The statistics aren’t good. According to recent estimates, women make up just under 20 percent of Congress and less than 25 percent of all state legislatures. Only six of our nation’s governors are women. But we are 51 percent of the population. And the research shows that when women participate in government, we make it run better, more collaboratively. Historically, women have needed to be convinced to enter politics. But within weeks of the 2016 presidential election, thousands of women announced they plan to run. And we want them to win. So we’re giving them a weekly example of a woman who has run and won. The point: You can, too.
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Blanca Rubio had to go the distance to get where she is now—all the way from Juarez, Mexico. Rubio first ran for office in 1997, elected to the Valley Country Water District and a member for two full terms. Since then, she’s been a classroom teacher, school board president, and a passionate advocate for ESL students. In 2016, she was elected to the California State Assembly, representing the 48th district. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, she is the first immigrant to represent the heavily Latino area in recent memory.
I was born in Mexico; my family came up to the United States when I was eight. We’d been here once before, earlier than that; we’d come to Texas and we were deported. That first time, we’d moved because my dad was in construction. He was a bracero at the time; he was building a bridge in Port Arthur, Texas. We didn’t speak the language at all. When we were in school, they didn’t know what to do with us. I remember we were the only non-white kids in the area. All the teachers just put us in the corner to color, but young minds learn quickly. I was picking up English, but not at a very high level. When I would try to participate in the class, the teacher would just move me back to the corner. I guess she decided I couldn’t keep up or she wanted to keep me occupied. During that time, my dad was working, and he didn’t have the proper documentation to work. He was caught, and we were deported. I was probably around six or seven. I had no idea what was going on. I just remember my dad saying, “Let’s pack up our things. We’re leaving.” We moved back around two years later.
We’re from Juarez, Mexico, which is one of the most dangerous cities at least in Mexico, if not the world. My parents were adamant about us not growing up there. When I was eight, they tried again. We moved to California, still undocumented. My younger sister, though, had been born in El Paso, Texas, and so we were able to get our documents through her, even though she was only four at the time. Through the process, we eventually became documented. If this had happened now, we wouldn’t be able to become citizens because the laws have changed and a four-year-old couldn’t sponsor a family. Thank god at the time they didn’t have those requirements. We came in 1977. We finally got our documents in 1983.
He looked at me and said, “Oh, honey, why? You’re just going to get pregnant and have kids.”
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With both my parents working, just trying to make it, trying to survive, they really didn’t understand a lot of what we were learning or going through at school. But they did tell me and my brother and sisters over and over, “Keep going to school. You better not miss [class]. You better do your homework.” It was always that. They didn’t understand the system, but they did understand the value of education. When I was in high school, I made an appointment with the counselor. I said, “I want to go to college. What do I have to do?” It was the mid-1980s, and I’ll never forget it. He looked at me and said, “Oh, honey, why? You’re just going to get pregnant and have kids.” He had me put in a home-ec class.
In the end, I didn’t go to college right away. I started at community college, but needed to go to work because we didn’t have much. I meant to go back to school pretty quickly, but, like it happens a lot, I didn’t go back immediately. I was working in a human resources association; through that, I got a job at Mount St. Mary’s University in west L.A. They have tuition reimbursement, and if you’re an employee, you can take two classes per year for free. I was already there, so I figured, “Well, I’ll start here.” I took, I think, four classes, and I was hooked. I got the fire. I was like, “I need to go back to school.” I got a job in human resources for the City of Vernon. Through their tuition reimbursement program, I got my associate’s degree. After that, I earned my bachelor’s degree. The whole time, I was still working in human resources.
It was 1997, and a friend of mine was sharing offices with us; he was a water board member. I complained all the time about the water board. He said, “What are you going to do about it?” I said, “What are you talking about! I just want to complain!” He said, “Nope. If you don’t have a plan, I don’t want to hear about it anymore.” I was like, “What can I do?” And he said, “Run. You can run. We have open positions. You can run.” I think he saw that spark in me. He promised to help me, and we registered to run. It was really tough. Even now, it’s hard for me to knock on doors. I have to kind of give myself a pep talk. Back then, I was really scared. I had never done anything like that before in my life, not even student government. I won that election by 18 votes.