Nanette Diaz Barragán

Nanette Barragan for Congress - October 2, 2016

Nanette Diaz Barragán
October 02, 2016— Carson, California
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First of all, thank you all for being here. I really appreciate it. I at some point will survey every region of each and every one of you to find out how we got you here today because we always like to know where people hear about the campaign, where people hear about us. I want to start though by thanking Linda for opening up her home today. [applause] I really appreciate you putting this together, and it means a lot to me to be here in Carson.

This is a city where I went to school. I went to Stephen White Junior High School. I learned to swim at the Carson pool, actually my mother, she's an immigrant from Mexico, and when she was a child she almost drowned so one of the very first things that she said we were kids is I'm going to make sure that all of my children know how to swim, and so we would spend a lot of time at the Carson pool here and then we would walk to the library which is right down the street from there. And so I remember using the old-fashioned you know card catalog system there and the microfiche there and I walked in there about six months ago and I asked, “Hey, do you I still have those?” It's not like oh no we got rid of those a long time ago, but it is for me to be back here and we do spend time here means a lot to me so thank you for opening up your home here, really appreciate that.

I'll tell you what about me, I'll tell you about the race, stay to the race, why I got into this race, and then we'll do QA. So let me just start a little bit about my background. My parents were immigrants; they came from Mexico. My mom had a third-grade education, and one of the things that they told me when I was growing up as they said, “Nanette, you need to be a doctor or a lawyer that's the only way you're going to get out of this world” and because we were very poor we were on government assistance when I was a kid. Now when I see blood I want to pass out, so for me it was very easy I said well I think I’m going to go to law school.

Now turned out that I liked history and I like politics. I would see the capital and television and I thought that was really neat so it worked out really well for me. Now in this district, only 10% of students go on to college. 10%. Now the district starts at San Pedro and includes the port of LA, which by the way, is the largest economic engine in the region and then it goes to Wilmington, Carson, Compton, Watts, Linwood, North Long Beach, and into South Gate. This is a district that is 70% Latino. It is an inter-district that it's very high immigrant community. I'm not just talking about Latinos I'm talking about Croatians and Greek and Italian and San Pedro, very high immigrant community, and I’m blessed to have been raised here and have lived here for 31 of my 40 years because of the diversity and the richness that it really brings.

So I'm one of those lucky ten percenters to beat the odds. I went to UCLA undergrad and then USC for law school. I've gotten a piece of the American dream, but now I'm running to make sure others have that same opportunity and that in a nutshell is why I'm running for Congress. Now I can tell you that when I was- when I was in college I walked into the career center one day and I said hey I see Washington on television all the time and I'm a political science major, maybe I could visit one day. And it was a counselor who said to me, “Nanette, you could do whatever you want,” and I said I have no political connections, my parents are not political donors, how would I ever get a job in Washington? And he said just apply.

Well the next thing you know I was working in the White House, working on African-American outreach, and I saw so many people who had my story, people who looked like me and that inspired me to come home and to work harder so that I too maybe one day could serve a president and that's what I thought. Now I loved it so much that in 1999 a year later I went back to work with the NAACP on the hill looking at the issue of racial health disparities, what different races were being treated differently. I also- we were looking at social justice issues. Back then, we were talking about racial profiling. What has happened now? It's just gotten worse. It has just gotten worse. Criminal justice reform, these are all issues that I worked on and it is not new. It's not like I'm running for Congress and saying hey by the way I care about this issue now. My life's track record hasn't been fighting- has been about really fighting for these issues and working across the communities- all communities.

So I got home and I finished at UCLA, I went on I went to law school and then I graduated and I got out with a ton of debt. A ton of death. Right, last summer, I had the chance to listen to Bernie before he made it big, and he talked about this issue and it really resonated with me and when I remember turning and leaning somebody and saying, “he talks about what I talked about” and they say, “no no you're talking about what he's talking about” and I said but this is personal for me. Like I know what it's like when you come out with so much debt, and you can't do what you want to do. The public interest work because just I’m saddled with all of this what I call a mortgage payment right at least with the mortgage payment you can get a refinance at a lower rate. For student loans it's so high.

So I took a job at a law firm, and I put away every single penny I had to pay down that high interest debt that I had from student loans. You know there's two layers: there's a student loan private and the student loan federal and for me I was- my job was really to bring down that debt. And my father died when I was 23 when I was in college. He never lived to see me graduate from college, so I was taking care of my mom at the same time and so college affordability and making sure that we have debt-free college is so very important.

I believe that education is the number one equalizer. The number one equalizer. Talk about opportunity, we all just want a chance, a shot at the American Dream and how do you get there? In school. Education. In this district people tell me I can't afford to go to college I say you can't afford not to go to college. Now some students and don't want to go to college and that's okay, but we have to have job training programs for them to make sure that they have an opportunity to get a piece of the American Dream. My family has been in San Pedro for 40 years. My sisters have been there for a very long time. I come from a household of longshoremen, so for me, knowing exactly what it's like to work done at the port, knowing exactly what it's like when the hours that they have, day shift, night shift, casual, working your way up.

Right so I happen to live in San Pedro right now and one of the things I remember my sister telling me when I was looking for a place to live as she says, “Nanette go as far south as you can go and make sure your west of Gaffey” and I said, “why is that?” She says because there's a lot of air pollution out here, and she herself at a very young age had breast cancer and believes it's tied to the pollution that was there. Now I don't know if you know this, but this district is one of the most heavily polluted districts in the entire country. I've spent the last several years fighting an oil company that wanted to drill for oil right in neighborhoods and into the Santa Monica Bay, along the California coastline.

Now while I was doing that, my opponent was taking all the money from the oil companies and was fighting for them in Sacramento, so when people ask me there how come you got into this race, I said well because it's very personal. One is I grew up here, my family's here, I want to make sure we send a representative that's going to be fighting for us, not their largest corporate donors. And then I heard about the deal that was made. You might say what deal, well nobody was supposed to run against my opponent, nobody. When I got into this race, people told me get out of the race, it's not your turn. I said what do you mean? The seat was promised to somebody else.

So in 2011 my opponent was running against the current congresswoman. They were both running for the seat. It was an open seat, she went to him and she said get out of this race and support me. If you do that, you will be next in line, and I said don't we still live in a democracy? Don't the voters still decide who serves their best interest? So I said you know what, all my life people have been telling me you can't do this whether it's because my parents were immigrants, or because we didn't have any money, or because I had no political connections. You know when I ran for City Council, I used to live in Hermosa Beach people told me then that you can't win here. You don't know Latinos here. I said you know what we'll see how it goes.

I knocked on doors, I talked about the issues, I was willing to take a position on the oil drilling issue, and people told me then what are you doing you don't know which way the winds blowing. That's the problem in politics today. When you have people deciding that they're just going to wait, they don't want to take a position, they don't want to stand with the community, they don't want us down stand for Public Health, they're too afraid something's too controversial. So we took a position early and I told people about it and the voters rewarded me. I not only won, I came in first place and we be a former Chief of Police who was supposed to walk right into the vacant seat.

So when people tell me I can't do something that just motivates me to work harder. It really does, and I'm also reminded about the power of people. This oil company spent two million dollars in two months trying to defeat – rather try to convince people that this was such a great thing to drill 34 oil and water injection wells. What did we do? We mobilize people. Every one of you here can make that difference in this race. This is how we get our message out. We tell people who I am, we tell people who were fighting for, and I can't do it without you because money and politics is buying our elected officials.