Americas Columns

UPSIDE (Cherie Querol Moreno): Gen Zer is Daly City’s youngest commissioner

DALY CITY, California- Generation Z – the latest global population to enter the workforce – has arrived in the public service ecosystem of this city.

Student and already a seasoned community advocate Fernando Montanes swore in March 13 as a Daly City Recreation Commissioner.  He will join four residents appointed by the City Council to advise them and the Recreation Services Department on safe and appropriate activities that bring enjoyment to residents of all ages.

Familiarly called “Rec,” the department “works closely with youth and students, providing them services and programs that promote community welfare, extracurricular activities, sports, and other fun and active things,” says the Westmoor High School alum. “So as someone who works with youth and students, I considered the recreation commission the perfect entryway to public service.”


Then-Mayor Ray Buenaventura announced the appointment in his last City Council meeting in January.  Council members unanimously approved.

Montanes envisions himself pressing for funding to preserve and expand cultural celebrations that bring together the city’s various populations, while also addressing mental health and loneliness among issues besetting the many generations that call Daly City home.

At 23, he will be the youngest of all city commissioners, being among an estimated 60 million in this country born after 1995 and before 2015, depending on the defining institute.

Sharing the reins of the city leadership was a matter of time for the demographic cohort born in the first half of the twentyteens.

GENERATION WHAT?

Dubbed Gen Z for short, the successors of Millennials are independent, competitive and open-minded, according to LinkedIn, which also describes them as “risk-averse,” having grown up during the Great Recession of 2008 that “fundamentally impacted their world view.” 

Those characteristics fit Montanes, though more significant personal factors molded his character.

He was 6 years old when his widow mother Lilibeth Fortuna Montanes brought him and his older sister Carla to this country to join their grandmother Adela Pontiga Fortuna in Daly City.  Their elders had uprooted from their hometown Nagcarlan, Laguna, in the late 1960s “during the Marcos regime,” he notes, for a brighter future.

In the absence of his father Carlos Montanes, a car salesman who had died before he was born, Fernando’s mother, sister and grandmother showered him with support and encouragement.

“I was raised by strong women and I credit that for how I am as a man today,” Montanes told Inquirer.netUSA.

They imprinted principles he holds dear, particularly “caring for our elders.”


“My family and community recognize the wisdom and wealth of knowledge that elders have to offer,” he explained.  He defined his valued community as the “church, school, or simply our distant relatives who live next door (because) collective life is a foundation of how my family and I continue to live in Daly City.”


Montanes considers himself as a “Filipino who lives in America” rather than “Filipino American” despite having been in the United States over two decades.


“I never really adapted to the full American identity as someone raised in a Filipino household,” Fernando qualified.

The pandemic upended the world as we know it and yet the past four years were transformative for Montanes.

He was 18 he got his first job as sales associate at World Market in Serramonte Center in one of two life pauses he took that led to an epiphany. – Adapted from original reprinted with permission from INQUIRER.NETUSA

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(Conclusion)

Daly City’s youngest commissioner Fernando Montanes has learned that putting his life on pause as needed can lead to positive outcomes.  The Personnel Commissioner, 23, has done it twice, and says it works wonders.

The first was a year after his high school graduation, when his grandmother passed away.  For the first time, Fernando “went home” to his native land with his mother for the interment.  

“Emotions were high,” he recalled, as they pondered their loss, prodded him to put college on hold, weigh his priorities, and search his soul.  Instead of attending class, he learned how to organize his peers and began volunteering.

“Taking a break from school was a hard but necessary decision” to “get a job, save money, and explore the role of being a youth organizer and build community with people I had a chance to build relations with when I was in high school.”  Looking back he calls the step “the best decision” he ever made.

Employment, in turn, helped hone his interpersonal skills, taught him to handle “difficult customers” and built his stamina for enduring hectic holiday pressure.

In 2020, he worked as a student assistant with the Skyline College Promise Scholar program.  Two years later he became an ambassador for the Kapwa Kultural Youth Advisory and last year he joined the board of directors of the Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center.

He remains at his retail job part-time and is now “team lead” while on his second sem break to take stock, focus on himself for a change, and eventually prepare for his pursuit of a political science degree at San Francisco State University.

VALUABLE MENTORSHIP

Montanes was 15, a sophomore and a self-described “wallflower” when, less out of passion than curiosity, he joined the Filipino Barkada club on the advice of his teacher and “very first mentor” Joal Truong-Vargas, a FilAm.

Never involved in extra-curricular activities prior, he had expected to keep to the shadows and “be ignored” at the first meeting.  He was surprised to be welcomed – “included” is his term of choice – and “automatically made friends” with members who saw him as a potential leader of the club, that he did not see coming.  Ultimately he became vice president and then president.

Montanes blossomed with Barkada as he learned how to “build a village” with the guidance of Truong-Vargas.  Along the way he crossed paths with individuals whose own journeys inspired his transformation. 

Vice Mayor and Skyline Ethnic Studies Professor Rod Daus-Magbual’s grasp of Philippine history and humility as a teacher and public official amazes him.

 He admires Mayor Juslyn Manalo, whom he counts as his personal advocate, for unifying and “mobilizing the city” in the face of Asian hate, and her “personal affection for her the neighborhood that raised her,” mirroring his own.

The two officials’ political success has awakened their juniors like himself, he said, to follow in their public service footsteps.

He is grateful to PBRC co-founder “Tita” Perla Ibarrientos for inviting him to be the nonprofit‘s youngest ever board member.  

All four mentors “understand that they need to pay it (their success) forward, to nurture the next generation, and to raise the village that raised them,” he said.  

He also recognizes the Filipino Mental Health Initiative, a component of San Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services, and Kapwa Kultural Center founders Stephanie Balon, Christi Morales Kumasawa and youth advisory coordinator Alaina Moguel as “mentors and advocates for my mental health.”

MAKING HIS MARK

Had George Bernard Shaw met Montanes perhaps the great Irish author would not have been inclined to state his infamous view that “youth is wasted on the young.”


“If we are to promote volunteerism and community service to the youth, we have to give them ownership of the community and make them feel that they belong,” the future educator/politico expressed what might be his retort.  “To help the next generation recognize themselves as heirs to leadership and community service, they need to be seen as the leaders that they are now.”


Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai come to mind.

About a year ago, Montanes took point in calling concerned citizens to gather at a vigil for Daly City resident Frances Kendra Lucero, who was shot dead allegedly by her ex-partner in front of their two children.  The community responded vigorously to his impassioned appeal, packing the City Hall of Daly City and PBRC offices to support the Lucero family.


Montanes is definitely making a mark as he forges toward his vision to see himself and his contemporaries as “legitimate stakeholders in the boardrooms, the dais, and in all positions of power who will provide fresh and new perspectives and cultivate an intergenerational relationship which will only strengthen our community as a whole.” – Adapted from original reprinted with permission from INQUIRER.NETUSA

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Cherie Querol Moreno is Executive Editor of Philippine News Today.

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