By Gale Stoddard
The happiest day of my life was when I became an American citizen at age 22, after living in America for five years. Thirty years later, my mom, a widow, came to live with us and after five years with me petitioning for her, she also became an American citizen. Yes, at age 75, my mom, Connie, considered it the happiest day of her life too.
After I received my citizenship in Monterey, Calif., I immediately registered with my husband, Bill, as a diehard Republican. I was walking on clouds knowing I belong to a party who believed like I do in conservative and God-fearing values. Having been raised in a convent school, it is not unusual to find me a conservative wife, mother, and now grandmother.
I was invited to join the Monterey County Republican Women’s Club and was the first and only Filipino registered as a member. The papers made a big deal out of that, so I was chosen to be a translator for then-President Richard Nixon’s telethon on KSBW-TV. I had to translate in Tagalog, the main Filipino language, and Ilocano (a dialect used by millions living in the northern islands) for the non-English-speaking Filipinos in the Salinas Valley, most of them working in the fields.
I had met Nixon in the Philippines in in my early teens, and we talked about that during the telethon. I have always been attracted to American movie celebrities and of course famous political men. So as a young precocious girl, I talked myself into meeting then-Vice President Nixon on his most heralded visit to my native Philippines. He was so revered that thousands paid him homage when he arrived at the Manila airport. I was one of those screaming Pinays vying for his autograph. Later on in my thirties, after telling that story to his brother Donald Nixon, then living in Newport Beach, I would get the most coveted personalized photograph I hankered for in my youth.
When the media applauded my role as a cute translator on TV, I flinched, because during the whole hour I would mix the Philippine dialects with English if I came to an impasse. The media raved about me, being “the Manila Bombshell,” a monicker used by the nightclub owner in his ads, to describe my nightclub show.
So it was not unusual to be the poster girl for then-aspiring Governor Ronald Reagan, to garner more Filipino votes by using a Filipina for his newspaper ads.
I still treasure a photo in my scrapbook of me, barely out of my teens and three years stateside, standing by a huge billboard pointing to a picture of our future president. From that time on, I used my ethnicity to inform and influence people on the political front. To my surprise, people listened when I talked because I would regale them with tidbits about the famous politicians I rubbed elbows with.
I also have voluminous pictures taken with these famous people they just read about. My mixed heritage makes people think that I must be Mexican, Japanese, Hawaiian or Castilian. Any race but a Filipino.
My first TV experience gave me the impetus to be totally informed about American politics. I ceaselessly wrote to congressmen and senators about my views and fears of how some politicians abused their power. I wrote and they replied. It was exciting to get a letter from the White House. When Sarah Palin was running for Vice President, she called my mom from her home in Alaska to wish her a happy 100th birthday. I even talked to her mom, Sally. Senator John McCain, an American hero, also called to greet my mother, Connie. She passed away at age 104 three weeks shy of her 105th birthday. She also received a letter from the White House and was greeted on nationwide TV. Watching these things unfold gave me the courage to use my voice to help others know the issues and who are the good politicians. One voice can make a difference, I reiterated to myself. I wanted to be that voice. My mom was always featured in the newspapers during election years when she was casting her vote. She never missed voting, and advised people to vote. She was the oldest resident of Buena Park, and the oldest member of the Buena Park Women’s Club. Her friend, the late Donna Bagley, came in second. My late husband, Bill, told our four children to never miss casting our vote, for it is a privilege and an honor. There are countries where this is not the norm. He taught all of us about patriotism and to be proud of your country and your right to vote. Women fought for the right to vote. He also talked about honoring the American flag and never forget to fly it outside our house during Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, Flag Day, Veterans Day and the other holidays. Having been raised a Mormon and later becoming a Catholic, he was appalled at how people who called themselves Americans were burning the flag and refusing to stand during our National Anthem.
He was in the U.S. Navy and proud of it. He made me proud of being different and from another country who was blessed to live here. I have traveled to over 24 states as a musician on the road, and I have never felt a tinge of prejudice. Everywhere I performed, people showed their love and welcomed me with open arms. So it bothers me when people tell me there is a lot of racial prejudice in Orange County. I have lived here in the same house for over 40 years, and to this day, I cannot think of any time or situation where I was shunned. I have found that if you have a friendly smile, a warm handshake and a helping hand, you will find that people will respond in kind. A smile is very important in life. If you smile, people smile back.
Decades later, I would become more politically involved.
I am a registered member of the California Republican Assembly (CRA) as a delegate and have attended all of the CRA conventions where I have been able to meet all the political movers and shakers. My most thrilling moment was when I met retired Senator Jim Brulte, current president of the California Republican Party.
Five years ago, with two knees knocking, I approached this over-six-feet-tall, good-looking man, found my voice and blabbed about my birthplace.
I nervously told him I was a Filipino-American CRA delegate and would love to have a picture with him for the Filipino newspapers. To my surprise, he grinned and politely obliged posing next to me.
Politicians are more than willing to listen to you and talk with you, and of course have a photo taken with you. If you are from another country, they would find it refreshing. Politicians are actually very nice people. All those I have met are informative and well-mannered. Recently Tom Palzar asked someone at a recent CRA convention to take our photo together, as he was having problems taking a selfie. Guess who took it?
None other than the eminent and formidable Judge Steve Bailey. I told him what Brulte told me, that he also likes him a lot.
If you want your vote to count, go out and meet the candidates, be informed, know the real issues. If you cherish living here in the greatest country in the world like I do, cherish your right to vote, and use it wisely. This is our country. Let’s use our vote to make it greater and show the world that America gives us freedom to live a happy life and the wonderful privilege to vote.