At the CAUSE Leadership Academy Kickoff, I told the audience that I was proud to be placed in the office of my state senator, Dr. Ed Hernandez. While the Senator represents a lot more than just my hometown, this week in the office really drove home the idea that I was working right with the beliefs and issues that I grew up with—including some that I didn’t even realize existed until now.
Tuesday morning, I attended a Toastmasters meeting with one of the staffers in my office, Jorge. This meeting of the Covina Toastmasters club—an international organization that hones public speaking and leadership skills—was focused on the theme of the day: freedom. “Freedom is the ability of my 9-year old granddaughter to run up to me and tell me what she will do when she’s president,” shared one member. I realized my own privilege to feel the same—to grow up being comfortable in my own skin and aspire towards the loftiest of goals. This privilege is what empowers me to continue investing in government and community work. I realize that not every person of color, and not every woman, has the basic freedom to believe that they can achieve anything, including sitting in our nation’s highest office.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I was assigned to sit in on several San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) committee meetings. To be honest, though I had lived in the San Gabriel Valley my whole life, I had never heard of the SGVCOG. Yet, as I listened in to what these representatives of several cities in the valley had to say about water, energy and the environment, and transportation, I found myself personally connecting with many of the experiences they shared—and learning about issues I had never previously considered.
In the water committee, I was struck by how big of an issue water was for the San Gabriel Valley. Sure, I had seen some of the rivers run through certain neighborhoods, yet those mundane images in my mind had never triggered further thought. But, the sheer size of representation at that meeting, from the city representatives to the LA County Flood District to state legislators, emphasized the diverse stakeholder interests in effectively utilizing the natural resources of this area.
Discussions during the energy and environment, as well as the transportation, committee meetings about increasing public transit access to the Angeles National Forest struck a chord with me as well. Living right in the Foothills area, I had firsthand experience with several of the issues brought up surrounding congestion and lack of parking in the areas leading up to the hiking trails and open spaces. In these conversations, especially, I saw how citizen interests were weighed heavily in the decisions of the city councilmembers, LA Metro representatives, and Department of Transportation employees present at the meeting. “We need constant community support and education for the community about the positive development of transportation in these areas,” said a representative from Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office.
My week was capped off with a tour of the Children’s Advocacy Center and the Masonic Center for Youth and Families. With a nurse for a mother, I grew up learning about social work and the role healthcare providers play in identifying troublesome situations. Yet the tour of these homes today made me consider what actually happens to children and their families after the fact. It was so inspiring to hear the advocacy work that goes into these buildings, where every detail of the process, from the therapy dogs (read: cute corgis) to the material of the tables, is designed to reduce the trauma victims experience as they work with law enforcement to achieve justice. I can only imagine the amount of personal strength one must have to be in this line of work, which is why I hold so much respect for the therapists and investigators I met.
As I spend more time working with and speaking to the constituents that the Senator represents, I find myself learning even more about the community I grew up in than I ever imagined I could. I can only hope to be even more well-versed in the needs of the place that raised me as I see how the bits and pieces I can contribute fit into the bigger picture.