By Manny Crisostomo
Putting her Guam roots front and center, Kylie Taitano has spent the last five months knocking on thousands of doors, making hundreds of fundraising calls, and reaching out to over 100,000 people through text and social media ads in her grassroots campaign as a Democratic candidate in San Diego’s 50th Congressional District to bring inafa’maolek to the nation’s capital.
“I always start off every single conversation I have with a voter telling them I’m CHamoru, I’m Filipina, I’m from Guam and how inafa’maolek has shaped my political identity,” says the 30-year-old former Machanao, Dededo resident.
“People think that it’s pie in the sky, or it’s impossible, and yeah, maybe I might be naive. But inafa’maolek is what has kept me grounded and is a vision for what America should be like that I feel like I can bring to Washington. And the people out here love that. They love it when I talk about inafa’maolek because it’s new to them. But it’s not new to us, it’s our way of life, ever since we were born.”
Taitano is one of five candidates on the June 7 ballot vying to represent coastal and north inland San Diego County, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the Nov. 8 general election.
“So honestly, right now, it’s a toss-up and we’re finding out at the doors we knocked on that people are starting to recognize the campaign and my name,” Taitano said.
“San Diego’s a safe blue Democratic seat. So if we make it through the primary to the general, it’s going to be a real interesting discussion on what our chances are, because I do believe the district I’m running in, aligns very closely with my politics as a whole.”
Taitano is the oldest daughter of four children to Louvie Benitez-Taitano of Latte Heights, and Ed Taitano, familian Queto, of Yigo. Growing up on island, she remembers spending time with her CHamoru grandparents, John Lloyd Salas Taitano and Taffy Quintanilla Taitano.
“My core childhood memory was going to visit nana and papa in Yigo, hanging out with my cousins and eating nana’s food and hearing papa play on the piano,” she said.
After she graduated from Wettengel Elementary School in 2003, the family, including her grandparents, moved to Murrieta, California.
“It felt like a new adventure and I don’t remember feeling sad that I was leaving Guam, because we were still able to preserve a little bit of the island culture here. My dad’s eldest brother was here with my cousin. My nana and papa moved out, actually around the same time since they wanted to be with their grandkids. So it didn’t feel like too much of a change.”
She graduated with a computer science degree from the University of California, San Diego, in 2014 and got a job at Intuit as a software engineer.
“My plan for 2022 was originally to become a software engineering manager since I’ve been in the tech field for eight years now, after graduating from UCSD,” she said. She quickly switched gears, though, after being approached by community leaders to run for Congress.
Recruited to run
“Through all of the community work that I’ve done with my nonprofit CODE with Her and the work that I did with Bernie (Sanders, the 2020 presidential candidate), we knocked on thousands and thousands of doors, back in 2020. I guess I was noticed and was asked if I would consider running,” Kylie Taitano said.
“It would be the ultimate form of community service to do this, so I was like, let me take a risk. I’ve always been a by the book person,” she said. “You know, I attribute that to my mom raising me to put education and career first. And so this is truly the first time in my life when I decided to jump into something that I didn’t know.”
“When I told my friends and family, nobody was surprised at all,” she added. “I remember my mom saying years ago, you’re probably gonna, run for mayor or something, and I am like, ‘Oh mom that’s just a pipe dream.’”
So in January she got a leave from Intuit to pursue her pipe dream. “They’re holding my job until after the primary and then we’re going to kind of talk from there if we make it through to the general,” she said.
With the primary days just away, she reflects on the last five months. “The days are long, but the months are short. Some days I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, can this day just be over?’ Because I would be pulled in a million different directions, doing fundraising calls, door knocking, organizing and managing my team, and having to deal with the things that you deal with in politics. But it just went by really, really, really fast.”
Most days she is on the phone for up to six hours talking to voters and donors.
“Telling them about who I am, why I’m running, what my background is, and my qualifications and then asking them to donate, you know, whatever amount they can to help out our campaign,” she said of her grassroots campaign where she doesn’t accept corporate donations.
“And you’d be surprised; I’ve met a lot of people who are very generous in a 10-minute conversation where they’re willing to donate, like 100 bucks to someone that they just met on the phone without even having met in person.”
“Probably the hardest one out of all is asking your friends and family for money, that’s the one that I struggle with the most,” she said. “I have so much mamåhlao asking for money.”
“The biggest contributor to having mamåhlao about it is the relationship,” she added. “You care and you love these people, and they love you, and they care about you. And you feel like by asking them for help, that you’re disturbing them in some way, and that you’re bothering them, and you want to preserve the relationship that you have. And hope that it doesn’t get messed up by asking for money. It’s very, very personal.”
She heeded some sage advice that when it comes to politics and family and friends, one shouldn’t feel that they are obligated to support you.
“Thankfully I have had no friendships ruined because of it because I respect where they’re coming from, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”
On the campaign trail, she is passionate about climate change policies and legislation, living through Guam typhoons and Southern California wildfires.
“During Typhoon Pongsona (in 2002), I remember my mom putting out water in the tub outside all day so we have a hot bath and she’ll heat up like cans of Chef Boyardee by candlelight, so that we could have a hot meal since we didn’t have power,” she said.
She also remembers the typhoon destroying the backyard extension of her maternal grandparents’ Latte Heights home.
“My uncle, my auntie and my cousin were living there. That entire part of my grandparents’ house got destroyed by Typhoon Pongsona.”
More recently she endured devastating wildfires in San Diego County. “The fires were so bad down here, causing a blood orange sky and I remember it was really hard to breathe,” she said.
“So that’s why climate is so important to me, because of all these lived experiences. And I feel like it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen again.”
On Election Day she’ll be up early and stay up late. “We’re gonna be out knocking on doors, all day, from 9 a.m. until the polls close at 8,” Kylie Taitano said.
A positive campaign
“I’ve actually chosen a really casual bar downtown to hang out in to see results come in. We’re just going to hang out and celebrate the campaign and all the hard work that everybody has done.”
She is all too aware of the importance and significance of her stateside candidacy.
“We are the same people, same blood, born on the same island, in the same hospital, probably went to the same schools, and yet, one of us has voting power in Congress and the other doesn’t,” she said.
“It’s literally just location-based, and when people see the disparity, they really buy into the fact of how important this is. It fuels me to make sure that I’ve run a positive campaign because I represent our people. And you know, no matter what happens on election night, the legacy that I want to leave is people understanding who the people of Guam are.”
“Manaotao Sanlagu” is Manny Crisostomo’s ongoing visual documentary of CHamorus from the Marianas living overseas that is featured weekly in the PDN. If you or someone you know would like to be part of this documentary or wish to support this project, contact Crisostomo atsanlagu.com. The project is sponsored in part by Brand Marinade, a CHamoru-owned creative agency in the San Francisco Bay Area.