On the eve of the Republican National Convention, which opens today in New York City to officially proclaim George W. Bush the party’s candidate for President, we talked with one of the convention delegates – Filipino-American Vellie Dietrich-Hall. Mrs. Hall, who immigrated to the United States 23 years ago, is a successful businesswoman and an activist in local politics in northern Virginia. Her story today on New American Voices.
Vellie Sandalo Dietrich-Hall’s resume lists a full page of political and community activities. To name just a few – she is the founding president of the Filipino-American Republicans of Virginia, a District Chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, co-chair of Asian Americans of Virginia for Bush-Cheney in 2004, a member of the National Federation of Republican Women, and a volunteer in the Special Projects office of the White House. Despite her strong Republican credentials, however, Mrs. Dietrich-Hall had to go through a rigorous interview process before becoming a part of the Virginia state delegation to the Republican National Convention.
“We applied for being a delegate, and there was a very rigid interview, there were thirty or thirty-five interviewers and they said, ‘Tell us why you want to go to the convention, and what have you done for the Party so far, and what do you want to do’. It took them two days. Over a hundred of us applied, and only sixty-five out of those could be selected. And I was glad I was one of them.”
As with the Democratic Party’s convention five weeks ago, there is no question as to who the Republican’s candidate will be, and the role of the delegates in nominating him is purely ceremonial. Nevertheless, Mrs. Dietrich-Hall believes that the convention serves a real purpose.
“It is one way of strengthening and acknowledging some of the grass roots leaders who are really working hard. And it’s almost like cheering us, or encouraging us, like, ‘You’re really doing a good job, and let’s keep going’. And then it’s a good place where we can understand what are the really important issues that we need to work on.”
Vellie Dietrich-Hall says she chose to become a Republican because the Republican philosophy resonates with the values she brought over from her native Philippines.
“The Republicans, I think, expressed the values that I believed in: in less government, less taxation, self-sufficiency, and also in my belief in a higher being. The values that the Filipinos believe are well-articulated by the Republicans.”
That’s not to say that all Filipinos are members of the Republican Party. Quite the contrary.
“It’s more Democrats. They always think, well, I love democracy, therefore I am a Democrat, you know. That’s why we have to go out and explain to them that this is the difference [between the parties].”
Mrs. Dietrich-Hall began her political activity as a volunteer on the local level, giving out leaflets on election day, attending meetings, speaking out on issues. Eventually she was elected to various district and county offices, and began training volunteers, putting up signs and posters, visiting neighborhoods and stuffing leaflets in mailboxes. Her activities were not necessarily partisan.
“I put together a flyer that says what are your rights as a citizen. I tried to target the 18-year-olds, you know, the people who were just sworn in. To be active on issues, it doesn’t matter what party they choose. It’s very important that they exercise their right to suffrage. I never voted in the Philippines before, because it didn’t matter anyway. Here if you go out and vote it does matter. You have to be visible to affect the issues.”
Indeed, it was her belief in the potential power of the individual that prompted Vellie Sandalo, as she was then, to emigrate to the United States.
“I was a big fan of Ayn Rand, and Ayn Rand in her books [writes] about objectivism and capitalism where it empowers individualism, and then it multiplies to the people around this individual. And I didn’t see that in the Philippines so much.”
On coming to the United States she first worked as a nanny, then as a translator. Eventually she studied Program Management at the Defense Systems Management College in Washington, and went on to found her own company providing management and consulting services to the Department of Defense. Now she employs a staff of 51 who advise senior executives in the Pentagon in such areas as budget development, human resources management, weapons and training systems acquisition. Mrs. Dietrich-Hall credits her success to the values of hard work and integrity that she brought with her from the Philippines. “It’s really your word of honor. When you commit to something, you follow through with it. It’s very important, and that’s where I succeeded. I was just even thinking today, when I first got here I had to walk for miles and miles and wait for buses, and started with a used car, and then the cheapest car with low mileage, and then after that I found myself working well with my career, receiving good money, and then when my daughter turned sixteen I rewarded myself with a Mercedes, and when she turned twenty-one I bought a Jaguar. And to me, looking back, I say, wow, I’ve really come a long way. Here in the States if you really work good, and if you focus where you want to go, you really get it.”
In May Vellie Dietrich-Hall was appointed by George W. Bush to be one of 14 members of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, focusing on their needs in such fields as human services, health, education, housing, community development, and business. When she returns from the Convention in New York, Vellie Dietrich-Hall plans to focus her energies on organizing Asian-Americans to join a big rally on September 18th, kicking off the Bush-Cheney pre-election campaign in Virginia.