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Friday, March 24, 2023

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Latinas who set the pace in the White House

When he knew that USA would open its border with MexicoNatalie Montelongo thought of her native Texas, and the families that may finally be reunited. Everytime that Joe Biden Asking to approve a paid leave at the national level, Rosie Hidalgo remembers her mother, and the jobs she lost taking care of her children when they were sick.

His are two of the Latin voices that set the pace in the White House by Joe Biden, where there are a record number of women and members of minorities who leave their mark every day in the rooms where the decisions are made.

On the occasion of Hispanic Heritage Month, which ended this Friday, Efe brought together four Latinas who work in the White House to understand how their perspectives influence political debates that, for decades, were dominated almost exclusively by white men.

“It is important for us to put our life experiences on the table when we talk about different policies,” says Montelongo, deputy director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach with Communities, during the collective interview in a room in the presidential complex.

From the border to the White House

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Montelongo was born 35 years ago in Brownsville (Texas) and grew up between that border city and neighboring Matamoros, in Mexico; so you know how much binational families have suffered during the pandemic, due to the ban on non-essential travel across the border.

As soon as he heard that this veto would finally be lifted on November 8 for vaccinated people, Montelongo knew that the news “would be very well received by the border communities, regardless of their political party.”

“It is in these cases that you bring the unique perspective of having grown up in those cities, so that it is understood how these policies are going to be received on the ground,” he highlights.

Montelongo grew up a few kilometers from her current partner and director of the office of political strategy at the White House, Emmy Ruiz, who is also the daughter of Mexican immigrants and grew up in the Texas town of La Feria, in the valley of the Rio Grande.

Thanks to those roots, Ruiz is very clear about the “disproportionate impact” that the almost total ban on abortion in Texas is having among Latinas and Blacks, as well as among undocumented people in the Rio Grande Valley, where many clinics have been for years reproductive health facilities closed due to increasing state restrictions.

“In recent years there has even been an increase in cervical cancer cases in the Rio Grande Valley, because many of these clinics provided basic services to immigrant women,” explains the 38-year-old Texan.

Family stories

Ruiz is more than five months pregnant and knows that when she gives birth next year, she will have a paid family leave to take care of her baby, a leave that for millions of Latinas in the United States is rather an inaccessible luxury. because that right is not guaranteed at the national level.

“I know a lot of people and I have a lot of relatives who have had no resources when they tried to take care of their parents or a relative, or who may have only been able to take a week or two after giving birth to a baby,” Ruiz lamented.

The same thing happens to Rosie Hidalgo, born in Washington to Cuban parents and who works on the White House’s gender policy council, where she works as an advisor to Biden on issues related to sexist violence.

“I remember hearing stories from my mother, who had five children and worked as a secretary in different offices. She often told us that when one of us got sick and had to take time off from work, they would tell her: ‘Don’t worry about coming back, we’ve already found someone to replace you,’ ”says Hidalgo.

“And of course, she never had any kind of paid maternity leave. That had a tremendous, really difficult economic impact on our family, ”adds the 55-year-old Biden advisor.

Those kinds of stories, coupled with the fact that 60% of White House employees are women and 44% minorities, have helped put care at the top of the political agenda for Biden, whose plan to Social spending – in the hands of Congress – would guarantee paid family leave of twelve weeks.

“Representation matters”

From the gender policy council, Hidalgo tries not to forget that the Latino population is “very diverse” and always keep an eye on the intersection between “gender and race” or immigration status; But he knows that there are issues that affect all Hispanics, such as the climate crisis or the economic decline resulting from the pandemic.

“Many people who do not have a path to citizenship risked their lives in front-line jobs (during the pandemic). My hope is that, after this crisis, there will be much greater recognition for the enormous role that immigrants play in this economy ”, he emphasizes.

Sitting to her left in a White House meeting room, Ruiz nods and hopes that this will soon translate into immigration relief in Congress for the undocumented who work in the fields, or for the “dreamers” – the migrants who They arrived in the country as minors and demand their regularization.

“We are on your side. We believe that citizenship is a right, and it is a great priority for us ”, promises Ruiz.

At one end of the table, Luisana Pérez, a Venezuelan immigrant who works as the director of Hispanic media at the White House, sums up with a slogan the contributions that she and her peers bring every day to Biden’s hectic environment.

“Representation matters. In every decision we make, there are people like us in those rooms, helping to make that decision better for our communities, ”concludes Pérez, 34.



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