Hispanic Heritage Month // Access and Opportunity

Yo Soy Latina. In 1985, my mom crossed the Mexico-US border. She did so “sin papeles” and that makes me beam with orgullo--with pride. I couldn’t be more grateful that she found the courage to take the dangerous journey that would lead to my sister’s and my existence. My life begins with her journey and it’s that journey that I feel most indebted to. It’s that journey that guides me daily.

I was born and raised in Central Falls, RI, a city that is known for its poverty, boarded up homes, high unemployment rate, high teen pregnancy rate, and mediocre educational outcomes. Seldom is it ever known for its residents’ resilience, perseverance, and strength. As a youth, I was conditioned to believe that my goal in life should be to graduate from the district’s high school and move as far away as possible from the hood. Unfortunately, that’s what most people who “make it” do. We run from the very spaces where our presence and voices are needed the most. So I did. I ran to Boston for college and didn’t look back for a little while.

My four years in college inspired an urgency that I had not felt before. Though I made it through a difficult time academically and financially, every second on that campus was a striking reminder of how privilege and opportunity decided who obtained a college education and who didn’t. I knew I deserved to be in college, even if not every adult around me was convinced I did. That observation and experience haunted me enough and led me right back to the community I ran away from--Central Falls.

I believe unconditionally in the capacity of children in Central Falls and places like it. And it’s that belief in my kids that drive me to be vocal about the issues that impact them; lack of recreational opportunities, access to education, employment for their parents, broken community police relations, and housing conditions that do not preserve their dignity. No child deserves that. My role on the Central Falls School Board and City Council has given me the platform to advocate for the things that keep me up at night.

To be honest, I didn’t run for elected office because I thought I could do it. I ran because people who believed in me spent time outlining all of the reasons why I should. Those people made a significant impact on my life and I now spend a lot of time asking other women, “Have you ever considered running for office?” I often wonder if we could change the landscape of politics if we invested an extensive amount of time encouraging and preparing women to run at the local and state level. What if we invested more time encouraging and preparing more Latinas to run?

I became a City Councilor at a time when Central Falls needed new voices at the table. I am proud to say that in 2013, the Central Falls Council became the first majority female Council. The five women are an important fabric of Central Falls’ history because they were trailblazers at a time when the City needed them the most. 

Three years later, Central Falls is making a #Comeback, an incredible feat led by the first Latino Mayor in the City’s history, James Diossa. It’s been an honor to have played even a small role. One of the most important responsibilities I believe we have as elected officials is to be ambassadors for the communities we serve. For every remotely negative thing you hear about us, I promise you I have a thousand stories that will make you want to move here and that make me never want to leave. 

As we reflect on Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s certainly important to recognize how far we’ve come as a community, but also acknowledge that the state of Latinos in education, the workforce, and housing is an alarming reminder of the urgent need for policy that changes outcomes for mi gente. I challenge you, reader, to ask yourself a few questions as you go about your day tomorrow. Donde estan los Latinos? Are we in enough positions of power? Are we being encouraged to run for office? Are we sitting at the tables where decisions are made about us? Are enough of us on college campuses?

If your answer is no to any of those questions, join me in building a state where Latinos thrive across all sectors. A state where courageous Latina women like my mother can succeed.

Pa’Lante Juntas. Let’s move forward together.

Stephanie was born and raised in Central Falls, attended Boston College as an undergrad, but inspired by the changes in her hometown, she returned home in hopes of playing a role in the City's transformation. Seeing education as one of the most important needs in the community, Stephanie was appointed to the Central Falls School Board of Trustees in 2011 and is currently the Associate Director of Partnerships at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy.  Stephanie sits on numerous boards and commissions across the state including Girls on the Run Rhode Islandy, RI Commission on Women, Sophia Academy, and Central Falls City Council.