On Friday morning, California Sen. Monique Limón spoke in the auditorium of the Hesburgh Center about the intersection between her experience of public office and her Latina identity. The talk 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 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 seat in the State Assembly and in 2020 the seat in the State Senate. It serves the nineteenth Senate district, which includes Santa Barbara County and a portion of Ventura County.
Limón is the first black woman elected to the state assembly from the district and the first black person from the district to be elected to the state senate.
Although she represents a predominantly white voter base, the demographics are changing, and “as the issues become more complicated and involve many different communities, we start to branch out to think about who reflects the values that voters care about,” said lemon. “With my background, I feel it’s not only an honor to represent my community, but also a way to bridge stereotypes.”
Women make up just over 30 percent of the California Legislature, but over 50 percent of California’s population.
Limón said there needs to be “an individual and collective commitment to ensure more marginalized communities are represented in public office,” and women need to see others who they identify with and who support them in those positions.
Another problem Limón has identified in her community is that when people think of Santa Barbara, all they think about is the riches.
“It makes other people in my community invisible,” she said.
As a representative, it’s important to make sure the voices of the community that aren’t always around the table are raised, and do it in a way that creates more allies, Limón said.
Prior to becoming 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 close to her heart from a political perspective. She worked with many students who were the first in their families to go to college and qualify for financial aid.
“I understood very quickly that the issues that matter to our community are not limited to the classroom, because it turns out that everything that happens in the community shows up in the classroom too,” Limón said.
She became involved with nonprofit community organizations to help students, and this motivated her to make the shift from implementing policies to creating policies.
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 large household with a large extended family.
“The family taught me a lot about politics,” Limón said. “There are times when you have to break bread with individuals and don’t 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 it takes to work hard, to overcome obstacles and to move forward,” she said.
Although Limón’s commitment to higher education influenced her policies, she said people assumed that when she got to the legislature, she would only focus on education as that was her strength.
“I was really focused on education, and I had this story on the school board, and I cared about it a lot. But what happens when you’re in office is that sometimes you don’t get to choose what you work on,” Limón said.
A year into her tenure was the start of the Thomas fire. The fire affected Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was the largest fire in California in six months. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from their district.
“And in that moment, no matter how much I cared about education, I immediately had to become the policy expert on natural disasters,” Limón said.
She explained that she needed to use her skills to tackle various problems.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that no matter what you do in life, you need to know how to apply your professional, academic, intellectual and interpersonal communication skills to any environment,” she said.
Some of Limón’s most important policies involved various areas unrelated to her educational background.
“Most of the politics that I’m known for is actually not education,” Limón said. “I’m known for environmental politics, consumer protection, women’s issues and natural disasters.”
Limón said she hopes to act in the best interests of the communities she serves and that her primary goal is to increase the needs of the people in those communities.
“I have aligned myself to be a leader that the community needs from me, and the community will decide when it no longer needs the skills and values that I promote,” she said.
Contact Caroline Collins at [email protected].