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How His Roots In LA’s Mexican Immigrant Community Shaped Alex Padilla, California’s Next Senator

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Alex Padilla. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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When Secretary of State Alex Padilla got the fateful Zoom call from Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to represent California in the U.S. Senate, he immediately paid tribute to his parents.

“I can’t tell you how many pancakes my dad flipped or eggs he scrambled trying to provide for us … and my mom cleaning houses doing the same thing,” Padilla told Newsom, his voice choking up with emotion.

We talked with Padilla about his L.A. roots and his ambitions for representing California in the Senate. (The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

How did your family react to the news?

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The first phone call was to my dad. I think the pride was beaming through the phone. And then the emotions kicked in. Under normal circumstances, we’d get together and have a big hug, but COVID has us all staying home as much as possible. He quickly referenced my mom who passed just a couple of years ago. We miss her dearly. And I know she'd be so proud.

It's exciting. Once the holidays are over, I'm ready to get to work.

How did growing up in Los Angeles shape who you became as a legislator and elected official?

That’s part of the beauty of democracy, right? We all bring our unique life experiences and journeys, as perspectives to be considered in the policymaking and appropriations process.

I'm a proud son of immigrants; my parents came to the United States in search of the American dream. [They met in L.A. after emigrating from Mexico in the 1960’s.] They worked hard for decades — my father as a short-order cook for 40 years, while my mom cleaned houses. It was a modest upbringing in the northeast San Fernando Valley, to put it mildly.

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It was also a very difficult time, during the tough decade of the 80s, with a lot of gang activity and the crack epidemic impacting communities throughout the region, not just mine. My eyes really began to open when I was a player for the high school baseball team, traveling to different neighborhoods throughout the region and seeing significant distinctions in terms of wealth and resources. I realized I'd have to do something to help address inequities in our society.

My [college] degree is in engineering [from M.I.T.], but I'm glad I found my place in public service.

What message do you have for immigrant communities in California, who are watching what happens in Washington, D.C. very closely?

I look forward to being their champion, not just a voice. I believe I can effectively advocate for immigrant families, because I am [part of] one.

Now also as a father, my wife and I try to make sure we instill the same ethics and values that our parents instilled in us into the next generation.

How do you think your politics will evolve on the national stage?

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Most importantly, my values and my priorities will not evolve. I know why I got into government and public service to begin with: to fight for working families, address inequality and try to keep the American dream alive. It’s what I’ve done as Secretary of State, in the state senate and as a member of the Los Angeles City Council. And I look forward to taking that mindset and that fight to the United States Senate.

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