It’s easy for politicians to say they want to put marginalized communities front and center, but Dulce Vasquez has ample reason to make this a reality.
The Alumni Society member is running for city council to represent Los Angeles’ 9th Council District. As stated on her campaign’s website, 79.9 percent of the population is Latino, 42 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, and 25.6 percent speaks limited English. In short, she understands the issues faced by communities that struggle because she literally sees those struggles taking place in her everyday life.
Especially when COVID-19 hit.
“As I processed what was happening in my city and in my community a year ago—high COVID rates and deaths in the Latino community, lack of support for small businesses and mixed-status families, inadequate responses to how our children were being educated, increasing homelessness, lack of police accountability for shootings of unarmed Black and Brown men—I felt compelled to do something about it,” she says. “I felt that my community was not being adequately represented on council.”
Just deciding to run for city council was a huge decision for Vasquez. It’s hard to think of someone like Vasquez—a graduate of Northwestern University who also has a master’s degree in public policy from University of California Los Angeles and a résumé sprinkled with words such as partnerships, refugee rights, social cohesion, and equality—feeling inadequate for any job, but it’s the truth.
“I felt that I was not educated enough, wealthy enough, connected enough, or frankly tough enough to handle the constant barrage of criticism in an increasingly polarizing political landscape,” she explains. “We launched [our campaign] a year ago, and since then we’ve built a truly remarkable team. I constantly have women approach me to thank me for even running. So I believe the sheer fact that I’ve stepped up is important for other young women—especially Latina women—to see because when more of us fight and support each other, the more of us will win.”
To this end, she’s focused a great deal on accountability over the past year and thought about what people owe each other as neighbors, coworkers, and family. She’s also thought about what government owes its people.
“I look to other countries like New Zealand to figure out how our government structure has failed us,” she says. “In the twelve months before massive vaccine availability, how did our systems fail to protect us? Who is asking them for accountability and how we prepare either for the next pandemic, or an ongoing endemic?”
No political campaign is a piece of cake, but fortunately for Vasquez, the pandemic brought about some much-needed work life changes that have allowed her to reach people in her district more than if she’d had to be physically present. Not having to commute everywhere means she can engage with more people while also making dinner and taking care of her dog, just to name two personal activities.
“I also think it has had tremendous effects on participation in local governance,” she says. “People can call into council meetings and watch from wherever they are. That should remain. Mail-in voting should be permanent. Voter participation increased by 15 percent partly due to mail-in voting.”
When it comes to the future of politics, Vasquez believes the next step is to build Latino political power at every level. In addition to more Latino candidates and more Latino elected officials, she says politics also needs more Latino campaign strategists, campaign managers, field directors, canvassers, chiefs of staff, and designers. “We need all of it,” she says.
To that end, her own professional ambitions include building lasting change, in addition to, of course, winning her political campaign. Whether or not she wins, she’s eager to see continued engagement among voters, as well as training for young people on how to organize in their communities and engage in campaigns.
“I’m particularly sensitive to this because this is the poorest district in the city with the lowest educational attainment, and has extremely low voter registration and voter turnout,” she says. “The success of our campaign will have lasting effects for how this community can participate in the governance of their own community.”
With her drive to give a voice to the voiceless and ensure that young people get involved in their communities, it’s clear the political world won’t ever see the end of Dulce Vasquez.