Mother-son Maritess and Aries Dela Cruz: Bonding over Hillary, together mourning her loss

Aries and Maritess at the Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn.

Aries and Maritess at the Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Grief has gripped the Dela Cruz household in Queens three days after the November 8 election.

Aries Dela Cruz, president of the Filipino American Democratic Club of New York, mourns the defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to her GOP opponent Donald Trump.

“I’m going through a lot of stages of grief,” he told The FilAm.

His mother, Maritess, a registered nurse, confessed she too feels deep disappointment manifested through stomach upset with frequent runs to the bathroom. “Me and my husband keep having a run to the bathroom. He would say are you done? Ako naman.”

In the Filipino American community, Aries and his mother, Maritess, were at the forefront of the campaign for Hillary Clinton. Together or on their own, they spoke out at political forums, organized debate viewing parties, gave interviews on television, volunteered at the Clinton headquarters, texted voters, went to the White House, organized Pinoys in Pantsuits and generally engaged in all sorts of activities that gave face to Filipino Americans within the Demcratic Party.

It would seem odd that a mother and son would do things together, especially politically, while some families figured out their own generational differences. Not Aries and Maritess. They bonded over politics, and together learned how to make it work for FilAms.

“My mom is my publicist,” said Aries to this reporter with a hint of teasing.

As for Maritess, she said she’s gotten used to people calling her “Aries’s mom.”

It is not unusual in the Dela Cruz family for the children to speak up about anything, politics included.

“At the dining table, that’s where we discuss things,” she said. “They’re free to say anything. I don’t stop them.”

Maritess and Aries generally work well together and don’t get into each other’s way. Maritess usually leaves the spotlight to Aries, and she is happy to be the silent ally. But more importantly, their presence inspires two critical voter demographics, the Boomers and the Millennials.

“It was definitely great to have folks like my mom involved and to have her support alongside this journey,” said Aries. “It’s the women of her generation (particularly first generation migrants) whose enthusiasm and love of ‘bayanihan’ is really the foundation of Filipino American civic life from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.”

All about freedom
Maritess came to U.S. from Kuwait in 1990 amid the raging Gulf War. She was a licensed practical nurse then. “That’s why I’m all about freedom and liberty,” she said.

She took her Nclex exam in the U.S. and became a registered nurse. In 1992, she was able to petition husband Primo and first-born Aries following the passage of the Nursing Relief Act of 1989 which granted immigration status to foreign nurses.

“They were able to come right away,” she said.

Another son Kenneth was born in the U.S.

Maritess was quite the activist even in Manila. She remembered bundling Aries to the EDSA revolution Thanskgiving mass when he was one year old and still in a stroller.

In the U.S., Aries earned his elementary education from NYC public schools. The Renaissance Charter School in Queens, where he studied high school, introduced him to local politics.

“Many of their classes were outside the school. They would go to New York State, to City Hall where they learn how to make laws, how to organize, etc.,” said Maritess.

Aries’s involvement with community organizing deepened in Columbia University, where he studied Anthropology. There, he realized the power of organizing communities, giving them a voice, and getting them to take action.

“Lalo naging left-leaning,” laughed Maritess.

Aries received his Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, cum laude and was the recipient of Columbia’s King’s Crown Award given to individuals for outstanding leadership in their communities.

In the beginning, Primo worked at a grocery store while he took care of Aries. When he got older, Aries, now 30 year old, came into his own and became a responsible ‘kuya’ to Kenneth as well as co-founder of the Filipino American Democratic Club of New York. Primo works as a dialysis technician.

At first, the Dela Cruz family united behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. After it became clear that he was not going to win the nomination, “we switched to Hillary,” said Maritess.

As a nurse, she said Clinton’s continued support for “Obamacare” and fixing its flaws to increase patient coverage made sense. In essence, she also supports Planned Parenthood providing access to abortion rights, a position incompatible with the belief of some Catholic Filipino nurses.

“Dami kong kaaway sa Facebook,” she laughed.

Maritess currently works as care manager at Senior Whole Health, a health care insurance company based in Boston and created when Mitt Romney was governor.

Aries said he was proud to share some milestones with his mother.

“She was there when Hillary won the primary in New York, when Hillary reached the threshold of delegates needed to win, and on the first night at the arena in Philadelphia when the delegates voted to adopt the most progressive platform in the history of the party, one that included mentions of Filipinos American pioneers like Larry Itliong,” he said. “It’s definitely very inspiring to see Tess involved.”

For her part, Maritess said she is “very proud” of her son. “They’re telling him to run, but he doesn’t want to, wants to be behind the scene. I know he will be famous one day.”


With Primo Dela Cruz. In the family, the children are free to speak up on politics.  Photo by RJ Ensalada

With Primo Dela Cruz. In the family, the children are free to speak up on politics. Photo by RJ Ensalada

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