Political Diversity's Impact on My Life
When we talk about wanting or recognizing the benefits of a more diverse legislature, it's not just some minority movement, or an issue of pride in which we all want our own team to win. The diversity I have seen in the Capitol is necessary for the health of a democracy in a diverse state like California. If there was a legislature composed completely of conservative white males who understood the issues that my family and I have had to endure, and created effective solutions that allowed my family and me to thrive, then I would be proud to call them my elected officials; unfortunately, as seemingly simple as it is to empathize with a person's struggles, it's far more difficult to truly understand what it actually feels like, and act accordingly. I have the privilege of getting to intern for Senator Ricardo Lara, a powerful man of color, and openly part of the LGBT community, who sits on some of the most powerful committees in the legislature, including chairing the Appropriations Committee. The Senator, his staff, and many of the other persons of color I have met at the Capitol truly embody a knowledge of the struggles I have had to face; If not by logic, they have been able to understand my issues by heart, by a raw emotional humanity which ads an extra dimension to politics.
Like many other debates, politics isn’t as two-sided a battle as it appears to be; there are many facets to be considered. Take gay rights, for example, which my Senator is constantly working to progress. It may appear to be a simple battle over ‘marriage’ or ‘no marriage,' but there’s so much more that goes without consideration when addressing this community; there’s the endless years of heartache, tears, and confusion that the individual had to endure before accepting himself or coming out to his family. A legislator who understood this would be best suited to contribute to a conversation on how to deal with the issues of this population.
My personal struggle, which has deeply affected my life and my educational choices, has been my immigration status. While I have status now, it's important for me to remember that it has not always been this simple, that holding a card with my social security number on it is not the end of a battle for myself or my community.
Growing up I understood that I was an AB 540 student, but until a couple of years ago I didn’t know what that meant. It meant that a senator sat at his desk, thinking about how he could help the community he came from, looking back on his experiences and influences, and realized what our community needed, specifically as undocumented students, and proposed AB 540. The bill qualified students that were in my situation to be considered for in-state tuition and the financial aid that comes along with state residency for California public universities. This bill is the only reason I was able to apply, be accepted to, and attend an institution like UC Berkeley.
Now, the story comes full circle. Here I am, typing at a desk, in the office of Senator Ricardo Lara, who years ago, in the Assembly, before having ever met me or knowing my struggle, championed AB 540 through the legislature. His background, his community, his immigrant parents, all indirectly contributed to the passing of a bill, which allows me to sit where I am today. The Senator has made it possible for Dreamers to go to school, get some form of financial aid, has assisted with the guaranteeing of drivers licenses, and much more. Additionally, my first day on the job I got to see the floor vote for SB 4 which gives undocumented children healthcare access, something which would have benefited me greatly as a child.
I am proud to get to work in such an office and to witness such historic precedents being set, to get to see a fire being lit under the federal government for its inaction on immigration by a senator’s office in the capitol of one state. I’m proud to give back, and hopefully be the change, that helped me along the way for the next generation of Dreamers.
I see value in having a diverse legislature to serve the needs of every minority, denomination, and faction of our diverse state. I feel California is leading in that respect. I look forward to learning more from the Capitol and all of its members during my time here.
Robert Nuñez is a UC Berkeley senior studying political science and media studies. He is interning in the office of Senator Ricardo Lara as a Cal-in-Sacramento Fellow.