Rosalie Toledo Zarate (b. 1938 in Los Angeles) was the first Filipina-Mexican-American to serve as council member on the National City City Council.
Rosalie’s father was Braulio Escobia. He died of TB and a cerebral hemorrhage when she was only 3 months old. Born in 1903, he was from a village in the Philippines called Anda Bohol. He was thirty-five at the time of his death.
Rosalie’s mother was Bertha Mireles (b. 1919 in Los Angeles). Bertha’s parents came from Mexico, but very little is known about them because she was orphaned at the age of 5. We do know that Bertha went to live with her father’s brother when she was young on a ranch outside Los Angeles, called Pascasio Mireles. That family had about 12 kids and Bertha was taken in alongside a brother and sister. Bertha grew up speaking some Spanish, but spoke mostly English.
Bertha left her uncle’s house and began working at a Filipino restaurant at a young age. She loved the language and actually learned to speak Tagalog. This was during the depression and World War II when many Filipino men came over to the United States through the military. At the restaurant, she met James Toledo (b. 1900 Illocos, Philippines) who had been in the Army. He had been in the service during the 1940s, but got out when he caught malaria. When he left the military, Rosalie explains that he was never without work, doing anything he could find from bus boy to bartender. He lived in Chicago for a time before moving to Los Angeles.
Bertha and James married and lived in Los Angeles together for a time. In the late 1940s they moved to National City.
According to James Toledo’s obituary in the San Diego Union Tribune on March 25, 1975:
Toledo, who lived at 1734 E. 12th St, National City, died Saturday in a hospital. He was a native of the Philippines and lived in the county 29 years.
He was a member of the National City Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion Leyte Post No. 625 and the Pangasinan Association of San Diego County.
Toledo came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1928, settling in Los Angeles. He served with the Army during World War II from 1944-46, attaining the rank of sergeant.
The Toledo Farm
Rosalie’s parents bought an eight acre farm in National City where James Toledo grew tomatoes, string beans and corn. To make ends meet, he was also a manager of the Ghio’s packing house in Palm City and sometimes he did bartending.
Bertha was a waitress, including in La Jolla at a restaurant she helped manage. At one point, she also worked at the Ito tomato packing house. Eventually, James and Bertha were able to set up their own market on Palm Avenue called Toledo’s Produce. Rosalie usually helped her mother Bertha sell the vegetables.
Then in 1961, Bertha and James went to the Philippines. Upon their return, they had the idea of opening a Sari-Sari store, the first in the area to sell fruits and vegetables catering to the Filipino community. They sold items such as bitter melon, along, green bananas for the Samoan community and chili sauce for the Mexican community.
Rosalie’s Life in National City
Rosalie graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1956. She was going to be a dental assistant and went for a little while, but then caught the chicken pox and was laid up for about six weeks. Thereafter, she started going to stenographer school, but stopped when she married Zacharias Zarate from National City. Stemming from a family who came from Mexico, he was born in National City in 1937. Zacharias and Rosalie went to Junior High and High School together, becoming sweethearts when he asked Rosalie to the prom. They married in 1958 when Zacharias was 21 and Rosalie was 19.
Because Rosalie had been an only child, she wanted a big family. She ended up giving birth to six children. At first, she helped her parents at the Sari-Sari store while being a mother and a housewife. As her children grew up in National City, she noticed the parks were horrible. She also felt frustrated by the lack of public street lights. This is how her political involvement began.
The book by Dario Deguzman Villa, The Bridge Generation: Sons and Daughters of Filipino Pioneers, describes Rosalie this way:
ROSALIE TOLEDO ZARATE, National City’s current Vice-Mayor, is the first woman to become a City Council Member in twenty-nine years.
Zarate’s parents discovered National City while visiting friends. They learned that the climate was ideal for farming as well as health. In the late 1940s the Toledo family purchased eight acres of land along what is now Plaza Boulevard and Palm Avenue. They began what was to become one of the last commercial farms in National City. In 1960, after her parents’ visit to the Philippines, the small family vegetable stand expanded to become Toledo’s produce Store. They sold Filipino products and catered to Pacific-Islanders, and because of Mr. Toledo’s special hot chili sauce, they also attracted Mexican families.
Having been an only child, Zarate wanted to have a large family of her own. Within the first ten years of her marriage to her high school sweetheart, Zack, they had three boys and three girls. Because of her children, Zarate became very involved with school and extra-curricular activities. Driving her children to various social and sporting events was the beginning of her work with the city. Whenever Zarate attended community meetings, it was not unusual for her to end up being one of the leaders. Over the years, she became involved with the little league, the PTA Advisory Board, Parents as Teachers, the Quarterback Club, the Altrusans, and the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1990, armed with homegrown community experience, support from family and friends, and encouraged by her genuine desire to make a difference, Zarate ran for City Council and won. Since entering into public office and her re-election in 1994, Zarate has been recognized as a very strong advocate for National City and its people. She continues to encourage citizens to become active.
A Local Political Figure
Rosalie became council member in National City in 1990 and held that position for eighteen years. She also ran for Mayor, but lost by 286 votes. She retired in 2013.
Rosalie was particularly proud of her participation in the establishment of a new police station on city property. For ten years she was a volunteer for Trauma Intervention, going to homes and attending to those who were traumatized during a home event and staying with people before the coroner would arrive. She was a City Council member as the new library and new fire station went up in National City and also when National City Boulevard was cleaned up, with establishments such as the Pussy Cat Theater and Chuck’s bookstore leaving the area.
(Interview: May 23, 2016)