make sure that we do lead better lives,” the Mayor says.
As written in the piece, Barker was nine years old when her teacher-mother, Nelia Bartolome Alcantara, left behind her four siblings and her father Romeo Alcantara to work as an in-house Nanny in the UK. Working several jobs at a time to make extra money, Nelia later became a full-time caregiver. “All five of us, her children, cried all the way home. We did not see her again until four years later,” Barker said in the article. Every end of the month, she and her siblings would wait for the mailman to arrive with a letter from their mother, which they would read the letter repeatedly. These letters, she said, honed her discipline. When she would write back, she would include updates about their school and their budget.
Up to this day, letters still make her feel happy, and she still constantly sends snail mail to friends and family.
She added that her father, also a teacher, had to take care of the household. They would all eat together in one table at around five in the afternoon, and by six in the evening, they would all have to study. No one was exempted from this disciplined routine. In several stories about her, Barker emphasized how much the sacrifice of her parents pushed her and her siblings to do well in school. And their efforts have clearly paid off.
The third of five children, Mayor Barker graduated with a degree in industrial engineering from Adamson University in Manila. According to an article by The FilAm, her eldest brother is now a retired civil engineer in California, the second sibling is an immigration adviser and journalist in London, and her younger siblings are a senior healthcare worker in London, and a senior nurse in California.
After college, she worked as a supervisor in a garments factory until 1983 when she moved to London to stay with her mother. She worked for the British Council, giving a helping hand to scholars, then worked as manager in different companies, and as an immigration law practitioner.
Knowing that education gave her an advantage in life, Barker continued her studies at the University of Hertfordshire. Most recently, she attended a leadership development course at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University.
When she had saved enough money, she put up her own business that involved recruitment, healthcare training, and immigration law, to name a few.
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As one who knows she has been lucky enough to live a comfortable life, thanks to her parents, Mayor Barker began to immerse herself in charities and volunteer work for her community later in life. It was through these selfless acts that the Conservative Party noticed and recruited her. The rest, as they say, is history.
When she’s not busy with civic life, the Mayor spends a lot of her time with her daughter from a previous marriage, and her grandchildren. The latter, she has said in several interviews, make her feel young.
Barker’s father died in 1986, and her mother in 1997, but the values they have taught her have remained intact. “I still pinch myself sometimes, unable to believe how far I have come,” she told Philippine Panorama in 2015.
It’s five years later, and this tough Filipina’s recent accomplishment promises that she has yet to go farther.