In some ways, Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzmán is the perfect politician to deliver a post-State of the Union response to Trump.
For starters, Guzmán is no stranger to the types of aggressions that have come out of the woodwork in Trump’s America. Before she won her seat in Virginia’s historic blue wave last year, a Republican PAC targeted the Peruvian immigrant’s campaign with racist, fear-mongering mailings. She still won by an almost 10% margin, and was the first Latina elected to the Virginia General Assembly.
Guzmán will be firing back at the administration’s anti-immigrant sentiments Tuesday night — in Spanish.
In an interview, she gave Refinery29 a preview of what she’ll be discussing in her eight-minute speech. Protecting Dreamers is high on her list: With the DREAM Act sitting in a cruel limbo, she says she’ll take the opportunity to speak up for the 800,000 young people who many say are effectively being used as bargaining chips in the debate.
“Our position is to help all the Dreamers in the nation. These children have been raised here; they don’t know any other country. We should be helping them stay here,” Guzmán told Refinery29. “I think the government talks about how many things we do for Dreamers, but we don’t talk about how much they do for us.”
Guzmán got into politics early. Her father was a union organizer who often hosted meetings at home, and she was president of her class in high school, according to Univision.
When she came from Peru about 20 years ago, she worked three jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment for herself and her six-year-old daughter (at the time, she was a single parent). She worked at Wendy’s after dropping her daughter off at school and then the night shift at CVS after she went to bed. On the weekends, she clocked in as a cashier in a department store.
Eventually she enrolled in community college and then pursued a B.A. online and two Master’s degrees. She was a social worker for many years, and got married along the way — her and her husband now have four kids. It was around 2005, when she became an American citizen, that she started researching candidate positions and becoming more involved in politics.
Guzmán ran on a progressive campaign of “Medicaid for All,” early childhood education, and a minimum wage increase to $ 15 per hour. While she passionately backed Bernie Sanders, she also volunteered for Hillary Clinton in the general election. And while she calls for an unapologetically progressive platform, she’s ready to unite the fractured party. “Choosing me to do this speech I think is a message that we are ready to be united,” she told HuffPo. “There is no more ‘progressive’ and ‘establishment.’ We want to be together.”
Not only is she striving to define the Dems in positive terms, but she’s doing so in Spanish. “We’ve never had the opportunity to define the Democratic Party in Spanish,” she told Refinery29. “I want to be sure the audience understands that we Democrats are about fighting for the working class, we want to fight for women’s rights, for immigrants’ rights. I think my election is a message that the resistance works — we need to continue to fight and make our voices heard and vote.”
“Many people told me I had no chance, that Virginia wasn’t ready for a person of color who is an immigrant and English is their second language,” Guzmán said. But she proved them wrong, and said now “it’s an honor” to be delivering her address in her native language — only her third public address in Spanish.
“I don’t get a lot of a chances to talk about politics in Spanish,” she said. “I will make sure that I connect with as many people as I can. ‘Plain language’ will be my goal, as I want to reach out not only to first-generation immigrants but to second- and third-generation immigrants. If I use metaphors and it’s too complicated, some people may not understand.”
In a climate where many women are angry at an administration that is setting us back generations, Guzmán said she hopes to inspire more women to stand up and fight back.
“I hope with my story, I can inspire more women and more immigrants to run for office,” she said.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts is delivering the English-language Democratic response after Trump’s address.
At least nine Democratic lawmakers are now boycotting Tuesday night’s remarks including California Rep. Maxine Waters, who said, “Why would I take my time to go and sit and listen to a liar?”
Virginia: @guzman4delegate insiste con proyecto de ley para estudiantes inmigrantes | El Tiempo Latino | Noticias de Washington DC – https://t.co/ZXJmHY66Cf (✍🏽 @RicardoLoDice) pic.twitter.com/Of0UmeXQGm
— El Tiempo Latino (@eltiempolatino) January 24, 2018
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