As the year comes to an end, Coachella Unincorporated is featuring some of the people who made a positive impact on the Eastern Coachella Valley in 2012
Today, we feature State Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella), who began his third and final term earlier this month. He was appointed Democratic Whip, a key position on State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez’s leadership team. He will also serve as vice chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.
Coachella Unincorporated reporter Aurora Saldivar recently sat down with Pérez to discuss his plans for the next two years and how his high-profile leadership roles will benefit the 56th Assembly District.
Coachella Unincorporated: What does your newly appointed leadership position as Democratic Whip mean for residents of your district, especially those in Eastern Coachella Valley?
V. Manuel Pérez: I think it’s going to bring a lot of advantages that we never had before.
1) Being part of the leadership team will now allow me to be an insider on issues and processes and concerns that I am not used to.
2) It will allow me to also convey the message to others on the leadership team of priorities of concern to us here in this district, so that I can highlight that and elevate them to another level that I haven’t had before.
3) Because of my independent thinking and because of my will to vote my district and work with Republicans on bipartisan issues, I think the speaker and leadership team will look towards me to convey a bipartisan message and to bring on board Republicans when need be.
4) Because of my experience on the issue of jobs and the economy, as a former chair, what I will be working on is ensuring growing the economy, especially for our district here, knowing that we have high unemployment rates. We have had them for 40 years, specifically in Imperial County and the Eastern Coachella Valley. With that being said, I think that I will have an avenue, a stronger link to convey those types of messages. At the same time we will not operate in a vacuum. When we are having discussions on the budget, we are also having discussions about how we grow the economy.
CU: As you enter into you third and final term, do you find that there is a particular issue, identified by Eastern Coachella Valley, which will be made a priority?
VMP: Yes, the Salton Sea restoration would be my number one. Secondly, border infrastructure for purpose of goods movement. The other would be transmission lines. I would say that I believe in small utility renewable energy and also large-scale utilities. For example, small scale would be people putting solar panels on their roofs and large scale is having a solar garden or solar farm like you see in Desert Hot Springs when you drive out there.
CU: You were nominated by your peers to the position of vice chair of the California Latino Caucus. Is this appointment a reflection of something?
VMP: Ensuring that policy is filtered and moved through the process, through our advocacy as Latinos. The reason why I believe I was chosen by my peers is not only my vision, but my great working relationship with people, my integrity and honor in the institution. I respect the institution very much not only the institution of democracy, government and what it means to be an Assemblymember — but the institution of the Latino Caucus.
I am known to be perhaps one of the most vocal in the Latino Caucus and on Latino issues and also as an implementer. I am action-orientated, always looking for ways to build coalitions to implement policy. I am only as good as the people I work with, so I am a reflection of my Latino Caucus colleagues and as well, my staff.
Its twofold, state and district, and I try and integrate that. I have integrated legislation in the past dealing with English language learners, so their testing is accommodated so they can understand what they are reading. So that they can achieve higher scores when they take a test.
I have introduced legislation on promatoras as most of the promatoras are Latinas, and I cut my teeth working with promatoras here on the eastside as a health care director. I actually started one of the first promatora programs here, Poder Popular, years ago. I worked on legislation to ensure that nonprofits have more of a voice when it comes to policy recourses and when it comes to being parts of boards, state boards or funding foundations. The reason why I went there is because I was also a founding member of RAICES. I was the first president of RAICES, and I wanted for RAICES to have those types of opportunities.
The whole concept of the Boys and Men of Color was stuff that I was already working on for years as an organizer. And that is actually something that I brought to RAICES (when it was) first formed. It has taken some years, but we are finally there. It is all interconnected. It is a circle. It is all integrated some way, somehow. I have been working on this stuff, and I believe that is what my purpose is as an Assemblymember; to bring social justice and economic justice closer to our constituents of the 56th Assembly District.
CU: To what extent will your Eastern Coachella Valley roots help influence the direction in which you will shape on the Caucus?
VMP: My roots and how I grew up and how I interact with my community totally informs who I am today and is my moral compass as to what I will be doing with Latino Caucus and what I have been trying to do with California. It is who I am. There is no disconnect between Coachellita and now up at the Capitol. Going to Sacramento, the only difference is that now I wear a suit and perhaps I get a State dinner every once in a while; but other than that, I am still the same person. I still wear my Cortez’s and my Tres Flores, you know. I still wear my socks all the way up to my knees and I like that I still live in Coachella. Many people have asked, “Why do you live in Coachella still?” and my response is real simple. Because that is where I grew up and those are my roots. I love Coachella, I love the people.
CU: As you enter into your final term, how would you like to see your legacy defined?
VMP: I will say that my hope is that people will see, at the end of the day, that my legacy is compassion for people, for humanity overall; that I really care, and that social justice — no matter how big of a word that may seem — is an issue of equity and bringing that realization for our community, through policy.
I am willing to be on fire. We are going to be on fire, we are going to be working very hard, we are not going to rest on our laurels as they say, and we will be making an announcement in 2013 as to what’s next.
CU: The Boys and Men of Color is an issue you have been actively engaged in for many years; is there a personal experience that has made you passionate to promote this issue?
VMP: There is one specific experience and that was the shooting of my best friend Alejandro Aguilar. We were teenagers on the same street on which we grew up, although growing up as a kid, we always knew violence existed and we heard gunshots all the time and we had friends in and out of jail and people getting caught up in drugs. Obviously, growing up in Coachellita, I saw all that stuff. But the experience for me that was the most profound, that made me the most passionate about this, was his murder.
Aside from that it is the fact that I have too many friends, too many people that are real close to my heart, that are in the prison system because they got caught up in drugs or used violence. I believe that part of it has to do with policy and working on policy items like zero tolerance policies, for example, and giving the kid a second chance or policy when it comes to reentry services and making sure that people have a job so that they don’t go back to what they were doing. I also think it has a lot to do with self-hating and self-love and the spiritual side of life. I think that we have a lot of lost souls out there right now because of lack of mentors, because of lack of guidance, and so we need to make sure we do whatever we can to have a balance.
CU: Is there a message you would like to give to east valley communities?
VMP: I think we are going to be on fire. Let us keep hope alive, you know, let’s continue to work together. Love your families. Let’s understand that love is a driving force. Let’s have faith in one another. I believe in people, and I believe in their own sense of self and their own self–urgency and their empowerment. That for me is very important.
— AURORA SALDIVAR/Coachella Unincorporated