Friday morning at the Hesburgh Center Auditorium, California State Senator Monique Limón spoke about the intersection between her work experience in public service and her Latina identity. The conference is part of Hispanic Heritage Month and was organized by the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and the Institute of Latin American Studies.
Limón is a first generation college student and was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and earned her master’s degree from Columbia University.
In 2016 Limón won the seat in the State Assembly and in 2020 she won the seat in the State Senate. It serves the Nineteenth Senate District, which includes Santa Barbara County and part of Ventura County.
Limón is the first woman of color to be elected from the district to the state assembly and the first person of color from the district to be elected to the state senate.
Although she represents a predominantly white voter base, the demographics are changing, and “as the issues get more complicated and include many different communities, we’re starting to branch out to think about who reflects the values that are important to voters,” Limon said. “With my journey, I felt not only an honor to represent my community, but also a way to overcome stereotypes.”
Women make up just over 30% of the California state legislature, but over 50% of California’s population.
Limón said there must be “individual and collective commitment to ensure that there are more marginalized communities represented in public office”, and that women need to see others they identify with. and whom they support in these positions.
Another problem Limón identified in his community is that when people think of Santa Barbara, they only think of pockets of wealth.
“It makes other members of my community invisible,” she said.
It’s been important as a rep to make sure the voices of the community that aren’t always at the table are heard and to do it in a way that creates more allies, Limón said.
Prior to getting involved in politics, Limón was a school board member for the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and her education taught her about the issues that concern her politically. She worked with many students who were the first in their families to go to college and receive financial aid.
“I realized very quickly that the issues that concern our community were not limited to the classroom, because it turns out that anything that happens in the community is going to show up in the classroom,” said Silt.
She became involved in community non-profit organizations to help students, which motivated her to move from implementing policy to creating it.
Limón said her connection to her community and extensive network of students and their families made her a successful candidate for public office.
She was able to build this network because she grew up in a large household with a large extended family.
“Family taught me a lot about politics,” Limón said. “There are times when you have to break bread with individuals and not always agree with them.”
Her family also taught her important skills that helped her persevere when she ran for office.
“My parents always taught me the skills to work hard to overcome obstacles and move forward,” she said.
Although Limón’s commitment to higher education influenced her policies, she said people assumed that when she got to the legislature she would only focus on education, because that was her strength.
“I’m really focused on education, and I had this history of being on the school board, and I cared a lot about it. But what happens when you’re in power is sometimes you can’t choose what you work on,” Limón said.
A year into his tenure, the Thomas Fire began. The blaze affected Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was the largest fire in California in six months. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from his district.
“And at that point, no matter how much I cared about education, I had to turn immediately to become a political expert on natural disasters,” Limón said.
She explained that she had to use her skills to tackle different problems.
“I’ve always believed that no matter what you do in life, you need to know how to transfer your professional, academic, intellectual and interpersonal skills into all environments,” she said.
Some of Limón’s most important policies have been in different areas unrelated to his formation.
“Most of the politics I’m known for is actually not education,” Limón said. “I’m known for environmental policy, consumer protection, women’s issues and natural disasters.”
Limón said she hopes to act in the best interests of the communities she serves and that her primary goal is to elevate the needs of individuals in those communities.
“I have adapted to be a leader that the community needs me, and the community will decide when they no longer need the skills and values that I carry forward,” she said.
Contact Caroline Collins at [email protected].