“Why Not Us?”
By Irene Sanchez
Leslie Altamirano Candidate for District 4 Jurupa Valley City Council
Leslie Altamirano is 36 years old and running for Jurupa Valley City Council to represent District 4 which includes a long neglected area of the city (where the author went to high school): Rubidoux, CA.
If you ask Leslie Altamirano why she’s running for office, she’ll say it’s because she desires to give back to the community and make a change, but she also points to two inspirations, the first, her parents, particularly her father. The second, a racist/anti-immigrant incident that occurred at Rubidoux High School in 2017.
Leslie’s father died in 2006. “He always explained to me how people needed help and needed people to advocate for them. Especially people in our communities, Latinos. We’re used to just being able to sit down and take it and accept, like that’s the way of the world and that we can’t really fight it.”
Although her dad had ideas about helping people were limited in access, she expresses how gender comes into play “As a woman there are certain norms I have to live with and you can’t fight it”. Leslie would challenge her father who in turn encouraged his daughter to become a lawyer. “That’s where the whole idea of becoming a lawyer came from. How can I make a change? How can I make a difference?”.
Leslie describes her family growing up as having limited means, but when the opportunity came up to help someone out, the family always made it a priority to do so. “We were always able to help other people no matter what. There was always room to bring somebody in and I grew up seeing this. That was the example.” Leslie does not credit the church she was raised with for inspiring her parents to help others, as she states, “Most of the people they helped had nothing to do with the church. It was more of my dad’s ideals, my moms too.”
The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, Leslie’s mother was born in Los Mochis Sinaloa and her father is from Casas Grandes Chihuahua. Leslie was born in Bell, CA and is one of 8 children. She was raised in Huntington Park and Leslie faced various challenges in her early years while being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Then when she became a teen mom at the age of 15, she was forced to drop out of high school when her highly religious private school offered her no alternative to continue her studies. “As soon as the school found out I was pregnant, they made me leave, so I had no choice”. When reflecting on her past Leslie states, “I try not to focus on the negative so much.”
In her 20’s Leslie figured out how to move forward and got her brokers license so she could open an insurance business. When she had an office she describes how she would use the business for more than just selling insurance policies. Leslie would often offer help to her clients and their children for filling out college applications, FAFSA, and DACA applications. “When I had my own office I always tried to help people”, she said.
Antonio Castro, 37, is Leslie’s husband who had encouraged her to return to school while she was in her 20’s. With his support, she completed an associates degree at ELAC and then transferred to California State University Dominguez Hills to complete her BA in Psychology because of the way it helped her explain the world. Leslie states, “It (Psychology) comes back to the way we treat people and the way we see the world, it comes back to us.”
Aside from Leslie’s husband encouraging her to return to school, her husband remains a tremendous source of support to Leslie and her campaign for office. He describes how Leslie inspires him, “The thing that most inspired me about Leslie is that she is a strong, independent, empathetic woman that is driven to achieve anything that she sets her mind to.”
Leslie was also inspired to run for office by the events of the Rubidoux High School Walkouts in 2017 when 5 teachers and a counselor made racist remarks on social media about immigrants and Chicano/Latino students in a school that is 90 percent Latino. Leslie states, “Living in Jurupa Valley and seeing the response from our school district and community members was a wake up call that as a Mexican American we were not represented or supported. I quickly realized that we couldn’t be passive and it was imperative that we speak out and reach out for support for the rest of the community members that weren’t able to get involved.”
As a mother of a then high schooler at Rubidoux, Bernice, Leslie was outraged and went to the Jurupa Unified School District School Board Meeting to express her discontent along with nearly 100 students, parents, and community members during February 2017.
Bernice, a graduate of Rubidoux High School is 20 years old now and describes the influence her mother has had on her life. “When I was in elementary school, she was going to college and she was taking Sociology/Chicano studies courses and she would come home and tell me what she was learning. So, as a kid, I was very critical of my environment and I had an understanding of the world around me that most 9 year olds didn’t have. I feel like I was very lucky to receive that kind of education from her, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Although Leslie doesn’t touch on gender issues directly much, she shared that she believed that politics was something she thought wasn’t for her, “I didn’t feel that it was for me. I didn’t feel that it was something women, minorities can go into, it was something that had more hoops for us to jump through to participate in something like that.”
Surprisingly to Leslie during her campaign thus far, she describes the overwhelming support that people have for her in Jurupa Valley. She has the endorsements from many people including current Jurupa Valley City Council Members, Assembly member Sabrina Cervantes and one of her role models, Congress person Mark Takano. She describes her feelings on the support, “You know what? Every single encounter I have felt so much more empowered because there is so much support coming from our community. It was something I really wasn’t expecting and I get so emotional every time I think about it because people are ready for these changes.”
Leslie was also hesitant to run for office mainly because she has been a resident of Jurupa Valley for only 6 years, but after learning her opponent has only been a resident for 2 years along with learning how some of these issues Jurupa Valley faces are similar to other communities in Southern California, like lack of materials/outreach to the majority Spanish Speaking populations in the district seat she is running for, she recognized how she could make a difference due to what she learned in her early years with her parents.
As Leslie recalls her father’s impact on her, her voice radiates happiness repeating what he would say, “Get educated, be somebody, then you can help your community.” Leslie did exactly that and even though she completed her Bachelor’s degree, she still has aspirations for furthering her education and attending law school one day. Ultimately for Leslie whether it is running for office or going to law school and doing things that people don’t think women can do, Leslie simply asks the obvious, “Why not us?”
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