Meet the New Class of Latinx Political Leadership

The next wave of Latinx politicos in Philly is in the wings, laying the groundwork for the future.

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It is the best of times, it is the worst of times for wonkish Latinx folks like me.

With the Democratic National Convention just two weeks away, there’s a certain amount of exhilaration at the prospect of the Party’s P-A-R-T-Y in Philly.

But it’s also depressing. No, I’m not talking possible SEPTA nightmares (though there is that). It’s just that, as a Latina, I’m unlikely to be seeing more than a handful of mi gente among the ranks of the party’s top pols.

The sad reality is that I’d have a better chance of that at the Republican National Convention. Chew on that for a while (especially given the GOP’s not-so-friendly-to-Latinxs policies). From rising star governors Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval to former presidential contenders Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the GOP has cultivated a deeper Latinx bench — where top pols are concerned — than the Dems.

Oh, sure, cabinet members Thomas Perez and Julian Castro and Congressman Xavier Becerra have been named as potential VP picks for Hillary Clinton, but nobody — not even representation-starved Latinxs — are betting that any of them will actually be selected for the number two post.

And that lack of bench is not just a national thing.

Precious few of Pennsylvania’s pledged delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and none of the superdelegates, are Latinxs. Councilwoman María Quiñones Sánchez, and State Representatives Ángel Cruz and Leslie Acosta are the pledged delegate exceptions … but where are the young, up-and-coming Latinxs? Where is the next generation of Latinx political leadership?

The answer is that the new Latinx political class is still in the wings, laying the groundwork for the future from within the party, behind the scenes, and at the grassroots.

I hope in the next number of months to highlight folks in the city and region who are beginning to make their mark politically, but I start with three engaging — and engaged — Latinxs.   

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The millennial trailblazer

Jessica Torres, 26
Dominican-American
Assistant Press Secretary for the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee

On what drew her to politics:
I grew up in a household with loving grandparents, and a hardworking single mom who always pushed me to be the best version of myself possible. They taught me to be kind and thoughtful, and considerate of those less fortunate than me, to give money at church on Sundays, and to excel at school.

As I got older and found myself in more privileged positions, I became frustrated that I couldn’t bring my grandparents and my mom with me, too. I realized how powerless we were because of our ZIP code, our skin color, and because of my grandparent’s heavily accented English.

I’ve seen my grandma pour her hopes for me in her prayers and at the ballot box. She taught me to believe in possibility, in hoping for a better future for all your loved ones. She would take me to the voting booth as a little girl for any and all elections, studying the mailings we received, collecting all the information she could about who they were and how they showed up for our community. And she taught me that our voices mattered…

I remember going to union meetings with her as a little girl, seeing all the aunts and grandmas and moms huddled together in a tiny room on the Grand Concourse negotiating benefits and language access. These were the women responsible for loving and caring for all the elderly members of our community who need all the warmth and hope they can get. And they felt some obligation to care for each other. (What is more Latina than that, the caretakers taking care of the caretakers?)

They were organized because they knew no change would happen, things wouldn’t get better for them unless they did so. My grandma may not realize it, but her chingona spirit, her secret activism, is what inspired me to get into politics.

On role models and civic engagement:
When I read Justice Sotomayor’s blistering dissent (on police searches) I got chills. Here is a Bronx-born Latina — a Supreme Court Justice — invoking W.E.B. DuBois and Michelle Alexander as she discusses racial inequality and over-incarceration of people of color.  As she aptly points out: “Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

The same goes for civic engagement. Until we make our voices matter, until we use them, our political system will continue to be anything but.

To my fellow Millennials, don’t sit around waiting to be catalogued. Stand up and fight, and fight together. I’m not only hopeful, but I’m also certain that we can make this world a better place. I’m sure of it; if we work together, ask difficult questions, hold each other accountable, and also just hold each other when the weight of the world’s misfortunes seem to crush us. We are so powerful and amazing, and soon enough, our government will reflect all of the magic that we are — if we want it to.

