A Filipina in City Hall

Maria Cruz with Mayor Mike Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion

By Cristina DC Pastor

You can count in one hand the Filipinos who work at City Hall. Maria Rosana Cruz, 25, who is a project coordinator and a special assistant to the Commissioner on the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, is one of them.

Maria came to MOIA more than two years ago through a teacher who made an impact on her life. As she was graduating from CUNY Hunter College, she sent him an email thanking him for his guidance. The teacher told Maria of his sister who was looking for a social media intern. The sister happens to be MOIA Commissioner Fatima Shama, whose office is in charge of immigrant communities across the five boroughs. Maria interned for three months which led to a full-time position.

“It was a full circle kind of thing,” she said in an interview with The FilAm. “Little did I know she was the commissioner.”

Today, Maria is assisting with the One NYC One Nation project, which organizes Know Your Rights/Know Your Responsibilities meetings with all immigrant groups. A forum for the FilAm community is slated sometime in the fall. Officials from city agencies will address the concerns of Filipinos – anywhere from domestic violence to financing for small businesses to identity theft, etc. — on any issues that affect them as city residents.

The August 15 applications for DACA, or the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, was a busy time for the department, she said. Maria was assisting a policy analyst with action plans and preparing one pagers that would explain the directive to foreign consulates. At the same time, Maria is the “right hand” who coordinates MOIA’s social media presence as well as the commissioner’s work life.

“I learned that government isn’t as scary as I once perceived it to be,” she mused on her more than two years at City Hall, a landmark workplace which inspired the “Spin City” sitcom of a bumbling hizzoner and his goofy staffers.

Maria came to New York in 1993 at age 7. Her parents – her mother is a nurse supervisor and her father a chef who specializes in French cuisine – came to the U.S. ahead of the children.

“For many years I didn’t know who my parents were,” she said. “I knew they immigrated here for a better life for me and my brothers.”

In the Philippines, she studied at the private Assumption girls school in Antipolo in prep school until her parents were ready to bring her to the U.S. She was educated initially in private schools, and went public from Grade 4 to college: PS139 in Rego Park, JHS226 in South Ozone Park, Forest Hills High School, and CUNY Hunter College where she majored in Media with a minor in English. She is sandwiched between two brothers, both six years apart.

The Cruzes were the typical Filipino family who loves to eat, and cooking was an integral part of that ritual. Her father, who worked for top hotels, specialized in French-style cooking noted for its freshest flavors and artful presentations. Her mother, on the other hand, was always ready with home-cooked Philippine dishes like ‘tortang talong.’

“I grew up with French everything. My dad was into showing me and my brothers how to act in a restaurant, how to order, and we’d always come home to a wonderful spread of food (courtesy of mom),” she said. “It was the best of both worlds.”

Her father’s culinary skills paved the way for an “intensive” cake design course at the French Culinary Institute (now known as International Culinary Center). There, Maria learned how to craft pretty flowers. Thus was born Katamisan Cakes, a home-based enterprise for now which she hopes to grow into a cake studio known for French-style patisserie in the flavors of the tropics. Mango-filled white cake is just one of her creations. Tamarind-flavored ‘dacquoise’? That can be arranged. (‘Katamisan’ is Tagalog word for ‘sweetness.)

Maria said she enjoys being a public servant, but does not see herself venturing into politics. When she sees her time at MOIA winding down, she said there’s always Katamisán, her “other life” and sweetest reward.

Maria recently wed Roger Lee, an electrician with city contracts. He did a project for the Madison Square Garden.

A tiered wedding cake by Katamisan.

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