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Photo: Courtesy of Candace Valenzuela
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Candace Valenzuela Could be the First Afro-Latina Elected to Congress

The saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” truly affirms how crucial community support is to a family, to a child, and to society. Because if children are the future of our “village,” then how we prepare them to lead is everything. For a long time, Americans have seen a decline in community-centric thinking in favor of “at any cost individualism,” where one person’s desire or greed outweighs the needs of the community at large.

It’s been no secret that the most impactful and sweeping Congressional candidates like AOC have been those who represent what their community needs. And now Candace Valenzuela, the daughter of Mexican-American and African-American parents is up for the task. She is proof that children with the right support can still move mountains even when they come from the hardest situations. And that’s the motivating factor behind Valenzuela’s platform, which focuses on children and families.

Legislation Should Support the Community

Running for Texas’s 24th Congressional District, the suburban area between Fort Worth and Dallas, Valenzuela is no stranger to the power of having people and legislation in her corner. In fact, she attributes much of her own success to the three things that formed life-changing support systems for her family: a strong public school system, food stamps, and housing assistance through HUD (Housing Urban Development).

“Almost all of us are going to fall on very hard times, not all of us are going to have the support network to float us,” she told HipLatina. It’s one thing to talk about what it feels like to sink and another when you experience it first hand. At age 3, Valenzuela was homeless sleeping in a blow-up kiddie pool outside of a convenience store. Her mother, a recently discharged military vet had nowhere to go and no one to turn to when the family members they were staying with dropped them off at a gas station.

A Mormon family kindly took them in until her mother was able to get on her feet. But even then they bounced around from homeless shelters and living with her grandparents. Through it all, school remained a constant that kept Valenzuela going and provided much-needed structure. She says it’s what allowed her to get all the way to Claremont Mckenna College on a full-ride scholarship.

“[School] was a source of stability, there was a routine there and when my Mom realized that it was a place where I did get some stability where my little brother got some stability she kept us in the same cohort of schools even as we bounced around from place to place. So I didn’t have to change friends or change teachers or environment and I think that really helped me the first in my family to go to college,” she said.

Representative Politics for a Better Community

In many ways, Valenzuela represents the various intersection of the socio-economic and structural struggles that BIPOC and women face in the US. But sadly, those life-saving programs are no longer available for kids like her. The Trump administration is slashing food stamps and affordable housing in favor of supposedly driving people toward jobs. But Valenzuela says that the problem is not unemployment, but people having to work multiple jobs and decade-old wages that won’t hold up to the cost of living increases.

“There’s not a lazy person that’s on food stamps, they’re just people who want to eat. Unfortunately, lots and lots of people on food stamps have jobs and can’t make ends meet. We’re looking at starving people who are doing their best to work in this economy and this economy is not giving them jobs with living wages or salaries. And we’re dealing with kids that might go hungry as a result.”

The support that she got from the state, teachers, and administrators is what Valenzuela has been working tirelessly to give back to her home state of Texas. She won her first run for School Board of Trustees in 2017 and has worked to expand STEM education, vocational training, and coding academies in district schools. She also worked on a program called Dallas County Promise that gives teens 2-3 free years of community college if they do 11th and 12th grade at the same district high school. She’s also become a rising tide creating coalitions and advocating for diverse local officials that she believes can get the job done with empathy.

“I started working hard to get other people elected that would be responsible for the district, for instance, my justice of the peace was the first Democrat in a partisan race elected in 20 years. And he is a wonderful responsive justice and is going to be seeing my truancy cases pretty soon and I know he’s going to be handling kids with compassion. I worked hard to get my State Rep into office… Building up the people around me trying to recruit people and trying to train people in the process of representative politics has helped us have a better community and has also happened to be helpful in this process of running for Congress,” she stated.

It Takes A Village To Run for Congress

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Pre-Kickoff Canvass with the fam 💌

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And while it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to run for office. It’s something that Valenzuela knows sets her apart especially since she’s running with a two-year-old and a four-year-old, which requires her husband and family to step all the way up.

“The kind of support network I had to have in order to get me to a point where I’m here is not something that I take for granted and it’s not something easy to come up with. I have my husband who has paid family leave at work and my mother in law who has enough retirement income that she’s able to spend some time with us and not worry about losing her own place. And these are things I happen to have right now — at a roll of the dice looking at where I came from — it really easily could have gone a different way. It’s one of the reasons that pushes me to fight as hard as I do because I know that there are women, and there are parents, that need resources, that work hard, and never really get ahead of things.”

Now with Super Tuesday Primaries on March 3rd, the end, or the beginning is near. Valenzuela has a good shot at becoming the first Afro-Latina to represent Texas’s 24th. And hopefully, she’ll have the chance to be the change she wishes to see on a National level for the sake of kids like her.

You can check out Candace’s platform here. And don’t forget to vote in the primaries on Tuesday, March 3rd!