I have been door knocking every weekend since August. I remember sitting in my car one day on West 39th in Elmwood, practicing my values pitch: the importance of addressing the lack of affordable housing, racial equity, and climate change. I was set to rattle off examples of my leadership through board service, current and past roles: Aeon, Catholic Charities, Minneapolis Downtown Council / Downtown Improvement District, Urban Land Institute MN, MinnPost, Building Owners and Managers Association Greater Minneapolis, and Commercial Real Estate Diversity Collaborative. I’ve been in leadership roles with organizations that range in scope and outreach – poverty, housing, economic development, racial equity, and media. I have also been responsible for approving annual budgets of various sizes – from $2,000 to $70 million. In St. Louis Park, I’ve been on the Vision 3.0 Steering Committee member and served on our Planning Commission as Vice Chair.
But recently I had a neighbor pointedly ask me, “Who are you?” and continued, “You’re going to be making a decision that impacts all of our households.” That was a very direct
question and probably not asked of anyone else on Council or those who have previously served. But it is a valid question and one that is important.
My board service, professional experience, and awards and recognition read like a resume or a LinkedIn profile. It answers what I do but doesn’t answer why I choose to spend significant time and energy in certain endeavors. Let me take this opportunity to share more about who I am.
I am the daughter of immigrants. My parents came here from the Philippines in pursuit of the American dream. My father’s green card application was approved, and he came to the US before my mother. Her application was approved a year later, and they were reunited in Minnesota, where my dad’s sister resided.
I would describe them as a typical immigrant story. They had college degrees and were proficient in three languages. They came here in their late 20s, open to new possibilities and dealing with challenges as they happened. It was new and unchartered territory, and they were learning the cultural norms of their new home, Minnesota.
Years later, it dawned on me how instrumental St. Louis Park was to my parents’ start in America. Shortly after arriving in the US, my father started working in two jobs which were both in St. Louis Park. He was working on the production line of Northland Aluminum Products, or Nordic Ware, and he later was part of quality control. The second job was at St. Louis Park City Hall as a janitor. From the time he worked there, he cleaned offices and jail cells, shoveled snow on the sidewalk, and raised and lowered the American flag every day.
When they discovered that they were pregnant with me, they decided to find a new apartment that was convenient to my father’s workplace and could accommodate a new baby. They started their apartment search in earnest and visited places that had “vacancy” signs in the window. One that was available to them was substandard; it wasn’t well taken care of, and they were skeptical of how well it was managed. A leasing agent in another building took one look at them and said, “we don’t have any vacancies.” When my parents pointed out the sign in the window indicating otherwise, the leasing agent said, “it’s probably too expensive for you. You couldn’t afford it.” The interesting thing about this story is that those buildings are still in operation and not far from where I live today. Had one of those options worked out, my first home would have been in St. Louis Park.
Those people made assumptions about my family. One showed them a unit where the toilet was disgusting and thought that was an acceptable place for them to live. One made assumptions about what they could afford, based on how they look. They underestimated my parents’ drive, work ethic, and ambition.
Over the years I watched them take steps to set the family up to not only survive, but to thrive. Both went
through additional education and training and moved into jobs in corporate America and at the State of Minnesota. While they always stressed that I should work hard, they really didn’t have to tell me – I just watched them.
But I also watched them express frustration. At times it was difficult for some to understand them because of their accent, and at the worst, the accent was unfairly tied to their intelligence. As I got older, I had to carry a burden that is shared with every child of immigrants: I had to explain, advocate, and negotiate on my parents’ behalf.
These family and life experiences inform how I conduct myself in certain situations. In business, I advocate for the best terms when I’m negotiating against a landlord or developer. In my nonprofit board experience, I think of the impact on the people we serve whenever hard questions come up regarding funding or closure of programs.
This is the same approach I took when I served on the Planning Commission, and it is the same approach I take when I make decisions as a council member. In any leadership role I hold, I know I’m advocating on behalf of someone – someone who may have previously been overlooked or not included in the process.
I take that responsibility seriously, and I am humbled by this opportunity I have to serve my family, friends, and neighbors in St. Louis Park.