What (or who) inspired you to do the work you are doing?
I’m very lucky in having worked with an incredible number of amazing people over the years. However, Dr. Gabriela Lemus (with LULAC when I worked with her) and Roger Hickey from Campaign for America’s Future are two individuals who stand out in my mind as being inspirational.
They both try to stand up for average, working-class Americans, and both have a wonderful, can-do attitude towards creating new coalitions and campaigns. Their strong moral compass and willingness to engage in tough political battles definitely helped inspire me to start the Latinos for a Secure Retirement (LSR) coalition.
What is your favorite movie and why?
My favorite movie is probably The Crow. Not that it’s a particularly good movie, but it came out just when I was entering high school and when you could see movies a couple months after their release at the historic downtown theater for $1.50 (the theater has long since closed). It was affordable and within walking distance from my house, two very important factors when you’re 14 and want to go out with without your parents. I must have seen it with friends about a dozen times and can still cite just about every line in the movie.
What is the biggest policy challenge facing the United States and how would you fix it?
The biggest challenge is the effort to rig our democratic system to benefit the wealthiest. The recent Citizens United decision now allows corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money influencing elections, conservatives are successfully attacking and severely undermining workers ability to form unions and have a collective voice, and minorities are being systematically disenfranchised of their vote. These efforts threaten to undermine our democracy and deny working class Americans a voice, which will lead to worse outcomes in every policy area.
What was the last book you read? What is the most important thing you learned from it?
Not counting required college textbooks, the last book I read for fun was a biography, The Peasant Prince: Thaddeous Kosciusko and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynski. I’ve always loved history, and Thaddeous is a true hero of mine. He was a military genius, playing a crucial role in securing America’s freedom by engineering the victory at Saratoga and fortifying Philadelphia and West Point.
But I really admire him because of his commitment to equality and opportunity. For example, he tried to free and educate black slaves with his American army salary. Returning to Poland after the American Revolution, he played a key role in establishing a democratic constitutional government with increased freedom for serfs and Jews.
Unfortunately, his progressive ideals of equality and democracy were very radical for the late 18th century, and the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians all attacked Poland at the same time he was undermined internally by traitorous Polish aristocrats.
Like most of history, the lessons learned are very much open for interpretation. Sometimes the lesson appears to be that slow progress can be better and more sustainable, while at other times it seems the lesson of Thaddeous Kosciusko is that it takes a strong and uncompromising commitment to what is right to ultimately affect positive change in the long run.
How can people find out more about your work or get involved?
What do you value about where you grew up?
There is absolutely nothing that can beat eating a Chicago style Vienna beef hotdog and drinking an ice cold Old Style with friends while watching the Cubs play at Wrigley Field on a summer day. It’s even better when it’s a day game and you’re supposed to be at work or school!
What advice do you have for young people who are interested in your field?
Have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Many young people of color I meet seem to be afraid of failure, and that caution has unfortunately limited our advancement into higher positions.
You shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there to ask for new responsibilities, apply for a better position, start something new, or quit your job and travel across the country to join a campaign you feel passionate about.
It won’t always work out, but there will always be plenty of other good opportunities if you’re smart, hard-working and treat others with respect.
What do you do when you are not saving the world?
Right now I’m studying for a Masters degree in Public Administration, between being a full time student and running the LSR coalition, my free time is fairly limited. But I still always find time to play soccer at least once a week and go out with friends.
I also love to travel. I will visit Israel and Palestine during spring break in March and am tentatively planning to spend a few weeks in China in June right after I graduate.