On Global Filipinos: DoE’s new deputy chancellor is the ‘proudly Pinay’ Hydra Mendoza

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Are you paid for overtime hours?

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Are you paid for overtime hours?

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With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco.

With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

Hydra Mendoza is the New York City Department of Education’s Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications, a newly created role. She stepped down from her role as president of the San Francisco Board of Education to accept the NYC position.

Many thought she was named after the Greek mythical serpent with nine heads. Hydra shared a more interesting story. Her mother was in labor and her father was driving the car to reach the hospital as soon as possible. Then came a freight train going in the same direction. Every time her father would gain ground, the train would run faster ahead of him. It happened several times until her father just gave up. Each box car train that outran her father was the identity of the train “Hydra Cushion.” And so, her father decided right then and there to name his infant daughter Hydra, in the hope she would be one who is determined to succeed and to win no matter the odds.

At a recent event of the Filipina Women’s Network held at the Philippine Center, Hydra introduced herself to the FilAm community of New York: “I’m the daughter of Filipino parents who immigrated to the U.S. in 1964. My father served in the military for 28 years and brought my three older sisters to the States.”

“My younger brother and I were born in the U.S. and grew up in a very dynamic household of siblings who are able to speak their home language and had a true appreciation of their (Filipino) heritage and culture against their American-born English-speaking siblings.

“My brother and I didn’t understand the sacrifices made by (our older siblings) or our parents.

“After living in over 12 countries and cities, attending four different high schools and landing in San Francisco, my life unfolded in ways I never imagined.

“Although being a sportscaster or professional team lawyer was my dream after college, I oddly ended up working in real estate and finance. I muddled through a few years enjoying my comfortable life. But I didn’t feel influential or impactful.

With son Santiago, daughter Ashoka,  and husband Eric.

With son Santiago, daughter Ashoka, and husband Eric.

“I stumbled into the education world by taking a brain development class after having my daughter 23 years ago.’’

She wanted to learn how best to raise her daughter and fell in love with early childhood development theories. Thus, she started teaching in pre-school which turned into a three-year stint. During that time, she became parent president of the nursery school and became responsible for operations, developed curriculum, and conducted outreach to the community.

She served on the PTA and co-chaired the School Site Council prior to being appointed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom (now California governor) as his first and only senior adviser on education from 2005 to 2011.

However, while serving the Mayor of San Francisco, she was encouraged by Newsom to run for the Board of Education, and she won. When she ran again, she won the position of president two times, the first Filipina ever elected in San Francisco. She served as president at the same time remaining as senior education adviser to Newsom in 2005 and later to Mayor Edwin Lee starting 2011.

When Mayor Lee died suddenly in December 2017, and her mother passed away three months later, the emotional toll on Hydra was too much she asked for three months leave of absence during the summer of 2018.

It was around this time that the City of New York came into the picture. Her former superintendent when she was president of the Board of Education, is now New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. He reached out to ask her advice regarding the need for a position that would communicate and empower parents and their community in an effective way. He saw how during his time in San Francisco Hydra “galvanized neighborhoods and communities to strive towards equity for all students.”

Circa 1965. Baby Hydra with parents and sisters Brigida, Andromeda and Norma.

Circa 1965. Baby Hydra with parents and sisters Brigida, Andromeda and Norma.

He suggested a senior level position to elevate his goal, and that was how Hydra was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in August 2018, as the Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications.

During a recent forum of the Filipina Women’s Network held at the Philippine Center and the launch of the FWN’s third book “Disrupt 3.0,” Hydra was the keynote speaker. The event was in partnership with the Philippine Consulate under Consul General Claro Cristobal.
She told her audience, “I still have moments of being the only woman in the room, the only Filipina elected (in San Francisco), the only Filipino someone has ever met…I have been mistaken more than once as the assistant and not the Deputy Chancellor. I know when to yield my power and influence and when to let others realize their mistakes on their own.”

Hydra Mendoza remained true to her name both ways: As the train that always wins and as the Greek myth of a serpent that grows two heads each time a head is cut off. With each position she holds, she grows stronger in power and influence.

She is married a second time to a San Francisco native, Eric McDonnell, who is the Chief Operating Officer for the Galt Foundation. Eric fully supported her decision to leave San Francisco and come to New York City. Her adult children are daughter Ashoka and son Santiago. Ashoka is the Bay Area program coordinator at the Civic Spark Fellows Program, and Santiago is a junior at the University of California Santa Cruz studying Anthropology and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. They are both very proud of their mother.

© The FilAm 2019

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