I spent my summer and fall quarters interning for the Cindy Chavez mayoral campaign to support a local Latina in her journey to leadership.
For many, this local election was seen as a fight between two candidates with different perspectives targeting the same issues, and ultimately one candidate lost.
For minority groups, however, this battle was seen differently. Many in San Jose saw a community-centered woman of color going up against a white male politician representing business ideologies. This was more than just a local political campaign. This election was representative of a changing tide that never arrived within San Jose politics. For young Latinas like me, the results of this election uncovered a system that doesn’t seem to want leaders who are like me.
I remember eagerly checking the online election results during the school day on Nov. 8. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. I was pleased when she was ahead, and anxious when she fell behind. Throughout the day I wished on all my lucky stars that more women and minority voters had come out to the polls because this was the community she was fighting for. I remember staring in disbelief at the 51% next to the name of someone I felt little connection to versus the 49% attached to the person I believed saw me for who I am—a young Latina, a young person full of hope, someone with a desire to change our community so all can benefit.
On that screen, I didn’t see election results. I saw before me a deeply ingrained system of injustice that keeps minorities invisible and erases our accomplishments. San Jose has never had a woman of color as mayor in its 246-year history. When will it be time for a change?
The unique perspectives women of color bring are important not only because they were forged despite underrepresentation and underestimation, but also because women often have different views on collaboration and inclusivity, paving pathways for peace. It’s not women of color who need to change to adapt to norms that render them invisible, but society.
The year is 2023. It pains me that I am the only Latina in my AP calculus and AP physics classes at my diverse high school. I see the glass ceiling for women of color in my classrooms every day, and it became even clearer to me through this mayoral election.
For women of color, this barrier seems to be made out of concrete. This cycle of injustice has had a generational impact on minority families and continues today—reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices about what minorities can and cannot do. When we continue to see the same outcome over and over again, the same faces and voices in power, something is wrong.
Finally, it is important to recognize historical realities that contribute to an underrepresentation of minority voters: all across the land of this great nation, voter suppression still occurs through subtle and sometimes violent means. Overcoming voter suppression will require us to see the invisible systems, name them and then dismantle them.
Our current mayor is a good person. He comes from a working class background, loves his family and wants to help San Jose. This piece isn’t about him. This is a commentary on the concrete ceiling that keeps Latinas and other women of color from reaching the highest levels of government.
San Jose will never be able to reach its promise of inclusion and tolerance unless we act. Will it take another 246 years of history before a Latina is allowed to lead? I don’t intend to wait that long. I hope you will join me in the hard work it will take to crack the concrete ceiling.
Marina Arriola is the granddaughter of farmworkers and a senior high school student in San Jose. She hopes to study sociology in college.
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