When Mayor London Breed opened the 2021 Latino Heritage Month celebration Thursday night, she introduced Valerie Tulier-Laiwa as a “Mama Bear” and the recipient of the Rosario Anaya Community Award for her tireless work with the Latino Task Force during the pandemic.
The award reflects the legacy of Rosario Anaya, who was the first Latina to serve on the School Board and was the longtime leader of the Mission Language Vocational School, a place that Tulier-Laiwa and others turned into a social-service hub during the pandemic.
“When we talk about all this incredible work that the Latino Task Force did to help distribute [personal protective equipment], to help make sure that people had food, to make sure that they were getting the rental relief resources to the families in need, the resources for the kids who could not do work at home, they needed someone to help them,” said Breed.
“During the pandemic, you were not messing around,” she added, addressing Tulier-Laiwa. “Mama Bear was right there, directing all of everything to do it.”
Tulier-Laiwa received her award with her compañero, J.R., and her mijo standing beside her. A longtime friend and “mayor of the Mission,” Roberto Hernandez, presented the award to Tulier-Laiwa, speaking of her contributions in many different circles and movements.
The mayor’s description of Tulier-Laiwa as “not messing around,” was apt. Throughout the pandemic, the longtime Mission activist, who now works for the Public Utilities Commission, was often the first to arrive at the Alabama Street hub that operates out of the Mission Vocational School. She made sure everything was in perfect order on testing days, and reminded volunteers and visitors of the honor and responsibility they shared in serving the community. She often talked about the “Mission way” of service.
Tulier-Laiwa and seven other Mission leaders, including Hernandez, organized the original executive committee of the Latino Task Force early in the pandemic, and began offering services to the community long before the city stepped in with funding.
The honorific “Mama Bear,” Hernandez said, like names traditionally bestowed on community elders, was earned. “Her corazon is just so gentle, so pure. Her spirit lights me up,” he said. “Her soul dances.”
He read a statement accompanying the award, recognizing Tulier-Laiwa’s service:
“Your legacy in serving your community will forever be accommodated here in the city’s history. Your advocacy to ensure the Latino community is heard and represented at City Hall and beyond represents San Francisco’s values at its best.”
Tulier-Laiwa gave a litany of thanks to the ancestors of the land, her family and community, Mayor London Breed, and the “many she-roes and he-roes” of Latino Task Force committees. She drew special attention to the youth involved, many of whom are under 30, who are learning how to respect and serve their communities through nonprofit organizations.
Like other generations before them, they’re participating in what Tulier-Laiwa calls the “Mission 101” curriculum. “We learned this behavior,“ she said, and now she and her generation are modeling it for the next.
“It is really hard for me to receive the recognition, you know,” she said after the ceremony. Everyone brings their own gifts, she said, and hers was exquisite facilitation and how to “move the energy” of others learned through years of community involvement.
“I was the thread in all of this work, but the work doesn’t belong to me, the credit doesn’t belong to me,” she added. “The credit belongs to the community.”