I am a life-long Democrat, and have lived in the 57th Assembly District for 30 years, where I raised three children.
I am the daughter of farmworkers. My parents labored in the fields where they were born and raised. That is my legacy; not money or property, but hard work, survival and hope.
My father was a Viet Nam Vet. He passed away 10 years ago. I was 6 when he and my mother divorced. He supported us as much as he could, but he made little more than minimum wage. My mother was a strong woman, but as a disabled person her options were limited. She applied for public assistance to support me and my sister.
My grandmother helped us with money when she could. My sister and I used to stay with her in Mendota during the summer. She was a tomato picker. She lived on the fields in housing subsidized by her employer.
I remember playing what I thought at the time were games with the crop dusters. I would be playing outside with my sister, grandma would be hanging clothes on the clothesline, and then we would hear the planes. Grandma would run all around the yard chasing us into the house. It seemed like fun. To this day, I can smell the pesticide on the tomatoes in the grocery store. My grandmother died of pulmonary fibrosis, a disease linked to pesticides. She was an American citizen, yet when she died, she had never opened a checking account, never had a pension, and never owned a home.
I grew up living in Section 8 housing (government subsidized). The landlord forced my mom to pay $30 a week extra on the side (totally illegal). We had mold on our walls. He would scrape the wall and paint over it before the government inspectors came. My mother said nothing for fear he would kick us out.
I got my first job at 13 to help pay for rent. After that it was one food job after another: King Richards’s Pasty Shop, Picnic ‘n Chicken, Golden Corral; I even sold vacuum cleaners over the phone. I worked on Christmas day once at Toys R Us.
As a teenager, growing up and living on public assistance was as embarrassing as it was hard. I would skip lunch at school, or give it away so I would not have to stand in the school lunch line. I hated to go grocery shopping with my mom and stand with people watching us pay with food stamps. I hated waiting hours for the Medi-Cal doctors to see my Mother. I am grateful for it now. Without it, my family would not have survived.
Nor would we have survived had it not been for the kindness and generosity of people that helped us along the way.
I am grateful for the education I received in the public schools, and the wonderful teachers like Mrs. Causey, who helped and guided me along the way. Mrs. Causey was my first grade teacher. Like clockwork, every day at mid-morning I would ask whether it was lunch time. One day she smiled and gave me an apple, instructing me that “A was for apple”. The next day, she brought apples for the whole class. Each day after, she would bring a food that began with the next letter of the alphabet. My favorite was celery and peanut butter.
Likewise, my community college counselor made it possible for me to go to college. By the time I graduated from high school I was working full time providing most of my family’s income. I desperately wanted to go to college, but I did not know how. Mr. Torres helped me apply and find financial assistance. Later, he helped me fill out my application for Sacramento State University, and showed how to apply for grants, and loans.
When I was awarded my Bachelor of Science Degree from Sacramento State University, it was the happiest day of my life. By all accounts, I probably should not have graduated from high school. I felt I owed a debt of gratitude to the kind and caring people that helped me get this far. I wanted to pay it forward.
I applied for a job in the California legislature. The Speaker of the State Assembly offered me a position on his staff where I served for 6 years. I immediately went to work helping as many people as I could. I helped numerous people get Medi-Cal services they needed. I helped low income people and the disabled apply for Supplemental Security Income from the federal government and the state. I helped homeowners apply for the Homeowners Tax Exemption, and renters apply for the Renters Tax Credit. I helped small business owners find the capital they needed to grow and expand. I helped college students apply for Cal Grants and other tuition financing.
During this time, Prop 187 qualified for the ballot. It was aimed at immigrants, but pointed to all Latinos. It angered and saddened me. I thought back to my summers on the farm, watching the tomato truck driving between the rows of crops, lopsided from the weight of all the pickers, and seeing my grandma step off the truck after another scorching hot day, hunched over with exhaustion, and mustering her last ounce of strength to hold us in her arms.
I fought against Prop 187 and the bigotry, fear and ignorance that fueled it. I organized nearly 100 people to march, work phone banks, speak out, and take action. I was heartbroken when the measure passed, but later it was found unconstitutional in the courts. Now, no child in California can be deprived of an education or stripped of health care because of their place of birth.
Later, I was honored by the Los Angeles Democratic Party as Democrat of the year for this area. After that I was appointed as a Delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Since working for the Speaker, I have been a successful business woman for over 20 years. I work for Edison International as a Government and Policy Advisor. For the last 7 years I have concentrated on helping to increase Latino representation in elected offices throughout California and the rest of the country. I have worked closely with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Latino Leaders Network to find, recruit, and fund campaigns for new leaders as they emerge, and support them once they’re in office.
I am a businesswoman, activist, and candidate for the Assembly, but I am first and foremost a mom. My first priority is family. I have lived in this community with my husband Charles Calderon for 30 years. I raised my two sons Ian Calderon and Matt Calderon here. My youngest son Brennan is still with me. I am a Team Mom for Bren’s high school baseball team. Throughout his Little League baseball years, I have been a team mother, captain of the snack shack, done field clean-up duty, and helped raise money for the Little League program.
I grew up from humble beginnings. It was hard, but it made me strong, compassionate, and understanding of others. I have had to fight for everything I have. Throughout my life I have fought for the advancement of issues and people who the system is leaving behind. I will never stop fighting for those people, because I believe everyone deserves a fair shake in life.
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