Cynthia Alcantara Barker has just been elected Borough Councillor, Furzehill Ward, the first British Filipina to be elected at this level in the UK. The Filipino Expat gets to know more about the Filipino-British politician.
Please tell us how you came to live in the United Kingdom.
I went to the UK to join my family. My mother came here in the ‘70s as an OFW. She will always be my hero. She was a school teacher who had to leave her family, including five young children. She made the same sacrifice that most OFWs make, sent all her money home while she worked long hours to ensure that the family was well-fed and educated. We now have four generations of family in the UK.
How has Britain changed you?
Britain has been good to me. Since landing in the UK, I have always found the opportunity to find work easily, do further studies and explore the country. I feel blessed that I came to the UK strong and armed with Filipino values instilled in me by my parents. Those gave me the strength to adapt to the new environment.
I was brought up in the Philippines, so I was used to just keeping to myself and not speaking up unless I was asked to. I was quite insular before and I only went out with fellow Filipinos. That gradually changed as I continued my studies here. I started making new friends from different communities and realized we are all the same, people wanting to protect our country by becoming involved with our local community.
As I got to learn more about the country, the citizens, the culture and the law of the land, the quicker I fully integrated myself into the British society. I became more patriotic as well. I have gotten used to Western ways and got accustomed to the British way of life.
How did you get involved in the community and become a member of the Conservative Party?
I have always been curious about everything that happens in our local town of Elstree and Borehamwood. I was a member of our residents association, supported our Catholic church, St. Nicholas school, where I am a school governor. I am the chair of trustees of Elstree and Borehamwood museum.
I was also the past president of Rotary Club and other charitable organisations such as the NSPCC. I also support the local Chamber of Commerce, Hertsmere Connect.
I knew that politics is important. I like the way the town is run by the Conservative party and have always supported the party’s campaigns in the past before I even became a full member. Because of my track record in community involvement, I got selected to run for both the town of Borehamwood and the borough’s Potters Bar Furzefield ward at the next general election. Our borough of Hertsmere has been voted as the happiest place to live in the county of Hertfordshire hence my enthusiasm.
How do you think your candidacy will impact theFilipino community here and in other parts of the UK?
I hope that by running for the Conservative party, I will inspire other Filipinos to get involved in politics. If I am successful in this, I hope that Filipinos will be encouraged and take an active part in the community and the whole of the country. It is important to be a part of the political machinery – the British are open and they embrace us. But we Filipinos need to make the first step and adapt.
In the past, for example in the ‘70s, the Filipino community in the UK was a hidden community. It was during the arrival of qualified nurses in the UK that we became recognized as a community.
What tips would you give to Filipinos about living and working in the UK?
Get involved with the local community. You can either offer your time or share the skills you have by volunteering with local charity organizations because there is something spiritual about charity work and volunteering.
It is important to retain our Filipino values but at the same time, use that as the foundation for adapting to the British values.
Most Filipinos in the UK have families – use whatever network you can, not only with Filipinos but with the wider community as this will give you more confidence when applying for jobs. It will also help you foster an understanding and appreciation of different cultures. We need to reach out to the Filipino community and equally, to other communities. It is always enriching to meet other communities and help them or learn from them.
If you want to get involved in politics, best to join a party and help out rather than run independently.
And this is not all about hard work, we have fun, too!
Expat Interviews is a regular feature in The Filipino Expat Magazine where we ask tips from Filipino expats on living in Europe. If you know someone whom we should feature in this section, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org