Americas Columns

Upside: Elected FilAm women seek higher offices

First of 2 parts

CALIFORNIA Filipinas who have already broken the racial barrier in their political districts are banking on their success to reach higher office where only one man and no woman of Filipino descent has been elected.

Vallejo (California) Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga in May launched her campaign to represent District 3 of the State Senate, uncharted by any FilAm.  The first FilAm woman elected in Solano County when she was elected to the Vallejo School Board in 1993, the now-longest serving Vice Mayor of Vallejo is facing another Filipino American, former West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon, for the post vacated by Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa. Dodd is among her endorsers.

Speaking at a panel discussion hosted July 10 by the Filipina Women’s Network aimed at mentoring women of Filipino descent for political service, Verder-Aliga preempted a similar announcement by fellow Filipina American Jessica Caloza.

Caloza is eyeing representation of Los Angeles in District 52 of the State Assembly, the chamber last occupied by her current boss Attorney General Rob Bonta, the first and still the only FilAm elected to the State Assembly and among her endorsers.

The first to speak among five panelists, Caloza, Bonta’s Deputy Chief of Staff, had teased that she would be “running for office very, very soon.”  An excited Verder-Aliga who spoke later did apologize for having “outed” the plans of the lifelong community organizer who identifies as a “first-generation immigrant.”

Verder-Aliga and Caloza rose to the political stage via disparate steps but expressed a common aspiration to give representation to their numerically dominant but “least represented” community and consistently referenced their Philippine heritage.


Quezon City-born Verder-Aliga was a teacher in the Philippines before moving to the United States in 1981 with her husband, retired US Marine Corps and Army Col. Nestor Aliga.  As a newcomer, she noted the Filipino voice missing from among policymakers in the public school system that prodded her run for a school board seat.

“I was pregnant with my first (of two) sons while campaigning,” she told some 30 women from three continents at the virtual meeting.  Verder-Aliga boosted her credentials by returning to school to earn a doctorate in counseling psychology.  A licensed marriage and family therapist, she managed Solano County’s Behavioral Health Adult Outpatient Clinics, lending her expertise in efforts to address youth issues – gangs, teen pregnancy and parenting. In 2013 she opted to run for the Vallejo City Council, where she focuses on families and “equitable access to education, jobs and housing.”

Caloza had an early start in public service.  She was among 10 delegates to the Filipino Youth for Leadership program and has served on the board of KAYA Filipino Americans for Progress and the Philippine Humanitarian Coalition, according to the Los Angeles Filipino Association of City Employees.

Her political experience spans both state and national stages.  She was campaign aide in the reelection bids of former US Representative now Health & Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra, former US Rep Mike Honda and Rep Albio Sires of New Jersey.

In 2012, she directed the Virginia field office to reelect President Obama, which led to her service as policy analyst in the Department of Education.  There she homed in on gender, student data and privacy issues.

Before coming to Sacramento, Caloza was director of scheduling for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Garcetti appointed her to the Board of Public Works, making her the first FilAm woman commissioner providing oversight for 5,000 employees in the public works and engineering department.

Caloza called on FilAm women to “harness power at the ballot box” and rise to the challenge if they want to lead: “Be aggressive, be impatient for change, see yourselves as worthy of the title” they covet and be “responsible for …billions of taxpayer dollars by making policy decisions that impact families.”

Waiting is “no longer an option,” she warned, “otherwise we will remain vulnerable” instead of helping  resolve the “homeless and housing crisis, lack of good paying middle class jobs, an underfunded public education system, a climate emergency, (and) rampant gun violence,” her focus issues.


Health is a priority to Sofia Aragon not only because she is a registered nurse but also mayor of Burien, Washington, since 2020, and now candidate for King County Council.

Holder of three degrees – a BA in economics from University of Washington, BS in nursing from Seattle University and a law degree from Loyola University- Chicago, Aragon has the expertise to meet her goal for her town to be “a safe, healthy and inclusive place where my family and residents both new and old can call home for a lifetime.”

A former advisor to Washington Governors Locke, Gregoire and Inslee, she advised Filipinas seeking elective or appointed posts to “follow closely people with special skills” to develop their own “facilitation and relationship skills.”

She laments anti-Asian hate attacks and calls for the return to civility in political discourse.  “Let’s start by being civil and professional…set the tone conducive to problem solving.”  That’s what she intends to bring to King County, among progressive policies. – Adapted from original reprinted with permission from

To be concluded.