Ana del Rocío is the Executive Director of
Color PAC, a former school board official, and a contributor to The Brown Girls Guide to Politics.
What is your first political memory that made you say, “I love politics.”
I remember the day I fell in love with political courage. It was March 20, 2003, and the U.S. had just invaded Iraq. I was attending high school in San Francisco, so naturally, resistance was in the air. Students loved to chant, “No blood for oil!” but, when it came down to it, they didn’t hold the line.
I stood in the streets of downtown, blocking an intersection by locking arms with my fellow classmates. Then, one-by-one, I watched the white students break away in fear. I felt how the line of resistance weakened as each one of them left. I felt the pain of having heard their vocal support, but felt their physical absence, and feared the increased danger I was in as a result. But I stayed, and with over 5,000 protesters that day we shut down the Financial District and sent George W. Bush and the entire world a clear message: “Not in our name.”
That’s when I promised myself that my politics would never be performative. That my actions, my direct actions, would always align with my words and my values. That I would hold political leaders accountable for putting their power and privilege on the line when it mattered.
What was your first job in politics and how did you land it?
My first formal job in politics was as a legislative aide to the first Latina in the Oregon House of Representatives, Jessica Vega Pederson. I had just moved to Portland; my sister had let me know about the job opening and encouraged me to apply.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Being in politics as a single mother with young children is an ongoing challenge I overcome on a daily basis. Look around -- do you see many of us in positions of leadership? As campaign managers or candidates or elected officials ourselves? We’re often the talking point, but rarely the talker.
The best strategy I’ve found to overcome this particular challenge is two-fold: 1) stop downplaying how hard it is; and 2) ask for help, early and often. I benefit from a rich network of support, including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers… they all know my kids because they’ve all lent a hand in raising them. We are the closest to “the village” I’ve ever seen.
What has been the proudest moment in your political career (thus far)?
I’m torn between two victories. In 2017, I unseated an incumbent on my local school board as a first-time candidate. At the time, my children were 4 and 1. My district had never before elected a person of color to its board, even though more than two-thirds of our student body are children of color. Two years later, in 2019, a coalition that I helped form was awarded $1,000,000 to launch a statewide campaign for public childcare. The Oregon Child Care Project
is the first political campaign of its kind, will dramatically increase public investment in childcare, and motivate our governor and legislature to act. There’s nothing like a victory that is both personal and political.
Why is it so critical, now more than ever, for Hispanic, Latina, and Afro-Latina women to get involved in politics?
I think it’s important to recognize that Latinas, and especially Black and Indigenous Latinas, have always been involved in politics. We’ve voted at astounding rates, we’ve shown up as activists in our children’s schools, we’ve knocked on doors and made calls for candidates. But we’ve been in the margins. It’s critical now that we let go of whatever has been keeping us behind the scenes because when you walk as both a woman and a person of color in this world, you don’t cut corners. You don’t pass policies that only benefit one side of you while keeping the other down. We’re needed in politics because we understand that the true meaning of “lift all boats” means listening to those of us battling white supremacy and cis-het patriarchy, ableism, capitalism, imperialism, etc.
What should politicians be doing better when it comes to engaging the Hispanic community?
First of all, the second any politician uses the word “Hispanic,” I’m out the door. Secondly, understand that we’re not a monolithic community. There are ultra-conservatives in Latinx communities, there are Latinx people of all races, speaking multiple languages and dialects. If anything, in 2020 what politicians and political leaders can be doing is making sure that we get an accurate count in the Census, to start to understand the true breadth of our diversity. We are among the hardest-to-count groups, and when we’re under-counted, we lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, representation in Congress, and critical services that we need in order to thrive. That’s why Census efforts like #WeCountOregon, a Black and Indigenous Womxn of Color-led coordinated statewide campaign, are models that politicians everywhere should seek to fund and emulate.
What advice do you have for those trying to enter into politics?
It’s so important to keep your heart. I know that sounds corny, but these “back-room deals” aren’t as fictional as you’d like to think they are. Maybe they’re no longer the cigar-filled rooms with nary a woman in sight, but when they do pop up, you want to be able to know you kept your integrity intact. You can only do that by knowing yourself, caring for your mental and emotional health, and replenishing constantly with whatever it is that feeds your fighting spirit.
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