Being Close to Power Inspires Latino Interns to Do More
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Mundane tasks like making copies, getting coffee and sending emails may be what some college students remember most about their summer internships, but for Jonathan Alvarez of Montebello and Alfonso Toro of Bell Gardens, empowering may be a better way to describe their summer in the nation’s capital, courtesy of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Alvarez and Toro just returned from two-month long internships in Washington D.C. where they attended congressional hearings and briefings and were able to get a close look at the behind the scenes machinations that go into creating legislation.
Alvarez, a 21-year old Whittier College senior, told EGP he was not very well versed in government affairs before starting his internship.
“I didn’t [recognize] the faces of the politicians aside from the main figures,” he admits.
Lea este artículo en Español: Estar Cerca del Poder Inspira a Estudiantes Latinos
For Alvarez and 21-year old Toro, the internship was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet some of the most powerful Latinos on Capitol Hill.
Organized by the non-profit Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), the competitive congressional internship program exposes young Latinos to the legislative process and promotes the presence of Latinos on Capital Hill by placing college students in the offices of members of Congress.
“It’s important for our nation’s public servants to reflect the population they serve, and CHCI is creating a pipeline of talented young Latinos who are ready to serve – and lead this country,” said CHCI President and CEO Esther Aguilera in a written statement.
Toro, a Yale University senior majoring in ethnicities, races and migrations, was assigned to the office of U.S Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard whose 40th district includes the cities of Commerce and Bell Gardens, and East Los Angeles.
While in D.C., Toro told EGP he was able to see first hand how his local representative works to promote a bill.
“Back home it’s difficult to see how hard she [Roybal-Allard] works, we don’t get to see a lot of the policy work” going on behind the scene, he said, adding he was amazed by the complexity of a getting a bill passed. “They [Hispanic Caucus] are always fighting for the community,” he added.
Alvarez said the internship opened his eyes to the work being done by caucus members to get Latinos into positions of power. His internship was with U.S. Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, whose 35th congressional district serves portions of the Inland Empire.
“Specifically, coming from the highly-Latino community of Montebello, it’s good to see Latinos in high power,” Alvarez said.
He said the most memorable moment of the internship was meeting Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro and his twin brother Julian, who was recently appointed U.S. Secretary of Housing and Development. “Its just amazing to see where they came from and where they are headed,” he explained about the Latino politicians who continue to move up the government ranks.
As a congressional intern, Alvarez was free to attend a variety of legislative briefings and was present during discussions over one of this summer’s hottest topics: the unaccompanied child immigrant crisis.
Toro said he watched as Roybal-Allard testified on the border crisis and was impressed that the congresswoman personally took a trip to the border in order to provide a more accurate portrayal of an issue he says is very important to many residents at home.
“Coming from a community where a lot of my friends are immigrants, it was nice to see them [U.S. representatives] fighting for immigration reform,” the Bell Gardens High School graduate said.
Toro said he did not have much exposure to politics growing up in Bell Gardens, a largely-immigrant community, In fact, he said, many residents “have no idea what is happening in D.C.” When he learned that according to the Pew Research Center the voting rate for Latinos is just 32.1%, he was shocked.
“We [could] have a lot of power as Latinos, but not a lot of us are going out to vote,” he said. “We need to vote to create change in order to have our voices heard.”
The internship experience has proved to be an empowering experience for both Toro and Alvarez, with each feeling a new sense of commitment to be informed about issues facing their communities and the country, and to do more than just stand on the sidelines.
Toro says the experience has motivated him to get more involved electing the people he wants to represent him. He also wants to improve the dismally low voter participation rate among Latinos by registering more of them to vote, especially in Spanish-speaking communities like Bell Gardens.
Since his internship ended last month, Toro has taken it upon himself to use social media as a tool to spread information about legislative actions, voter registration and Latino affairs to his friends and family who may not be following the news.
Likewise, Alvarez says he too came back more inspired to get involved in the Latino community and political campaigns, and says he is now considering attending graduate school and pursuing a career that incorporates public policy, which affects so many areas of our lives.
It’s important for young Latinos, like him to understand what Latino officials are doing in the capitol to fight for the community, and how they can change things.
“You hear about it here and there, but to actually see it is really something else.”Print This Post
August 7, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.