Wendy Carrillo Wants the Future to Be Female—and Unapologetic

Over a dozen women ran for Congress in a special election to represent California’s 34th district. None of them won.

The district, now to be represented by one of two men who will compete in June for a final bid for its Congressional seat, is 64 percent Latino and 49 percent foreign-born—making it one of the most diverse in the country. Koreatown, Skid Row, Boyle Heights and several immigrant communities comprise the dense region of Los Angeles. Leaders emerging from the area included eight Latinas, a former White House staffer, city council leaders, activists, a journalist and a formerly undocumented woman named Wendy Carillo—whose East LA-based campaign was strangely reflective of the currently tense political state of the country.

Wendy Carrillo grew up in the 34th district. She was a feminist candidate who would have been the first undocumented woman elected to Congress and the first Salvadoran-American in the House of Representatives. She was the first-ever political candidate to earn the endorsement of the Women’s March on Washington national organizers. She proudly ran a grassroots campaign—and throughout it, she endured body-shaming and racism.

Former KKK leader David Duke attacked her on Twitter just after her campaign went live. The former Klan leader trolled her for a week, eventually retweeting an update by Ann Coulter that contains a link to a January story about the discovery of 12 bodies in Mexico. Each time, she responded and reaffirmed her value and made clear that she would not quiet her voice.

Unfortunately, the hatred and racism Carrillo withstood is all too familiar to her as an activist. “This is not a new movement for me,” she said. “There are people who will never see certain people as human beings. This community and the immigrants’ rights community has been seeing this for years. Now it’s directed at me.” She said the hateful comments prompted conversations about safety with her mostly women lead team—and that, despite the issues she faced, she hopes that her run for office inspires other women to aim at leadership roles.

“Stop waiting around for anyone to tap you on the shoulder and do it,” Carrillo told Ms. “You need let go of self-doubt. If there is a moment you feel you’re not ready, it’s wrong. You are more than ready to run for office.”

Duke’s tweets and Carrillo’s responses resulted in national media attention for her campaign. The LA Times, Remezcla, Teen Vogue, Elle and others covered Carrillo’s run—yet she couldn’t outpace California state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez and former Los Angeles planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn, who fundraised the largest sum of all the budding candidates. Carrillo ultimately placed sixth in the race, with two women ahead of her.

Progressive candidates in scattered states are attempting to take back the House during midterm and special elections, in some cases placing national eyes on smaller races that might normally have flown under the media’s radar. Women currently make up only 19 percent of the House, a smaller percentage than in 2014, but a dramatic uptick in women running for office or interested in potentially running has emerged since the election. Emily’s List reported that 10,000 women have contacted them hoping to run for office since the inauguration of the new president as part of what they call the “Other Trump Bump.”

20160909_121504Michele Sleighel has an MA in Communication from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a fact-checker for Ms. magazine and a research associate for the National Clinic Access Project, a campaign of the Feminist Majority. She’s very proud of her El Paso roots. 

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