May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, observed to honor the histories, contributions, and cultures of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. For Paulina Mangubat ’17, a child of Filipino immigrants, honoring her heritage is foundational to her work as a digital and political consultant. 

After graduating from Barnard with a degree in political science and East Asian studies, Mangubat continued her path in politics working with people who shared her passion for inclusive policies and personal backgrounds. “Outside [of] the classroom, Barnard taught me the importance of deep community,” said Mangubat.

The desire for community-building is what made her an integral part of the campaign of Boston mayor Michelle Wu, the first Asian American woman to serve as the city’s mayor. As Wu’s digital and creative director, Mangubat led the community outreach aspect of the mayoral campaign early this year, creating original content for social media and public engagement. “Paulina’s creative genius, passion for connecting every resident, and vision for digital equity will help each of our City’s departments engage with residents through social media and other digital channels,” Wu stated in her January announcement

Read more about what Mangubat’s time at Barnard taught her and her experiences working in politics and digital strategy in this “5 Questions With…” Q&A. 

How have your personal experiences or background shaped your passion for politics?

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Mangubat (bottom row, fourth from the right) on Michelle Wu's Boston mayoral campaign.

So much! For most of my life, I saw my personal experiences and my family’s story as completely separate from my work aspirations. But working in politics, I see every day how my personal life shapes my professional life, sometimes just as much as my technical qualifications.
Like many other kids from immigrant families, I grew up feeling like a bit of an alien, attending majority-white schools. I rarely saw people who looked like me in positions of leadership. With the exception of my parents, most of the adults in my life were white — so it was hard for me to imagine what the world would be like as a grown-up.

Today, I’m working in the hopes of making a vision of a better, more inclusive world crystal clear for kids like me. I want to work with candidates who inspire — candidates who grew up not seeing themselves reflected or their needs represented. I want to work with candidates who maybe don’t speak English as their first language or who felt just as clueless as I did navigating their coming-of-age in the United States under the care of parents who grew up an ocean away.

Certain life experiences make you more confident, too. Going to a women’s college has helped me feel more comfortable putting myself out there and speaking up.

What drew you to digital and political creative strategy in particular? 

In the political world, digital is truly everywhere — it’s in social media, of course, but it also drives how campaign staffers communicate with each other, the tools we use to canvass, and our methods to measure what resonates with voters and what doesn’t.
The same thing with creative strategy. People tend to fixate on campaigns’ branding systems and logos, but there’s so much thought that goes into the presentation of information — from creating an Instagram graphic to laying out a candidate’s platform on a door hanger — and design touches so many more aspects of a campaign than people realize.
So the honest answer is that I’ve always been a bit nosy in the workplace and want to do a little bit of everything!

Mangubat (second from the right) at a rally for Michelle Wu's Boston mayoral campaign.

At the end of the day, so much of this work is about accessibility in every sense of the word. Your candidate’s message and platform needs to be easy to find and digest across social media platforms. Getting involved in a campaign should be as easy as filling out a quick online form or sending a DM [direct message]. Doing the work to be accessible to voters and constituents is all the more important to municipal politics because it’s the level of government that is closest to the people.
The pandemic isn’t the reason why candidates are using digital tools, but it did make us hyperaware of the power of the internet. My general advice to all candidates is that people need to feel just as connected with your campaign on the internet as they do in person.

How did your time at Barnard shape your professional career today?

Barnard taught me the importance of holding my work to a high standard. I mean this in the best way possible! The people I met at Barnard were just so smart. To wit, I often think about Professor Dorothy Y. Ko — someone whose subject matter expertise on gender, artistry, and East Asian history is so deep that it felt nearly impossible to stop learning from her. Taking her classes felt like peeling back the layers of a very large, fascinating onion. She made me want to continue learning, to continue asking questions.

That’s the approach I’ve taken to my work. I’ve met some people in the space who lean a lot on “best practices” or broad solutions. But as an industry, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, never assume that we are smarter than the constituents we serve, and keep on peeling back the layers of the onion.

Outside the classroom, I grew incredibly close with a tight circle of people — some of whom were in my NSOP (New Student Orientation Program) group! — who have seen me cry so hard I literally threw up but also laugh so hard I gave myself asthma attacks. We basically grew up together. While life has taken us all over the map — California! Massachusetts! Florida! New York! — they are my gold standard for friendship.

What were your experiences like as digital director for Mayor Wu’s campaign, and what did it mean to work on this campaign for you? 

As digital and creative director, I was responsible for running Mayor Wu’s social media handles and creating original graphic and video content for her. I designed flyers, lawn signs, and bumper stickers. I rode around in the car with her and my camera to capture big moments on the trail. It was a chaotic and profoundly joyful time. I had the privilege of seeing Boston, a city entirely new to me, through the eyes of someone who truly loves the city and considers it home. 

I’ve worked with a number of different campaigns in my life, but this was the first time working with an Asian American principal whose family’s story felt so familiar to me. Her policy proposals, from a city-level Boston Green New Deal to fare-free public transportation to increased language access in city government, are exciting, yes, but also just make sense. Being aligned like that meant the world to me.

What are some upcoming projects or events you are involved in that you are excited about?

I recently left Boston City Hall to move back home to Washington, D.C., and work at a political ad shop called AL Media, where I’ll be helping create TV and digital content for clients like Senator Raphael Warnock. Midterm years always bring unexpected twists and turns, so I’m hoping to do all I can to help Democrats win and hold on to the majority. I’ll also continue to collaborate with Mayor Wu on the campaign side. 

More importantly, I’ve been working on carving out little spaces so I can take ownership over the stuff I’ve been working on behind the scenes. I recently created my first web portfolio, a home for all the photography, video, and design projects I’ve been working on over the past couple of years.

Digital moves so quickly that it’s easy to forget the things you made and why you made them; I call it “content amnesia.” So it’s nice to finally have everything in one place, like a little reminder that “Hey, I did create something useful, or at least a little bit entertaining!”