Gov. Gavin Newsom made history appointing California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ Senate seat — and South Bay Latinos acknowleged it was not by chance.
Latinos throughout the state lobbied hard for the governor to appoint someone from their community, saying their time for representation was long overdue. They got their wish with Padilla.
Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe, a nonprofit that serves San Jose’s Latino community, said she is beyond thrilled with the appointment but it was long coming. During its 170 years as a state, California has not had a Latino senator.
Amigos de Guadalupe worked with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and other groups to push the governor.
“This didn’t happen by accident,” said Latino Leadership Alliance Chair Lennies Gutierrez. “We were part of an active statewide coalition… voicing the need for a representative from our community for the U.S. Senate.”
Politicians and community leaders spoke at news conferences in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose last month on the need for Latino representation. In San Jose, Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco and the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley hosted an event Nov. 23 at the Mexican Heritage Plaza.
Gutierrez said the effort was powerful because everyone had one purpose: to say representation matters.
“Our voices matter,” Gutierrez said. “Because we were able to come together and have a collective voice. We helped move the needle.”
Gutierrez said because of how hard communities of color were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, having someone in the U.S. Senate who understands what they have been going through is palpable.
Maldonado said young people being able to see someone of Padilla’s caliber with immigrant parents is inspiring.
“He has a mother who was a housecleaner and a father who was a cook — the same profile we see of a lot of families in East San Jose,” Maldonado said. “That’s why families immigrate to the United States; it’s the promise of a better future for their families and Alex Padilla epitomizes that dream.”
Maldonado also expects Padilla’s support with immigration reform.
“We will push him to carry our local voice from San Jose to the U.S. Senate and make reform happen,” Maldonado said. “As a small nonprofit in East San Jose that represents the largest number of immigrants in the county of Santa Clara, it’s important that we have the level of representation that’s needed to move the work forward.”
Mylinh Pham, CEO of the Asian American Center of Santa Clara County, said Padilla’s appointment brings a voice to represent the immigrant community in the U.S. Senate.
“He is someone who understands the many challenges we are facing, especially during this pandemic,” Pham said. “He is very well suited to fight for us … and brings a critically important voice to the Senate as the first Latino senator from California and a voice for the immigrant community.”
Many people also lobbied to have a Black woman replace Harris.
Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley Branch of the NAACP, said he has mixed feelings over Padilla’s appointment.
“I believe he will do an excellent job, but I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a Black woman who filled that position,” Moore said. “There is no Black woman in the Senate, which lowers the representation.”
Moore said Padilla should not stop the work Harris was doing and not forget the Black community she represented.
“Our greatest threat still comes from those who don’t want to include us and do everything to exclude us,” Moore said. “We want people to make an effort to represent as many different points of view as possible.”
Although the Latino Leadership Alliance applauded the appointment, it said in a statement that more needs to be done.
“Children cannot emulate that which they do not see,” the organization said. “We must look to our LGBTQ+ and BIPOC women for appointments into these newly opened seats — State Secretary and Attorney General — if we are ever to ensure that our leadership at the highest levels truly reflects the residents of this great state.”
Padilla got his start in politics as an aide to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. At 26, he sat on the Los Angeles City Council before joining the state Senate in 2006. He was sworn in as California’s first Latino Secretary of State in 2015 and was re-elected in 2018.
“From those struggling to make ends meet, to the small businesses fighting to keep their doors open, to the health care workers looking for relief, please know that I am going to the Senate to fight for you,” Padilla said. “We will get through this pandemic together and rebuild our economy in a way that doesn’t leave working families behind.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]