It saddens me to see Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., leave office at this time in our nation’s history when the Latino voice is more crucial than ever. Pastor was the first Latino member of Congress from Arizona, and there has only been one other, Rep. Raul Grijalva.
The son of a miner in a small eastern Arizona town, Pastor comes from a working-class background. He is one of the few members of Congress who truly represented the constituents he serves.
Being the first in his family to graduate from college and achieve more than was expected of him resonates strongly with my background and the stories of many in his district, which is 65 percent Latino.
Pastor is a former Sun Devil who became a chemistry teacher at North High School in Phoenix. He later returned to ASU to receive his law degree and work for Raul Castro, the first Mexican-American governor of Arizona.
Pastor’s achievements and service has even been recognized my President Barack Obama in a statement from the White House.
“The first in his family to graduate from college, and the first Hispanic Congressman ever elected from Arizona, Ed Pastor has spent his life fighting to give every American the same chance to work hard and get ahead that this country gave him. As one of the most senior members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Ed also has served as a mentor and role model to young Latinos and Latinas throughout Arizona and our country, and his leadership will be missed,” Obama said.
I have much to thank the Congressman for, being an avid rider of the Phoenix Metro Light Rail system, Pastor made sure there was federal funding for the improvement of public transportation in Phoenix. Also, his focus on infrastructure led him to help improve Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Pastor’s retirement from Congress comes from his desire to tackle new ventures and not because of the political divide rampant in today’s Congress. His 7th Congressional District is a strongly-held Democratic seat, and many other politicians have already announced their interests to run for his spot.
The major downside to his retirement is that the Latino voice needs more presence in government. Pastor has expressed disappointment in the fact he could not be a part of a Congress that passed comprehensive immigration reform. This, above many things, is also my disappointment. Not necessarily with Pastor, but with Congress as a whole.
I work at the ASU Downtown campus, and I frequently pass by Pastor’s office in University Center. It is a point of pride to see a large artistic portrait of Cesar Chavez hanging in Pastor’s office. This reminds me that Pastor is truly a representative of the people. His roots are my roots, his history is my history and his voice spoke for me and others like me.
Working at the Information Desk at the ASU Downtown campus, I often get DREAMers who come to my desk asking me in Spanish where the Congressman’s office is located. I direct them toward his office with hope in my heart that their dreams will be manifested with the help of Pastor and his staff.
My grandmother came to this country as a migrant farm worker traveling all over California and Arizona with our family picking cotton, grapes, onions and other agricultural products. A few weeks ago she passed her citizenship test, and this Friday, she will be sworn in as an American citizen. My pride and love for my grandmother, Maria Refugio Cardiel de Gallegos, runs deep. She and my entire family made sacrifices so I could have the privilege to attend college.
By the year 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the majority of people in this country will be racial minorities. We need to start preparing for this by electing leaders who reflect the people’s wishes. In my lifetime, I will no longer be a minority. I will be able to just call myself an American.
Thank you, Ed Pastor, for committing your life to public service, for being a trailblazer for my family and for families all around our great state of Arizona.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @gilromeo92