by Lyssette Galvan, intern with Rep. Mary González
My experience graduating from the University of Michigan in 2010 made me realize the importance of representation. The lack of diversity at my university pushed me to go into education. I wanted to be a familiar face to other students of color. I wanted students who were walking in similar shoes to know that they could come from a low-income family and graduate from a prestigious university too. Little did I know the push representation would have on my career change in less than a decade.
My journey in politics began a few years before coming to the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. I remember walking into my classroom as a teacher at 7:40 am the morning after the 2016 Presidential Election was called for former President Donald J. Trump. A beautiful, curly-haired, brown-eyed girl had her hand raised to ask, “Señorita Galvan, what do we do now that the new president Donald doesn’t like Mexicans?” I had to gather myself, as my feelings were still being processed with our new reality.
What I did not know then was how that moment in time would lead me to want more. Not only for myself but for them too. I felt confined in the walls of my classroom to be a true advocate for my students. When I left after being with them for 4 years, I felt guilt knowing it could look like I took the easy route. At the end of the day, however, I knew they would now be seeing one of their Latina teachers drop everything and go back to school to pursue a career in politics. A new place they can now see themselves in too. Latinas in Politics should become a new hashtag, as the growing number of women with some type of Latinx descent are rising to the occasion. I am beyond honored to say that my internship has now given me #LatinasInPolitics to look up to, as I was placed in the office of Representative Mary E. González, Texas House District 75. I am placed with Rep. González through a partnership between the GCSW and Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and the Moreno-Rangel Legislative Leadership Fellowship. Through my experiences in my office, Caucus and this Fellowship, I have been able to network virtually with many Latinx public officials in Texas and nationally.
I remember just a year ago I was in the process to interview for GCSW’s Austin Legislative Internship Program with Dr. Pritzker and a few alumni from the program. The pandemic was just inches away from turning our world a whole 180 degrees. As the reality of the pandemic emerged, I questioned if my hard work, determination, and dedication to this program would go in vain, because how could any of us picture ourselves being able to come to the 87th Legislature during a pandemic? The variety of questions my fellow interns and I had…Is it going to happen? Will it all be virtual? What if things get worse?
Well, here we are. Those questions are easy to answer now: it is all happening. Things have gotten worse as our country continues to lose many lives daily and controlling the virus seems so far from our reality. This pandemic has shown the inequities of the lives of people in low-income communities, and mainly communities of color. The effects that this pandemic has had on our students of color and in rural areas grow the academic gap as broadband and technology are not as easily accessible.
The mix of these experiences has started to transcend into my internship. It has shown me the validity of my beliefs around how and why representation matters. Recently, my Representative entrusted me to be a part of a virtual panel event with the Texas Nurses Association alongside Senator César Blanco and Representatives Art Fierro, Joe Moody, Lina Ortega, and Claudia Ordaz-Perez. This event was highly focused on the disparities that have come forth from the pandemic. All of the Members spoke about the need to increase funding and access to health care for their communities. In my own remarks, I echoed what they said and talked about how as a graduate student in social work I have worked with similar communities in Houston. I described how I have firsthand seen the high need for rental and utility help and the food insecurity many families face. It felt different to be surrounded at this event by people who look like me and speak Spanish too. They were all advocating for their constituents and our frontline workers. I experience this with Representative González daily in her work on behalf of all students and constituents.
To create change we must exert ourselves to be heard. I advocate more than ever now how imperative it is to reach out to State Representatives to everyone I know. The more we elect officials who have our best interests at hand, it will develop our power to be seen and heard in our communities. It will help alleviate the generational traumas that many have suffered due to the lack of representation in our government. As I read and hear the issues from constituents, the work that we do reflects on their needs.
Just this past week I have been working on the content for a bilingual infographic to help non-English speaker constituents have equitable access to information that will help them with challenges navigating the Texas Workforce Commission. This is our solution to problems we have been hearing from our constituents recently. In another example, Rep. González, along with a few other Texas Democratic Representatives just held a press conference to call on the Governor and the Texas Education Agency to cancel the in-person STAAR test, an annual standardized test administered to Texas students in 3rd-12th grade that is being required by TEA this year despite the pandemic. An administered test that will cost $7.3 million. Money that could be used to give direct help to our students and families.
These State Representatives are leading our state in a way that excites me. It gives me hope that change is coming. I know that by creating a network of like-minded people that ethically carry themselves to high standards for their constituents, we can give our future generations goals to strive for. They fight for what is right, not for themselves, but for others. Their representation matters through the work that they do day in and out. I hope one day I can inspire others the way they inspire me. They are the epitome of “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”