Meet the Fil-Am woman mayor of Sierra Madre – Calif., that is
It was a good day to run. The sun was shining but the weather was cool. Rachelle Pastor Arizmendi knew Sierra Madre City, California very well. It reminded her of the mountainous region in the Philippines where her parents lived.
Sierra Madre is a small city with 11,000 residents, mostly white Americans, with only eight percent being of Asian descent. While jogging, Rachelle ran into a friend, a fellow resident.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m getting sworn-in on Tuesday?” she said.
“Sworn-in? Are you getting your citizenship?” he asked.
“Citizenship? Not exactly. I am going to be your next Council Member,” she laughed and jogged away.
That was in 2014.
In 2017 she became the mayor. Rachelle became the first Asian American woman to lead the Sierra Madre City, a county in Los Angeles known for its high-standard of living, low unemployment rate, and low crime rate. She and her husband, Fili, have been residing in Sierra Madre since 2006.
On Sept.13, 2018, Rachelle was among the 100 women of Philippine ancestry recognized by the Global Filipino Women Network Awards. She received the Policymaker and Visionary Award, presented at the annual Filipino Leadership Summit in London, UK. The awardees from over 25 countries were chosen for changing the face of leadership in the global workplace, outstanding work in their respective fields, contributions to society, “femtorship,” and legacy.
Rachelle is the embodiment of the American Dream.
His father, Franklin Pastor, a vocational school teacher in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, left the Philippines to look for a better life. After settling down, he went back to the Philippines to bring his wife, Ofelia Sumagaysay of Manila, to California.
The Pastors became United States citizens. Two years after getting their citizenship, Rachelle was born in Carmel and raised in Salinas. Franklin was a school bus driver while Ofelia taught kindergarten.
“My parents were fortunate to find themselves in a city in California where we had established family. They were able to build a network of support,” Rachelle says.
Raised in diversity
Although an only child, Rachelle never experienced loneliness or being spoiled. She was independent but always surrounded with relatives and members of the Filipino community. As a teen, she was as much an American as a Filipino.
“I lived a typical American teenage life. I performed Filipino folk dances and played the banduria.I held the title of Miss Maria Clara, and was part of a Greek sorority in college,” Rachelle shares.
Rachelle grew up loving Filipino dishes. When she studied food and nutrition in college, one of her projects for mass preparation in a school district was to modify pancit palabok into a healthier version, substituting pork and shrimp with ground lean chicken.
But Rachelle admits that there was a period in her young life when she “pushed her Filipino identity away.”.
“Both sides of the family would speak to me in English as well as Tagalog and Ilocano. I regret that I insisted in always speaking back in English. Although I understand both Tagalog and Ilocano and can even watch the best of Filipino teleseryes, I can’t speak either one,” she says.
Rachelle says, however, that numerous visits to the Philippines helped her reconnect with her roots.
“It is important to embrace our culture and at the same time celebrate our adopted countries. In my case, I proudly identity myself as a Filipino American..”
In middle school through high school, Rachel assumed leadership positions. “I was class president a few years. I was cheerleading captain. But I never seriously considered
politics in my adult life,” she says.
Rachelle, psychology graduate from San Diego State University, also has a master’s in nutrition. She is a registered dietitian but not currently practicing. Over two decades, Rachel held high-level positions in both private and government sectors. She was a faculty member of Pasadena City College for two years.
She is now vice president and chief operating officer of PACE (Pacific Asian
Consortium in Employment), a private non-profit in the Los Angeles area that provides community services to more than 50,000 clients annually in the areas of small business development, access to capital, job training, energy and environment, early education, and affordable housing.
“I engaged into politics after sitting on the Community Services Commission in Sierra Madre for five years. I ran because I wanted to help maintain the high quality of life in our city. When there was a movement to change things in the City- I felt compelled to run,” Rachelle explains.
The mayor is a Filipino American Woman
As the first Filipino American woman to serve in the Sierra Madre city council, Rachelle believes that first impressions are critical in achieving success.
“I think sometimes people underestimate me and sometimes act surprised when they discover I’m the Mayor. I try and find the advantages in those underestimations and use them to my favor when I can. I will use my feminism and gender to my advantage and won’t allow someone’s first impression affect me negatively. I am confident in myself – while also appreciating the fact that I am always learning, and recognizing the importance of humility,” Rachelle says.
Catalyst for change
Rachelle was selected to serve as a mayor by the city council members in 2017. The five-member city council governs the city. The positions of Mayor and Mayor ProTempore rotate among the five members.
“It was an amazing experience, and I was honored to represent my city. Much of the business aspect of the role is that same as a city council member’s — managing the city budget, attending to the needs of the residence, ensuring that the water system is safe and adequate, that public safety is up to par with what our residents expect, and that the quality of life is maintained,” says Rachelle.
“I would hope to be able to be a catalyst in growing the pipeline of leadership for Filipino Elected Officials,” says Rachelle, who was also appointed by the governor to the State Food and Agricultural Board.
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