(Oct. 14) Like many Latino politicians and activists of her generation, Lorena Gonzalez traces her political awakening to Proposition 187, the Pete Wilson-championed initiative blocking immigrants from receiving public services.
Her opposition to the measure led her to the office of former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and, eventually, to serving as CEO and secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. But before winning those plum posts, Gonzalez had to get an education.
The daughter of a Mexican-born immigrant farmworker and a politically active nurse, Gonzalez paid her way in part with scholarships from beauty pageants -- her talent was dancing -- and, after penning a college essay on wanting to become the Assembly member for California's 79th Assembly District (she now represents the 80th, which encompasses the same area), Gonzalez celebrated her admission to Stanford University by rooting for its teams as a cardinal-clad cheerleader.
"We used to joke that I went from being a cheerleader at Stanford to being a cheerleader for workers," Gonzalez said, recalling how steady proliferation of vintage photos on Facebook used to alarm her staff.
While Gonzalez laments being only one of two Stanford alums in the Legislature (she checked), she said the characteristic cheerleader energy that still animates her conversations also serves a political function.
"I'm outspoken," Gonzalez said. "I think the Assembly could use a cheerleader."