Rocio’s Personal Story
December 2018: My parents invited all their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren to their home for dinner. I live within a 10 mile radius of my parents, my sisters, and even my in-laws, so we frequently meet for dinner and I didn’t think anything of it.
A couple of hours into the gathering, as our children laughed and played, my parents gathered all adults around the dinner table. I realized a big piece of information was coming and my mind began to race through possible bits of bad news – maybe my parents were moving away and wouldn’t be around to visit with grandkids as often, maybe one of my parents had lost their job due to layoffs (again), maybe they had bad news about one of my relatives in El Salvador.
My mom had cancer.
Despite all the reassurances that it was caught early, despite all the reassurances that surgery would be successful, despite the reassurances that my mom felt ok and knew she was going to be ok, the news was hard to take. How would we pay for everything? What fortune would the surgery, the radiation, and the time off from work cost? How would I make enough time to be there for her when she needed me? She’d need someone to get her food, or fetch her medicine, or help her dress and I had to do my part around my work schedule. What if she had to suffer? What if she left us – NO – I couldn’t even consider that possibility.
That night and many nights thereafter, I pieced apart every aspect of my life. I sought to prune away things that didn’t matter and didn’t satisfy. I wanted to make sure I was devoting myself more fully into the things that brought meaning and fulfillment. I was looking for gaps in my life where I thought I may believe one way, or speak one way, but live in another way.
Thoughts and thoughts and thoughts day in and day out…the crisis brought about introspection.
Substantive changes began almost immediately.
Faith – I spent years believing in God but avoiding organized religion for all the fear that it would disappoint, for all the hurt it had previously caused, and for all the anxiety that came with fearing that I wouldn’t be welcomed. Virtually the moment I opened myself up to the possibility of attending church again, I came upon a poignant post from a white pastor about the passing of Botham Jean and I knew I had found a church home. I’ve studied hard there, I’ve been broken and rebuilt, I’ve been humbled and encouraged, I’ve grown confident enough in my faith to present to a group, to be baptized, and to be invited to lead. I can’t believe I put this part of life off for so long.
Work – I’ve always loved being a trial lawyer. I have especially loved being a Plaintiff lawyer where I have helped everyday people take on the powerful, the wealthy, the virtually untouchable powers-that-be who seek to exploit them, do harm, and commit injustices. But for years I had felt so much pressure to win. For years I felt so much pressure to be motivated by profit. For years it felt like whatever I accomplished – no matter how good – wasn’t enough. Until one day I drowned out the external pressures and stripped my practice down to the basics. I kept doing what I loved, helping people in times of difficulty regardless of their ability to pay, simply because I loved doing it. It is freeing and satisfying to do what you love.
Public Service – There was always some imaginary future date when I’d give more to my community. Yes, I’d volunteered and worked at nursing homes, at children’s homes, and with immigrants, but with work, kids, and organizations consuming so much of my 36 year old life, where would I ever find time to devote myself to public service? Then it happened – a coworker’s son told me to run, my pastor mentioned the elections in passing in a sermon, colleagues began to ask if I’d run, legislation was directly affecting my law practice and making me increasingly frustrated. Deportations, separations, rollbacks of environmental protections, conflicts of interests, #blacklivesmatter, corruption, #metoo, stacking the courts…
I went from easily saying no, to a more hesitant no, to finally considering it enough that I took the idea home to the person who knows me best and loves me most. I told my husband of 8 years what we’d be sacrificing, I told him he’d have to double his efforts around our home and with our kids, I told him it was a lot to take on and we’d be facing a highly uncertain result, I told him we had every reason to cling to the amazing life we’ve built and leave good enough alone.
He looked at me and released the truth that I couldn’t get myself to verbalize yet. I was going to do this. I was going to do this because I know my life isn’t mine to begin with but is given so I can improve the lives of others. I was going to do this because it would eat away at me if I didn’t. I was going to do this because, as Ryan put it, “You fight so hard and so much for things and it takes so much out of you because you can’t separate yourself from it.”
Why am I sharing this? As candidates we’re often given 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 60 seconds to try to convey information that takes longer than that to think through. As candidates we often take every opportunity to provide listening ears to those around us and to address the concerns of those around us rather than to express ourselves freely.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share part of my story and to explain why I am running now. Why do this when my law practice is thriving? Why do this when I have a child in kindergarten? Why do this at a time when politics seems more the pursuit of monsters than the pursuit of diplomats? This is part of my why.
I’ve loved God, my family, my profession, and my community before. I’ve simply torn down the noise, the distractions, and the hesitations so I can keep doing all of things I’ve loved for so long but do them more fully. The silver lining of the crisis of 2018 is that it brought about introspection, change, and a focus on doing everything I can to make things better for the people in my community.