By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
December 10th, 2020 was a momentous day for the people in San Diego. Todd Gloria became the first Asian, Filipino American, person of color and openly gay person to be inaugurated as the 37th mayor of the city.
As a person who shares many ‘firsts’, Gloria describes himself as a ‘lifelong public servant’. As a proud third-generation San Diegan, Gloria was proud to talk about his life growing up and his connection to his Filipino American roots.
“I have spent my entire career working for the people of San Diego at city, state and federal levels. I am proud to say that my father was a gardener and my mother was a maid and that has helped me understand advocacy at the most grassroots level,” he told AsAmNews at a recent interview.
“Coming from a working-class background I can understand the challenges different communities in San Diego face, and I hope the person I am today can deliver for the city in my capacity as mayor.”
Gloria’s cultural background is quite mixed. He has Filipino, Puerto Rican, Native American and Dutch roots running through him. He loves each and everyone one of his mixes.
“I recognize that I am fully mixed, but I will say it – that I am a very proud member of the Filipino American community. My grandfather who left the Philippines and came to San Diego during the 1940s faced mistreatment and racism, which is very authentic to what many of our folks experienced,” Gloria discussed.
“I feel connected to him and to my culture because of his experiences and persistence to create a life for our family. Identity is complex and how we relate and succeed is determined by those who influence our identities, and that for me is my grandfather.”
The journey for Gloria to get into politics is an interesting one. One thing he is passionate about is leadership and how being a leader means understanding the community you represent. He also mentioned the stereotype that AAPI men are not equipped to be leaders as they are seldom seen in important and influential positions. Gloria said as a young man before politics, he felt being an Asian man was a barrier for him.
“Being an AAPI man in a position of power is something I never thought I would see myself in. I use to see it as a barrier because of the decades-old stereotype that AAPI men cannot be strong leaders and we are seldom visible at leadership levels. But now we can dispel it and use our identity as something that can be empower”.
Lauren Balcita Garces, who is the Special Events Director with the Convoy District, mentioned that Gloria is someone who will get involved with all the different segments of the local AAPI communities and is representative of San Diego demographics. Garces, was also one of the lead advocates for the ‘Convoy Asian Cultural District’ signage change, where she and others worked with Gloria when he was in the State Assembly in 2020 and then launched the sign as mayor in 2022.
“Mayor Todd Gloria has a dedicated track record to supporting communities across so many integral spaces and we appreciate the representation he provides for our multi-cultural communities,” she said.
Jane Bausa, has known Gloria even before he got into local politics in 2008. As a Filipino American community leader and a California school employee retiree, Bausa stated that she has seen Gloria grow in his political journey, but the most important thing is he has always remembered his roots and she is proud as a local Filipino American to see him in the top job on San Diego City Council.
“He has never changed. Before he got onto the council, he was very accessible and he would listen to your/our community’s concerns. Now as Mayor, he is the same and that is what sets him apart. As a long-time AAPI and Filipino American community leader, I feel so proud seeing him as the leader because it was hard work for him to get here”.
The City of San Diego is extremely culturally diverse, with large concentration of AAPI communities, yet the track record of AAPIs on the council has been quite dismal. The first AAPI and person of color elected onto the City of San Diego Council was Tom Hom in 1963 and Gloria became just the second in 2008 – forty five years later.
In his first term as council member which lasted around eight years, he served two of those years as the President of the City Council and was acting mayor for around seven months in 2013. In 2016 he was elected into the California State Assembly, representing the 78th District and served till 2020, when he returned to local politics and successfully ran for Mayor.
“There is definitely a bias against local government that it is lesser than state and federal levels of government. Most people see me as going up and down a mountain in politics, but I disagree that returning to local government was a step down. It is up for me because I am a local guy and I am passionate about local issues”, Gloria proudly expressed.
For his closing thoughts, Gloria mentioned that he became mayor during the worst of the pandemic and at a time that was difficult for AAPI communities with anti-Asian hate. His message to the AAPI communities in San Diego is that he understands the fear held within the communities, as he held the same fears for himself, and one of his major goals in his time as mayor is to create more opportunities where AAPIs can participate in politics and be more involved in the City’s decision-making process. He wants to empower and advance instead of retracting back.
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