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State Senator Monique Limón discusses elevating voices, women in politics

On Friday morning in the Hesburgh Center Auditorium, California State Senator Monique Limón spoke about the intersection between her experience working in public office and her Latina identity. The lecture is part of Hispanic Heritage Month and was hosted by the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and the Institute for Latino Studies. 

Limón is a first-generation college student and was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and received her master’s degree from Columbia University.

In 2016, Limón won the State Assembly seat and in 2020, she won the State Senate seat. She serves the nineteenth Senate District, which includes Santa Barbara County and part of Ventura County. 

Limón is the first woman of color to be elected from the district to the State Assembly and the first person of color from the district to be elected to the State Senate. 

Although she represents a mostly white voter base, demographics are changing, and “as issues become more complicated and include many different communities, we are starting to branch out to think about who reflects the values that are important for the voters,” Limón said. “With my background, I have felt not just an honor to represent my community, but also a way to bridge stereotypes.”

Women make up just over 30 percent of the California State Legislature, but over 50 percent of California’s population.

Limón said there needs to be “an individual and collective commitment to ensure there are more marginalized communities represented in public office,” and women need to see others they identify with and support in these positions. 

Another problem Limón identified in her community is that, when people think of Santa Barbara, they only think of the pockets of wealth.

“This makes other people in my community invisible,” she said. 

It’s been important as a representative to ensure the voices of the community who aren’t always at the table are elevated and do so in a way that creates more allies, Limón said.

Before she became involved in politics, Limón was a member of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education, and her educational background taught her about the issues she cares about from a policy perspective. She worked with many students who were the first in their families to go to college and qualified for financial aid. 

“I very quickly understood that the issues that our community cares about weren’t limited to the classroom, because it turns out that whatever’s happening in the community is going to show up in the classroom,” Limón said. 

She became involved with non-profit community organizations to help students, and this motivated her to make the switch from implementing policy to creating it.

Limón said her connection to her community and her large network of students and their families made her a successful candidate for public office. 

She was able to build this network because she grew up in a big household with a large extended family.

“Family has taught me a lot about politics,” Limón said. “There are times when you have to break bread with individuals and not always agree with them.”

Her family also taught her important skills that helped her persevere when running for office.

“My parents always taught me the skills that it takes to work hard to overcome barriers and move forward,” she said. 

Although Limón’s commitment to higher-level education has influenced her policies, she said people assumed that when she got to the legislature she was only going to focus on education, since that was her strength.

“I did go in really focused on education, and I had this history being on the school board, and I cared a lot about it. But what happens when you’re in office is that, sometimes, you don’t get to pick what you work on,” Limón said. 

A year into her term was the beginning of the Thomas Fire. The fire affected Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was the largest fire in California for six months. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from her district.

“And at that moment, no matter how much I cared about education, I had to turn immediately to become a policy expert in natural disasters,” Limón said.

She explained that she had to use her skill set to tackle different issues.

“I’ve always been a big believer that no matter what you do in life, you have to know how to transfer your professional, academic, intellectual and interpersonal communication skill sets to every environment,” she said. 

Some of Limón’s most important policies have been in different areas not related to her educational background.

“Most of the policy that I’m known for is actually not education,” Limón said. “I’m known for environmental policy, consumer protections, women’s issues and natural disasters.” 

Limón said she hopes to act in the best interest of the communities she serves, and her main goal is to elevate the needs of the individuals in these communities.

“I have adapted to being a leader that the community needs of me, and the community will decide when they no longer need the skill sets and the values that I move forward,” she said.

Contact Caroline Collins at ccolli23@nd.edu.

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