Full time East Los Angeles College student, Francine Gardea, has contributed a lot to her community, but her next move could be the most important yet: running for mayor of Bell Gardens.
Gardea’s has lent a helping hand in many things around her community including being a secretary for the neighborhood watch, volunteering as coach for her daughter’s T-ball team, being the education commissioner for the City of Bell Gardens and working with former Bell Garden’s mayor Daniel Crespo.
Growing up in Bell Gardens, Gardea’s out spoken characteristics got her well known in her community.
“My dad always used to joke with me and say ‘one day your going to be mayor because of how many people you know’ but I always thought no, no I don’t want to do that,” Gardea said.
Gardea was never interested in politics but enjoyed being involved in her community as much as she could. She started attending city hall meetings one day in 2013 after her home was robbed.
“I did my own research and found out our crime rate was really high. I didn’t know what protocol to take so I just went to the meeting and started telling the board ‘I understand we have so much revenue but we’re not doing anything to make the community safer,'” Gardea said.
City council member, Jose Mendoza, was in attendance of this meeting and saw how passionate Gardea was. Gardea and her husband, Armando Arriola, approached Mendoza after the meeting.
After speaking with them and seeing both Arriola’s and Gardea’s punctuality and commitment, they were chosen as commissioners for the city of Bell Gardens.
Gardea had already been volunteering at head start in Suva elementary school and soon enough became an advocate for them at the city hall meetings.
She is now the historian for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at Suva elementary school. She even became well known with the board of education members at the city hall meetings after attending each meeting.
“My daughters are scared of their mom because she knows everybody. She has everybody’s phone numbers, even the principal’s phone number, so they know they can’t get away with anything,” Arriola said.
Gardea believes as mayor she will work with the citizens of her community as much as she can, to make her community a better place.
“For me it’s about team work. We work together as a community and if something goes wrong, it’s not just one persons fault it us as a community. And if I could be at two places at once as a mayor, I’ll do it. I’m going to do everything I possibly can,” Gardea said.
Gardea was the education commissioner for former mayor Daniel Crespo during the time he was murdered. Gardea and Arriola were good friends of Crespo and were saddened by his death.
“Since the former mayor was murdered, it’s been sort of tough. It just doesn’t feel the same. That’s why at first Francine wasn’t sure about running.” Arrola said.
“The community just doesn’t feel the same to me. Everyone has their own opinion about what happened were no one to judge. But the community is slowly getting back up there.” Gardea said.
For Gardea, being mayor isn’t about the money or title, but about having the opportunity to make changes. “Whether I’m mayor or no title at all, if I have the opportunity to make changes I’m going to do it.” Gardea said.
Gardea takes any opportunity she has to make something better or more useful.
Even taking small actions like getting a ‘no-loading zone’ sign installed after parents at Bell Garden’s Elementary School kept stopping in the red zone to drop their children off.
“She noticed that one day and the red zone where they would stop was a lane, so cars had to stop out of no where and if there was ever an accident the cars could possibly go up on the sidewalk where the children are. So she complained about it and a couple days later they put a sign up,” Arrola said.
Arrola has supported his wife in her climb to success and becomes prouder with every one of her accomplishments.
“They say that after a while the romance dies out, but with us our conversations keep getting more and more deeper. I always learn something new from her,” Arrola said.
Arrola and Gardea met while working at a Edward’s movie theatre in Bell Gardens and now have two daughters and one more child on the way.
Although Gardea is successful now, it took a couple bumps in the road to get there. Gardea was the youngest of four growing up in a single parent household. She was raised by her father.
“I never had that mother-daughter love. But you know what it made me the person I am today. It made me stronger,” Gardea said.
Gardea was pregnant with her first child when she graduated high school. When she graduated high school, Gardea did not know what career she wanted to do. She skipped college and worked in many customer service jobs.
“With customer service it’s hard because no matter how hard you work the customer is always right,” Gardea said.
Gardea was fed up with dealing with part-time jobs and decided to attend American Career College. She finished her schooling and earned her certificate, but the school closed down. “I still had to pay $10,000 for the whole program. They actually took it out of my taxes,” Gardea said.
After not being able to do anything with her certificate, Gardea decided to attend ELAC. She enrolled in classes and started her first semester in summer of 2012.
Gardea is currently a full time student and child development major at ELAC. She hopes to transfer to cal state long beach by next year.
Apart from being a student she is the education commissioner for the city of bell gardens and a teacher’s assistant at bell gardens elementary. She was also involved in the neighborhood watch but hasn’t been too involved recently because of her busy schedule.
“Her days are pretty hectic. She wakes up around seven in the morning to do the girls’ hair and then goes to work right after work gets off around 3:30 has a small break then goes to school from 6-10 then comes home and studies,” Arrola said.
Gardea now has three children-Francisco Zamorano,12, Gia Arriola,7, and Leah Arriola, 6, and is expecting her fourth child in November.
She hopes to inspire people to never give up.
“I just want people to know nothing comes easy, you have to work for it. Look at my situation, but I still manage to do good in my classes. There’s no excuses. And I hope I can teach my children the same thing,” Gardea said