I write this as I grieve for my dear friend who passed this weekend. We were neighbors, raised kids together and are forever connected. Following both of our names will always be “Breast Cancer Warrior.” My journey started back in 2007, I was raising four kids, while serving as PTA Council President. When I was diagnosed, I was overseeing all the PTAs in Alameda as a volunteer.
Thanks to the PTA community’s support, I continued to serve during my treatments. Then I decided to run for the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) School Board. I vividly remember waiting in line to file my papers and the clerk asking me why I was running. Before answering, I reflected that my surgeon explained that — after I’d done eight rounds of chemo, two surgeries and five weeks of radiation — I needed to take daily chemo pills indefinitely, maybe for two years if I was lucky, that is, if my body lasts that long. So, I responded that as a recent cancer survivor I may not have forever to do things that are important to me, and I’m going to try now.
So began my career as an elected official. I was twice elected AUSD School Board member in 2008 and 2012 and elected mayor in 2014. I still serve as your mayor. Alameda is an amazing community that has supported others, as well as my family through life’s joys and challenges. I have always done my best to support the entire Alameda community and when asked to vote, vote my conscience.
Like everyone else, my life’s story is complex. I’m of Mexican-American descent, and I’m Alameda’s first Hispanic mayor. As a child growing up in Southeast Los Angeles County in a community called South Gate, I faced poverty and racism.
Unfortunately, I, like many women of color, have experienced discrimination based upon race and gender at different times in my life. I’m also a “triple negative”: I am a breast cancer survivor; I have a rare aggressive type of breast cancer that disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic women. I have breast cancer that — unlike the three common types of breast cancer — has no treatment. I am blessed, however. I have not had a recurrence, however, I continue to fight the side effects of the aggressive treatments I received.
During my nine years as an elected official, I have been asked to make many difficult decisions. After listening to all the perspectives, I make what I believe is the best decision, often distilling complex issues to core values, applying the Golden Rule.
I made one such decision in 2009, my first year on the School Board, regarding anti-bullying curriculum. I held that when AUSD decided to go from general anti-bullying curriculum to enumerating one protected class (LGBTQ) that it needed to also concurrently adopt anti-bullying curriculum similar to an anti-harassment policy: one that protected not one, but all protected classes: race, gender identity and gender expression, national origin, sexual orientation, disability and religion.
Most argued for just adding the LGBTQ anti-bullying curriculum. Others reluctantly offered to start with LGBTQ because “their pain is greater than everyone else’s,” and later consider other protected classes. I argued then, as I believe today, that just as an anti-harassment policy prohibits all harassment and enumerates all protected classes, so should anti-harassment and anti-bullying curricula.
Some disagreed, saying that racism no longer exists, as President Barack Obama was our President. We didn’t need to teach anti-bullying of those of color because we teach about slavery, or to those of faith because we teach about Anne Frank and the Holocaust. However, AUSD students are bullied for numerous reasons. These included wearing a hijab, fasting during Ramadan, being LGBTQ, being African-American, eating Asian food from home for lunch, being disabled and more.
My position remains the same, we must include all protected classes. Our curriculum must support divergent cultures. We must stand against all animosity and embrace everyone: We all belong here.
I want to thank the many people who joined me recently on the City Hall steps for a photo op supporting Pride. I also want to thank the three women who accepted the Pride Proclamation, and those who have reached out to me, thanking me for my efforts to support diversity here in Alameda. The Pride Proclamation is to all who want to join our City in celebrating Pride. It is a statement, as we all know not every city in the country nor around the world celebrates Pride.
I have always had an open-door policy, regularly keeping long hours. If anyone has a concern, they are welcome to schedule an appointment to meet with me. Serving as mayor is an extension of my volunteer work, and I try my hardest to accommodate all.
My nurse for my first cancer surgery taught me to “take each day as the day it is,” which to me means do the most with each day that I have. The community has supported me to serve our community as mayor, for which I am humbled and appreciative. I will continue my efforts to positively serve our entire community to the best of my ability.