Jenny Gomez Strickler is the first woman elected president of the Filipino Community since it was founded in 1929.
Unlike former presidents of the oldest Filipino organization in Alaska, Strickler doesn't come from a prominent Filipino family in Juneau. She speaks little Filipino. She has never been to the Philippines. But many of the organization's 350 members view these things about Strickler positively, hoping that she can bring the divided Filipino community together.
"She doesn't have a clan behind her," said Linda Augustine, chairwoman of the Filipino group's scholarship committee. "She doesn't have the baggage."
In 2003, Juneau's Filipino community was divided into two as Nestor Catli, who had been president of the Filipino Community, left the organization and established the Filipino American Association.
Gomez said people often ask her whether she aligns with the Carrillos or the Catlis - the biggest Filipino families in town.
"I told them I am neither a Carrillo nor a Catli, although I have friends in both families," said Strickler, 46.
Regional differences are another challenge Strickler has to tackle to unify the community.
The Philippines has 79 provinces and eight major dialects, in addition to the official Filipino and English.
"Sometimes people from one part of the Philippines sit at one table and people from another part sit at another table. They don't socialize with each other," Strickler said. "I want them to become one."
Many Filipino members believe Strickler can accomplish that.
"She has the passion to lead," said former President Reynaldo Jose.
Although Strickler has been living in Juneau with her husband for 26 years, Strickler got involved with the Filipino Community only two years ago. Former President Dannie Lazaro recruited her to revise the organization's bylaws.
"He told me that they had been trying to change it for 16 years but were unsuccessful," Strickler said. "At first, I was hesitant. I told him I don't even speak Filipino."
But Strickler eventually said yes and led her committee to rewrite the bylaws. The new bylaws allow all members to select their president, vice president and secretary directly. The new rules also require a two-term limit for elected officials.
After the bylaws were approved by members in an election, the board of directors of the Filipino Community encouraged Strickler to run for vice presidency. She had the support of three former presidents and won effortlessly. Now she is taking over the presidency.
Although Strickler is the first female president of the Filipino Community, the organization was founded by wives of Filipino miners, cannery workers and fishermen who settled in Alaska in the early 1900s. The group's community hall on South Franklin Street still has pictures of these early founders dancing in traditional costumes at fund-raising events.
Strickler will take office Jan. 1 but she has thought of many ideas to engage the community and increase revenues. She said she plans to hold a monthly dinner and dance performance, organize a youth band and a senior dancing troop, and start a Miss Filipina of Juneau pageant.
Despite her ideas, Strickler said she won't succeed unless the members are willing to get involved.
"Many of our members have outstanding ideas but they are too shy to share," Strickler said. "I want to listen to their ideas and get them involved."
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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