Fil-Am Councilmen in New Jersey. From left, Atty. Arvin Amatorio (Bergenfield), Jonathan Wong (Mahwah), Peter Mendonez (West Windsor) and Rolando Lavarro (Jersey City).
JERSEY CITY — Filipinos came together to talk about the importance of being politically involved — not just by running for office but by volunteering in campaigns.
The Jersey City mayoral and City Council elections are still more than seven months away.
But Fil-Ams at this political forum are already talking about the need for more representation locally.
There are 17,200 Filipinos in Jersey City, or 7 percent of its population.
But the highest elected Filipino-American official in the city is Council President Rolando Lavarro, who is up for re-election in November.
Statewide, there are four other elected Fil-Ams, mostly in City Councils.
Peter Mendonez is a council president of West Winsor.
Council member Jonathan Wong is of Mahwah.
With about 4,700 Filipinos — or 17% of its population — Bergenfield, N.J. has two elected Filipino officials: Council President Arvin Amatorio and newly-elected Councilmember Buddy Deauna.
“I never dreamed or aspired to be a politician, never,” said Deuana.
“I just want to participate in political process, and I was then 60 years old when I got involved...putting lawn signs, knocking doors, [telling people] vote for this candidate. The party recognizes your efforts.”
From a campaign volunteer more than a decade ago, Deauna rose to become a campaign manager for Amatorio’s City Council run in 2014.
The 72-year-old businessman won a seat at the Bergenfield City Council in the 2016 November elections.
“Very few Filipino-Americans are being given a chance and opportunity to serve this great, great country, the United States, and being an elected official is already a great honor,” said Deauna.
But that has to change — according to community leaders at a post election forum.
Councilman Buddy Deauna (Bergenfield).
Political operatives like Cheryl Quinio-Blogett say her job is to help candidates win elections, especially Fil-Ams.
“An effective and winning campaign is having the right message to be able to get it across to the community,”said Quinio-Blogett.
“Something that is going to transcend all cultures, whatever resonates with the community at the moment.”
Quinio-Blogett says that one doesn’t have to run for office to land a great job in the political space.
Behind the scenes political jobs include campaign managers, speechwriters, PR managers, policy analysts and fundraisers, among many others.
“If you have a drive to help your community out and to be able to make your community better — be involved in your community, be involved in a campaign, be involved in your school,” Quinio-Blogett said.
“I think that’s the way to activate a lot of Filipinos in the community.”
“We only see the candidate, we only see the person on camera and how they speak,” added political strategist Arvind Swamy.
“But you don’t see all the things that go behind to make the candidate good and all the issues he can’t know everything.”
Community leaders here in Jersey City agree that whether a kababayan is running for office, or working in the background as campaign operative — the most important thing is for Filipino-Americans to somehow get involved in their local communities, to make voices heard, and make a difference in the local political arena.