LONDON - National Health Service (NHS) veteran physiotherapist Myla Arceno never thought that her passion for dancing and promoting Philippine folk dances would usher in a life in UK politics.
Arceno, 48, is elected councilor for Martins Wood ward in Stevenage, England. She is the first Filipino to stand for local elections in England under the Labour and Co-operative Party and successfully win a seat in a local council.
The mother-of-two who is a native of Pulupandan, Negros Occidental said she was attracted to join the party for its promise of equality and fair share or wealth, among others.
“The Party welcomes everyone, especially those from ethnic minority. It aims to deliver an equal and fairer society,’” said Arceno when asked if it was hard to get into the party.
The UK political system is a two-party system, with the Conservative and Labour dominating the political landscape.
She said, “It’s actually the Labour party that initiated and made way for most Filipinos to come here and to work for the National Health Service.”
After almost two decades of dancing, promoting Philippine culture and community work, she said she acceded to the invitation by local party leaders to stand in the May 6 election.
“It actually started from our dance group. Can you imagine that? I love the Filipino dances so I organized the community and young kids. We always performed. Not only in Stevenage but also in other towns and cities because we wanted to promote the beautiful Filipino culture. It became bigger and we organized the Barrio Fiesta in Hertsfordshire," narrated Arceno.
In the beginning, she felt she wasn’t ready because her children were young and she wanted to focus on her career. But when she was approached again two years ago, she gave it a hard thought.
“I said 'No' initially. But I have been thinking, what I have been doing now is what a councilor should do,” she said.
Her family’s journey in England began in January 2003, when her husband, Joseph, was offered an NHS job as physiotherapist. Six months later, she followed with her son, on a dependent’s visa.
Once in Stevenage, England, she also tried her luck in the local hospital.
“I just went to the Physiotherapy Department in our local hospital and I just applied.”
A graduate of Riverside College in Bacolod with a degree in Physical Therapy, she left her own clinic in Kalibo and teaching jobs in Roxas City to migrate with her family in England.
She said she was fortunate to have been given full support for her to progress in her career. She started from the bottom and rose to become the Cardiac Rehab Lead in the NHS Trust she works for.
The initial plan was to stay in the England for 3-5 years. But they never left Stevenage.
Like Raymond Padilla, who won a council seat in Gloucester City, England, Arceno also credits her being an NHS frontliner as instrumental in her win.
“I have to say it’s an advantage to have this face. It made it much better and (they were) welcoming to talk to me - this Filipino face,” Arceno said in jest.
While Filipino healthcare workers were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, taking shifts and long hours of work to help fight the ravaging pandemic during the first peak, a lot of local British people also became more aware of the contribution of the ethnic minority Pinoys in the NHS.
It became more evident when over 50 Filipino frontliners died during the first wave of the pandemic.
Arceno was also active in the local church and in the school of her children. So she felt all her contributions and network in the community helped her win.
Her main drive to be in public service is to give back to the community that welcomed and nurtured her family.
“I wanted to show that we are not here just to work, to earn and padala sa (send money to the) Philippines. We are also here to be involved and be part of the community. Also, our voice will be much better heard if we are there and they can see us. And, I want to give back to the community,” she said.
She also wants to set a good example for second generation Filipinos to participate in local elections and be leaders in the future.
“I want to be a role model for them, that if they want to do something, you can do it,” said Arceno.