On her political aspirations:
I want to run for my grandma, for my sister, and for all the women in my life whose shoulders I stand on. I will run for all the little boys like my baby brother who will learn to be loving and compassionate allies. I will run for all those people I grew up with in the Bronx: my teachers and neighbors and babysitters and classmates who deserve the best health care, the best schools, and the most innovative government possible to make sure they are safe, healthy, and empowered …

But I still have so much to learn before I’m ready to run. I am so fortunate to be a part of a historic nominating Convention, and it’s jobs like this one which teach me how to play the game. I have a lot more mistakes to learn from before I’m ready to lead.

Fernando Trevño

Fernando Treviño

The behind-the-scenes strategist

Fernando Treviño, 39
Mexican immigrant
Founder of Treviño Strategic Consulting in Philadelphia

On what drew him to politics:
One way or another, I have been involved in politics since I was a teenager. From negotiating a high-school transfer with my parents, to working in presidential campaigns both in Mexico and the U.S.. But in the end, I truly believe that politics is a vehicle for public service. Beyond any specific position, as long as you are doing it for the right reasons and always having public service as your main motivator, politics is a very rewarding career — frustrating a lot of times— but very rewarding.

On why there are are so few people of color in the Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress and positioned for presidential runs:
Unfortunately we can’t deny that racism is still a big problem across the country. Stereotypes still play a big role for voters and for elected officials before appointing someone to office.

Another big problem that many people don’t talk about is the internal politics within ethnic groups. Every ethnic group has established leaders who don’t want to build a leadership pipeline because they want to “keep control, power” over that specific group. We haven’t been smart enough to challenge that leadership in order to develop the pipeline that would allow a younger, more prepared generation of people of color to take over important positions.

On his political aspirations:
To some degree almost every person involved in politics aspires to run for office at one point, even if they deny it. In my case, I really enjoy being the person behind the scenes, to provide support and advice to the candidate.

However, I’m not closed to the idea. I believe that being an elected official is the ultimate public service platform, and it’s all about public service.

In the short-term [my plan is to] stay involved in electoral work and continue to grow my network; in the mid-term, evaluate my fundraising ability and identify the right office to run for; in the long-term: run!

Jasmine Rivera

Jasmine Rivera

The community organizer

Jasmine Rivera, 29
Chicana
Data and targeting manager at Pennsylvania Voice

On what drew her to politics:
I was always aware of injustice since I was kid, just didn’t have the language for it at that age. I was born and initially raised in the south side of Chicago, which was a very diverse neighborhood and I remember yelling about racism even then. I would get angry at anyone using derogatory names against Black or Latinx people.

Then, at age 7, we moved to Arizona and I was confronted with a lot of anti-Mexicaness although it would take me a few years to understand it. The most immediate and obvious one was that I was put in ESL in third grade. For some context, I went to a small religious school in Chicago for kindergarten and first grade, when I  moved to Arizona we first lived in Tempe, which is primarily Latinx, and they offered to have me skip a grade because I was so advanced. The next year we moved to Scottsdale — which is primarily caucasian and very wealthy. I was too embarrassed to speak Spanish at that age so I only communicated in English, but I was placed in ESL for two and a half years.

It wasn’t until middle school that I understood that what had happened to me was racism, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I could understand it was systemic racism. As I got older I saw that it was only Mexicans kept in ESL while other immigrant children were able to move onto regular classes.

It’s that and the many ineptitudes and blatant racism that plagues the Arizona power structure that made it clear I needed to go after that very political structure if this kind of injustice was gonna stop.

On getting millennials to become more politically engaged:
My generation is continuously being blamed for being apathetic or lazy with little acknowledgement that we were born into pretty broken systems. There’s a lot a pressure to just make it through day to day — for most millennials as for other communities. So the way to properly connect with them is to start having conversations one by one.

Is that a huge task? Absolutely. But it doesn’t matter who you want to connect with, the best way is always through real one-on-one conversations.

If someone is constantly focused on juggling all their day-to-day responsibilities, they aren’t going to come to you to learn what’s going on or how to get involved. Social media can only go so far. It’s a great tool for education, but if you want people to get involved you need to do the work to find them, listen to them and then get them to be a part of the work to create change.

On her political aspirations:
I’m happiest being the one holding those in political office accountable…

Sabrina Vourvoulias is an award-winning columnist with bylines at The Guardian USCity & State, Tor.com and Strange Horizons. Her novel, Ink, was named one of Latinidad’s Best Books of 2012. Follow her on Twitter @followthelede.