Myrna de Vera has served on the Hercules City Council since December 2010. What follows are her responses, via email, to questions submitted by Patch.
What is your background, Myrna?
I grew up in Cebu, Philippines, the fourth child of seven, attended college at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and graduated with a B.S. in Architecture. After two years working in architectural firms in Makati, I passed the board exams for architecture. As a prize for passing the board, I accompanied my father and two sisters to America in 1984. With $500 pocket money and a small bag, I played tourist with my best friend. During my vacation, I met Manny a few weeks before I was returning home. Fast forward, we got married and had three sons: Mark, Christian, and Emmanuel. When the twins were born, I decided to open my own insurance agency in Hercules. Now, I own an agency in San Francisco.
How involved in the Filipino community are you?
I have been quite involved with the Fil-Ams of Hercules as a treasurer, then after the elections, I stepped down to be a regular member so as not to have a conflict of interest. I am also active in Saint Patrick Catholic Church, Rodeo, where about 80 percent of the parishioners are Filipino-American. Aside from Fil-Ams of Hercules, I am also a member of the Filipino Americans of Contra Costa County and Filipina Women's Network.
Filipino-Americans are very proud of me; even when I was a mere planning commissioner, I was recognized as one of the 100 most influential Filipina women in the United States in the category of Policymakers and Visionaries. I am invited to speak and induct officers for several Filipino American organizations.
Why is Hercules a hub for the Filipino community?
The Filipinos in Hercules make up about 30 percent of the population. Many of the original families moved from Daly City and San Francisco during the 1970s when the City of Hercules had a housing boom. The homes built were spacious, brand new, and had huge yards. Filipino Americans of Hercules work hard —oftentimes with two income earners or spouses with two jobs each — in order to have a beautiful home, many cars, and many children and grandchildren. They invited their relatives and friends to move into the relatively new city of Hercules, where diversity was embraced by all residents.
What differentiates the Filipino community in Hercules? What defines them? What brings them together?
The Filipino community is also a group of devout Catholics, so the Sunday masses and church activities, such as dinner dances and fundraisers, bring them together. There was a time when every June 12, the Filipino Historical Society held a Filipino Independence/Jose Rizal (the Philippine National hero) Celebration at the park, and recently in the Library.
What is unique about the Filipino Americans in Hercules is that this is the only city in the United States where six mayors are of Filipino-American origin: Goni Solidum, Ed Manuel, Andy Paras, Ed Balico, Frank Batara, and me, the first Filipina mayor. This is because there has been a purposeful attempt to mentor future leaders by encouraging other Filipino Americans to volunteer in Commissions. We always look for budding public servants among the Fil-Am community so there will be at least one representative on the Council. Because of the history of Filipino Americans running for council in Hercules, many of the registered voters are Filipino Americans. They ask only one thing: that the council member they elect serve with honesty and integrity.
How civically engaged is the Filipino community in Hercules?
The majority of the Filipino Americans in Hercules are more civically engaged than other Filipino-populated cities. There are several organizations: the Fil-Ams of Hercules, the Association of Filipino Americans of Hercules (AFAH), and the Filipino Americans of Contra Costa (FACC). The community is silent, rarely coming to the podium to rail at the council, but they are very aware of what is going on in the city. The Filipino American of Hercules strives to put good leaders in office by helping out in campaigns and letting their numerous immediate and extended family members vote for the candidate they believe is a sincere public servant whose only interest is for the greater good of the Hercules community.
Do you know someone in the Filipino community in Hercules who has a story or perpective to share? Let us know in the comments or email Hercules@Patch.com.