When Wendy Carrillo was 13, she found out she was undocumented. Back then, the El Salvador native wasn't sure if she would be able to go to college in the United States, much less stay in the country. Now, she's preparing to represent one of Los Angeles' biggest districts in the California State Assembly.
"I think what my candidacy represents is the potential of what can be and should be access to that American dream," Carrillo told Circa when we interviewed her in the days leading up to the election.
Assembly District 51, Carrillo's new turf, covers Northeastern Los Angeles, a heavily Latino area of the city. Political consultant Leo Briones told LA Weekly that he would argue it's "the most fundamentally progressive Assembly district in California."
To be part of that resistance ... is just so empowering.
Carrillo, 36, was brought to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was 5 and became a citizen in her early 20s. Her victory on Tuesday makes her the second formerly undocumented legislator in the state. Blanca Rubio was the first, elected November 2016.
There's a tendency to want to scapegoat and point fingers when it comes to the undocumented community.
The former journalist and radio host defeated fellow democrat Luis Lopez, a nonprofit health care director. But she's not new to community involvement and activism. She spent months at Standing Rock, documenting tension between law enforcement and Native Americans there, she spoke at the Women's March in Washington D.C., and she sits on the advisory board for Vision to Learn, a nonprofit that has provided over 45,000 students free glasses to advance their education. Critics of Carrillo say her lack of experience in government made her a less desirable candidate.
"Being a woman, being an immigrant, being formerly undocumented, to be part of that movement, that resistance, it's just so empowering," said Carrillo.
Carrillo campaigned heavily on increased access to quality education, a higher minimum wage, access to health care, affordable housing and women's rights.
For many in Los Angeles, a city where more than 35% of people are immigrants, according to USC Dornsife, Carrillo's victory is symbolic.
"I became a U.S. citizen in 2005, so I definitely kind of connect with that," said Temi Adewumi, who lives and works in Los Angeles.
"I think people from a bunch of different backgrounds need to run, especially during this time," said Marissa Chan, who grew up in Northern California but now lives in Los Angeles.
"She is demonstrated that even though she started out of the rules, she worked hard and put herself to within the rules," said Chris Hoffman, who immigrated to the U.S. from Zimbabwe.
"It doesn't matter where you come from, what you look like, what your legal status is, what language you speak," said Carrillo. "The United States is a country of opportunity, and we need to keep it that way."
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