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Photo courtesy of Office of Mayor-Elect Todd Gloria
Open Discussion

What Todd Gloria’s Election Means to Me as a Filipino Youth

This is an independent opinion. Have one of your own? Write it! Email it to [email protected]

In a historic year for American politics, Todd Gloria’s election as San Diego mayor this November has brought a message of hope and excitement in a year of turmoil and uncertainty.

For some, it means that issues like homelessness and affordable housing could be confronted, or that new solutions could be brought to address our reeling economy and public health crisis. For the 268,000 voters who voted for his opponent, it may mean disappointment, or perhaps a willingness to embrace the city’s new chief executive come December.

But to some, including myself, the victory sends a larger underlying message—that representation matters.

Having watched Gloria’s campaign since its launch in 2019, I was always struck by how he embraced his identity. A proud son of a maid and a gardener, he introduced himself as an LGBTQ third-generation San Diegan of Filipino, Dutch, Puerto Rican and Native American descent. He told his story in a campaign ad, saying “When I was growing up, I didn’t really see people like me in political office, or reflected in government.” That line has stuck with me ever since.

It reminded me of my childhood years before moving to San Diego, where people who looked like me worked jobs as factory workers, maids, or caretakers, and not leaders of government and businesses. Because of that, I never thought about engaging in civic affairs, let alone politics. But by the time I started school at San Diego State University, I was inspired to give back and learn more about the community I would now call home. I grappled with my own identity and career path, trying to find out how a brown-skinned, foreign-born teen could try to do some good. Like other minority youth looking to get involved, I wasn’t sure where to begin.

I soon got my answer during my sophomore year working as an events staffer at an Aztecs football game. As I was placing soda cans in iced containers, I saw a middle-aged Caucasian man, sporting a red Aztecs polo and hat, grab a Sprite a couple feet away. “Thanks kid,” he said, trying to strike up a conversation amid the noise and cheers. “Where are you from, son?” he asked. “Originally from the Philippines, but I’m hoping to get into community work,” I replied. “You should look into Chris Cate. He’s a Councilman in my district and I voted for him. He’s Filipino too,” he said.

“Oh, and Todd Gloria. He’s been around.”  

“Thanks. Will do,” I said.

Not having heard of them before, I went home and eagerly read their bios. I was ecstatic. Maybe this was my chance to get involved after all. I sent emails the next day, and within a few months, found myself starting my first internship at City Hall.

The experience introduced me to the joys and challenges of public service. I not only learned about the basic functions of local government, but also the history behind the Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern and African-American communities that made the city so culturally rich and dynamic. I saw the city’s diversity reflected in the Councilmembers and staff, and how they worked closely with residents to help solve everyday issues, whether that meant fixing a pothole, checking a faulty street light, or hearing their concerns about a new housing development project.

A year later, I got to work for several Filipino American community leaders as a writer and liaison. It was there where I got to see Gloria work with the community up close. Before his run for mayor, I saw him actively engage with constituents in cultural fairs and booths, asking if they had registered to vote, or if they had questions about the process. During his mayoral campaign, even after COVID-19 struck, I saw him take the time to attend several virtual town halls—talking to small business owners, educators, medical professionals, and high school students.

For Filipino American History Month in October, I was thrilled to see his campaign release videos highlighting community leaders I knew, and how San Diego was home to the second largest population of Filipino Americans in the country. While all these efforts may not have focused on policy, it left me beaming with pride that our voices were recognized.

And by Nov. 9, after his opponent’s concession, Gloria became San Diego’s first person-of-color and LGBTQ mayor.

“I will be a mayor for everyone,” Gloria said in an interview after election night. “I am mindful that there are little Filipino boys and girls who might see me in government as someone that looks like them, and maybe inspire them.”

While issues like homelessness, housing, and public health will need to be addressed by the incoming administration, my hope is that they will continue to foster close relationships with minority communities across the city. But beyond politics, Gloria’s election gives hope and opportunity for a new generation of civic leaders. They can now grow up seeing themselves represented in government and positions of leadership, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or country of origin.

And they won’t need to strike luck at a football game to know that they, too, can be a leader in their city.

What is this story missing? Let us know. >>What is this story missing? Let us know. >>

About the Author

Marjon Saulon

Marjon is a graduate student at the University of San Diego. He is also a practice fellow for the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. He lives in National City, CA.

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