Being one of the only women, and often the only person of color, in a room of political movers and shakers is a challenge. Congresswoman and Senate-nominee Loretta Sanchez knows this struggle and has faced it head on.
Sanchez spoke to a group of about 30 students, faculty, and members of administration, including President Herzberger, on Wednesday, Nov. 2. The Office of Communications invited the congresswoman to speak to Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine’s Women in Politics class after Sanchez’s staff reached and expressed their interest. Sanchez bestowed her professional and political expertise and an overview of her journey from a nine-person household to the halls of Capitol Hill.
After a 15 minute introduction, Professor Angevine invited her students to show the congresswoman their “gender expertise” in an hour-long question-and-answer session. Topics of interest included Sanchez’s experience compared to her opponent Kamala Harris (who is backed by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden), her position on special education, and if she thinks her identity as a Hispanic woman impacted her professional life.
Sanchez connected with students when she gave an overview of her life history. As one of seven children of immigrant parents, Sanchez went to college on grants and worked as an ice cream server at her local drugstore. After 12 years of working in finance, she was politically activated after she brought an education issue to her congressional representative and was ignored.
“So, I said to my family, ‘I’m going to run for Congress,’” Sanchez said. She has been in this position for 20 years and now serves at the top of two congressional committees: The Armed Services Committee and the Committee of Homeland Security.
During her introduction, Sanchez communicated the significance of being a Latina in Congress. “Almost everyday when I’m in Washington D.C., I walk into top secret meetings, and when I walk in, I’m usually the only woman and the only minority to be in there,” Sanchez said. “There’s a whole world in there that most of us don’t know about, and I have penetrated into the very center of that.”
Many of the first-years in the Women in Politics class felt amazed and inspired after hearing Sanchez. “It was really cool, specifically because I’m a Latina and it was really inspirational, especially like all the issues she talked about and all the discrimination she faced,” first-year Alejandra Beltran said. “It didn’t feel like a political conference, it felt more like she was sharing an intimate experience, and that was really cool to know because that makes her relatable. It was a really cool opportunity.”
Other first-years appreciated how the congresswoman came across as “real” and relatable. “Honestly, I like how she got angry and verbal,” first-year CJ Esparza said. “I feel pressured, and not in a bad way, to actually run for office. I feel a duty now.”
“[Professor Angevine] asked us, ‘How many of you are thinking of running for Congress?’ And barely anyone would raise their hands,” first-year Demi Stwertnik said. “It made me feel guilty. I should be running. I should be thinking about it, at least.”
This is the first open Senate seat in 24 years, and whether Sanchez or Harris wins, California’s new Senator will be a woman to remember. If she wins, Sanchez will be the first Latina in Senate. According to polling-statistic website FiveThirtyEight, Sanchez is currently polling at 3.5 percent, just five days before Election Day.