Yesterday, on International Girls Day, I went to Washington, D.C., with my teen daughter as we were invited to the White House. I’ve been blessed to be invited to the White House before but this time, well, it was different.
When I received the invitation from President Obama for this event, the last Hispanic Heritage celebration of his historic presidency, I became nostalgic and proud. My daughter was my number one cheerleader when I decided to take a leave of absence from Green Dot Public Schools where I worked to push for education improvements in Los Angeles to try to get President Obama, a man whose name I would sometimes mispronounce, elected.
So, it is so fitting that Miquitzli came with me to D.C. for this last and most special event of his presidency.
Education and the Dream Act
In early 2007, when Miquitzli was 8 years old, I asked her what she thought about my getting involved in then-Senator Barack Obama’s long-shot campaign. I explained to her that I really believed he would bring the change we needed in our country, for our children and for her future.
I told her that there were two issues that compelled me to work for him: education and the Dream Act.
He was a Democrat who supported charter schools. It was bold. Even now, many Democrats are afraid to be “out” in their support of high-quality charters because they fear it will upset teachers unions leaders who see charter schools as their competition and want to close them down—even if family prefer them to schools that have failed the students and teachers in certain neighborhoods for decades.
So, as a Democrat and a public school survivor, it was wonderful to hear him speaking about education improvement and reform in the kind of language that I used while organizing for social and educational justice in California. Our children deserved better than they were getting.
He affirmed that zip codes should not determine the quality of education children received. Obama was clear: He wanted all families to have excellent schools and believed that low-income people should also have school choice.
Additionally, he was committed to passing the Dream Act which I had been fighting for, both in California under the leadership of Senator Gil Cedillo, and at the federal level when I was vice president of government affairs at Green Dot Public Schools, representing many of our students who had no real pathway to college or a peaceful life without that essential legislation.
My Daughter Had My Back
Miquitzli knew both of these issues well. She’s my kid after all. For years, I worked on both education, education reform and immigration issues for young people. She was a witness to, and indeed, a participant, in it all.
She organized, along my side, for great schools in Los Angeles. As I organized parents to demand better schools and school choices such as charter schools, she was there, participating. She would manage the children’s activity table and helped wherever she could.
She would listen to my frustrations and pain when elected officials wouldn’t do the right thing and refused to support the Dream Act.
I believed that we needed change in leadership at the national level and an Obama presidency was the change and hope we needed.
Through it all, Miquitzli was very supportive. She’d say that she would be willing to sacrifice our time together so I could travel as a campaign staffer. She said that she believed in me, and if I believed in Obama, then she believed in him too. It was that simple.
Miquitzli became an organizer in the process. With every office I opened, I made sure that our offices were kid-friendly because I knew that as a single mom, I wanted my daughter, and all of the children, to feel welcomed and encouraged to participate in our democracy.
The kids would make posters to decorate our office space. They would make calls for volunteers. They would serve water and prepare snacks for volunteers. They would make copies. They would clean up with us.
Miquitzli organized “Kids for Obama” activities and even managed donations of T-shirts and buttons. She still smiles proudly when she talks about the “yes” votes she was able to confirm.
She never complained despite the long hours. And every time I was there, my kid was too.
She was 8.
I have always been intentional about creating environments, both as a boss and a community member, to always welcome children. By welcoming children, we welcome the women who are responsible for them. I started doing this before I became a mom. I believed that we should never penalize people for having children. Nor should we demean women who want their children to be exposed to healthy experiences such as civic engagement, a fancy term for community involvement, and volunteerism.
I saw my mom, Ernestine, welcome our neighbors who were moms and their children when she was an education advocate in the 70s and 80s. As a young girl, I decided I was going to be just like her. And now, I see the way my own daughter behaves in our community organizing work. She is just like the grandmother she never met. She is welcoming, attentive, in tune with community needs and an amazing organizer.
In the spirit of International Girls Day yesterday, I am remembering the beautiful 8-year-old girl who was my biggest supporter as we campaigned to bring a new dawn of leadership for our country and our world. It is unbelievable that she is now preparing for college application season. I am thanking my mom in heaven for her vision of creating an environment for me and other girls where we were welcomed, where we were equal and where we were expected to lead.
My daughter and I are my mom’s, Ernestine Madrid, legacy. A beautiful reflection of the Chicana from East Los Angeles who also believed in “Yes We Can” in English and “Si Se Puede” in Spanish.