By Angelica Rubio, State Representative, NM House District 35, Executive Director, NM CAFé
Statistically, they say it takes seven times for a woman to be asked to run for office before she agrees to do it. In the case of a community organizer, who has had a very conflicting relationship with power, not only did I say, “hell to the no” seven times, but I think I went on to say “no” about thirty more times before I agreed to run for the New Mexico State Legislature in House District 35. But with just over a year of serving in my seat, and recently declaring my run for re-election for a second term, I have certainly had some time to reflect on my first year in office.
First off, the system. New Mexico is the only state in the country that does not pay its legislators, does not provide full time staff for its legislators to help with on the ground constituent services, research, and/or additional supports, and more importantly, the legislature only meets 60 and 30 days every other year to pass legislation and budget, respectively. With that said, New Mexico is ranked at the bottom of a lot of important lists, including the worst when it comes to quality of life for our children. While there is no research or data to defend my theory, I do believe that there is a direct correlation between the lack of modernization of our legislature, and how poorly we score on the overall health of our communities. Moreover, (and frankly, more importantly) there are many of our elected legislative leaders who do not quite represent those directly impacted by the public policies passed at the state level. So how does “what keeps you up at night?” resonate with a leader who is sleeping pretty well?
Identity Crisis, Much?
During my first session, I visited multiple places in Santa Fe–searching for the best menudo. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who grew up in southeastern New Mexico, and now calling the border city of Las Cruces home, I religiously spend my Sunday mornings cultivating community over a large bowl of this wonderful delicatessen and bomb bolillos. However, my loneliness soon deepened when I discovered that not once, not twice, BUT THREE times, it took for me to find some authentic menudo. The first restaurant served me a small bowl of posole, and when asked, “red or green?” I gave a look that made the waiter regretted asking. At the second restaurant, I was offered toast with menudo filled with shredded chicken. But finally, after three weeks of searching, I discovered Airport Road! Doña Clara is where it’s at, and where I found my gente. And it was during this journey of finding my bomb menudo, that I realized, “Wow–New Mexico isn’t all the same?”
Over the course of the rest of the sixty day session I also recognized that while we like to say that we’re diverse, and rich in culture, we don’t all generally think that that’s a good thing. Having grown up in southeastern New Mexico, and now serving a border city in the New Mexico Legislature, it occurred to me that issues of race are much more complex here in New Mexico than in the rest of the country. While the rest of the nation debates issues from a black and white lens, we here in New Mexico are still trying to figure out who we are, as our history of colonization by the Spanish is as deeply celebrated as it is despised. In the way that Mexico’s soup is my comfort food, for those in the north, it’s a symbol of what they don’t want to become. We see it in our policies, where new arriving immigrants face backlash from some of our very own brothers and sisters.
Water is Life, For Some.
When the New Mexico Legislature is not in session, most if not all legislators spend the rest of the year traveling across the state attending interim committee meetings. During these meetings, legislators learn more about each other, since both the Senate and the House participate together. More importantly though, we learn more deeply about communities outside of our district, and the kind of legislation we should be prioritizing for the upcoming legislative session. This past year, I spent a lot of time in the cities of Gallup, Farmington, and Chapter Houses in between. Probably the most beautiful region in our state is around these northwestern communities. As a community organizer, I had generally felt like I had a pretty good pulse of what was happening across the state. But it was during the interim, and visiting many of our native and indigenous communities–where I came to realize the incredible injustices that still exist throughout our state, specific to our native communities. Injustices that 1) should have never occurred, and 2) should certainly not be occurring in the 21st century. I learned that industries such as oil, gas, and coal, are not only romanticized across the state but are also keeping us from becoming innovative, a state with great vision, and moving beyond this mainstay. Instead, we’re quickly destroying beautiful and sacred lands that communities have lived in for generations. More importantly, many of our native and indigenous communities face incredible health related side effects due to the extrapolation, drilling, burning and venting that this industry does to our beloved state.
Look, I admit that I feel like 99% of the time that I have been serving in the New Mexico Legislature this year has been spent mostly calling things out. For those that accuse me of that, that’s absolutely fair. But with that said, I also come in with a brand new set of eyes, and someone that is willing to learn and figure this system out, despite how broken it might seem. New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, not just because of how beautiful nuestra tierra is, but because of how resilient our people are, despite the hand we’ve been dealt.
37 times ago I was asked if I wanted to run for this New Mexico House seat. Past Angelica said absolutely not. Present Angelica says, “Adelante, mi gente!”
Angelica Rubio was born and raised in New Mexico in the rural colonia of Lake Arthur. As the youngest of six children, Angelica grew up with a deep working knowledge of the power found in numbers, as well as a flair for making her case.
After earning an undergraduate degree in Government from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Angelica worked in Washington, DC, both on and off The Hill and as a Policy Analyst at the New Mexico Legislature. Moving to East Los Angeles to pursue a graduate degree, as well as an education in community organizing, Angelica established herself as a fierce advocate for consumer protection and a committed change agent. Returning to her hometown of Lake Arthur, Angelica volunteered with the Alliance for Peace and Justice to engage and organize her community around local issues directly impacting the Latino population. To augment the impact of this hands-on effort, Angelica also began blogging at The Rubio Dispatch. Her reasoned and impassioned posts quickly earned Angelica recognition as a local voice in social media, as well as a strong progressive ally across the state.
In 2013 Angelica returned to Las Cruces, joining Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (NM CAFé) as Lead Organizer and managed the local ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2019. Following the initiative’s successful passage, Angelica has focused on protecting voter rights, adding her voice to issues such as criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and her passions is developing leaders for public life. With that said, in 2016, Angelica won a seat in the New Mexico Legislature, where she now serves, and has recently returned to her first love of community organizing, as the new Executive Director of NM CAFé.
In addition to her plethora of work in politics, activism and community organizing, Angelica possesses great strengths in the area of writing, blogging, and digital and online strategy. You can frequently find her on Twitter at @anrubio discussing local and state politics, sharing her own personal writing, and/or discussing pop culture randomness.