Where are you from and what is your earliest memories of Hispanic culture in your life?
I was born in New Jersey but grew up in Boston, with my Colombian-born parents and older brother. When I think of our house, I remember the aromas of my mother’s cooking, especially her bandeja paisa, which is a traditional Colombian dish with rice and beans, plantains, a fried egg, beet salad and chicarrón. My mind also is filled with memories of music and dancing. We had many friends who also were immigrants and some of our happiest times were the potluck dinners and cookouts where Colombian food would be prepared and served with music and dancing. We would have empanadas, buñuelos and arepas.
What piece of your heritage do you always carry with you, that you will continue to pass on?
The only tangible items I have are family photos. My parents came to the U.S. from Colombia with very few possessions. When they were deported many years later, the photos of our family as I was growing up were all that stayed with me. Looking back, I sometimes wish I had something from my family’s past. But I also know that the greatest gift they gave me was my ability to live my family’s American Dream, so that I collect my own memories, photographs and mementos, and pass them on to future generations of our family.
What empowers you?
Uniting with others to create change empowers me. Whether it’s through meaningful dialogue, physical activism or getting out the vote – I know that our democracy is dependent on our participation. If we don’t participate, it’s no longer ours.
Whether you are rich or poor, a naturalized citizen, a descendant of the Mayflower or a Native American, your vote should be counted the same as anyone else’s. It is the great equalizer in democracy. I say it “should be counted,” because we know that in many communities and states, conservative governments and courts try to suppress the voting rights of communities of color and New Americans. We often forget how hard people have fought to expand the right to vote from just white men to all Americans. We must remember that as citizens, we have the right to vote. We must demand it and exercise it. Only when we refuse to vote do we diminish our own electoral power and ability to remind elected officials that they need to represent all of us, not just the wealthy.
How do you want to empower others?
I want to empower others to vote. Democracy is one of the gifts this country provides, but it did not begin as a democracy for all. Generations of people fought to bring the right to vote to all Americans. And we must continue that fight. In order to elect leaders with diverse, inclusive, intersectional views, we must seek them out, support them and vote for them. We have the power to make America a better country, if we work for it.
I am privileged to have landed in a career that makes mine a familiar name and face to the public, so I can work on public campaigns to advocate for justice and fair representation for our community. Through the books I’ve authored and the speeches I’ve delivered on college campuses in recent years, I strongly encourage the Latinx community, especially the youth, to become civically engaged and not take for granted our democracy and the power of their vote.
This year, in addition to my public appearances and speeches, I am accelerating my messaging on social media to explain why I vote, why it’s important to vote and discuss some of the issues important to our community.
I’m partnering with the organization Mi Familia Vota to encourage people to vote through a #ShowUp civic engagement campaign that will be launching on my Instagram account in the coming weeks with videos being released every Tuesday until November 6th. I’m also an ambassador for the “When We All Vote” campaign chaired by former First Lady Michelle Obama, and I will be partnering with Revolve Impact on content around the concept of voting your values. If we all join together and vote, our power will be seen and heard, from City Hall to Capitol Hill.
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