I was born in Bogota, Colombia in 1997. I moved to Sarasota when I was 6 years old, in 2003. When my parents decided to move us to the United States, I had the best handle on the english language - it wasn't even enough to ask for directions from Miami to Sarasota. That first Miami-Sarasota drive took us more than 6 hours. We would hop on and off the Florida turnpike, lost until we found a map and a police officer who knew where Sarasota was. That's how off the map Sarasota was at the time. It was truly a foreign world.
My dad had been a taxi driver in Colombia, he had always hated painting. Recently arrived, he found work as a handyman's assistant and as a bus boy at a local Italian restaurant. He would get picked up early in the morning by his boss, and come back to where we were staying on bike. Cycling late at night, after long days of hard work. Before long we had moved into our first home, my dad had bought a car, and I had started school at Gulf Gate Elementary School.
That first home was a two bedroom, two bathroom, apartment in Vintage Grand -other longtime residents of District 4 may remember it as Camden. You could see the trash area, and from time to time we'd see people drop off furniture there. Sometimes that furniture would make it into our home. Other times we'd pack into the car early on a weekend morning and go to garage sales. That was how we became familiar with Sarasota, it was a family bonding that helped us see what life in the U.S. is like.
By the time that the Great Recession came around, my parents had bought that apartment and my dad was on the verge of starting his own painting company. My mom had been working at PGT Windows for a few years, I was about to start at Sarasota Middle School, and my younger brother was just starting out at Gulf Gate. I had spent a whole 6 months in the ESOL (English as a Second or Foreign Language) before being recommended to test for PineView (luckily I scored high enough to be labeled as gifted, though I missed the cutoff for PineView by a point). At home, I was translating - both for my parents as they worked their long way through the immigration/naturalization system and for my brother as he learned Spanish at home.
In 2008 my dad finally started his own company (G Painting and Beyond) - which enabled him to put food on the table and put me through college thanks to his hard work. Around that same time my parents lost the house, they fought tooth and nail to avoid losing it and tried their best to work with the bank before eventually being forced to realize that nothing could be worked out. My mom was laid off from PGT, and work slowed down for my dad. The Great Recession and the housing crisis had forced us out of our first home in the U.S. - like it did for millions across the country and here in Sarasota.
Never ones to stay down, my parents got up and started to work twice as hard. By the time that we had moved into our current home I had been accepted and started the International Baccalaureate program at Riverview High School. My dad had established a strong enough customer base that his company was thriving. My parents had managed to continue moving along in their naturalization process and all was right.
In 2013 that naturalization process had come to a close. My parents took their citizenship exam, and we became U.S. citizens in September of 2013. After a decade away from Colombia, I went back as a tourist. In those 10 years, I had grown up listening to Colombian music and eating Colombian food - I had known since elementary school that I wasn't like my peers, I wasn't a traditional American. Going to Colombia I realized that I also wasn't a traditional Colombian. Since coming to that realization I've been negotiating those different identities.
For most of my life, I was the only Latino in most of my classes. I was one of a handful of gifted/PGA/IB kids that spoke different languages at school and at home. I listened to music that none of my classmates had never even heard of. I saw TV shows that they didn't. At RHS I began to turn that into leadership - I was an officer for various clubs (including the then-largest club on campus, CoExistence). I began to do community service, I spent most of my high school years volunteering with Teen Court where I was able to meet and become friends with other teens that also lived in Sarasota but had lived harder lives than I, that were overcoming larger hurdles, and that were simply living different realities. With CoExistence I was able to see the other side of Sarasota. With CoExistence I would be invited to dinners at fancy restaurants and events, I'd rub elbows with public officials and philanthropic figures. Since then, I've seen the whole spectrum of what Sarasota is.
While at RHS, I was a good student - not enough to be top of my class, but good enough to earn a substantial financial aid to Davidson College. Between Speech and Debate and Teen Court I had become comfortable with public speaking, earning the opportunity to be the keynote student speaker at my high school graduation.
When I left for Davidson in 2015, I had seen the early Black Lives Matter protests - I had seen the Ferguson uprising from my TV and I had followed the Trayvon Martin murder before that - while also beginning a spiritual journey. Despite being born to Catholic parents from a devoutly Catholic country, I only began to explore religion as I finished high school. As I was preparing myself for the life changing experience that is going away for college, I was also starting to explore faith and justice and how they interact and the influence they wield over society and individuals. When we packed everything into the car and I said goodbye to Sarasota one last time before leaving for North Carolina, I left ready to become who I am today.
My first Davidson class was a Modern Political Theory with Dr. Brian Shaw, a notoriously difficult professor. I would go on to take multiple classes with him. He would introduce me to some of the biggest thinkers in political philosophy - everything from the classics like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to the Renaissance thinkers that started our American tradition like Locke, Smith, and Publius (from the authors of the Federalist Papers) to modern giants like Rawls and Nozick. Through these great minds, I learned about the underlying principles of the major schools of thought from the far right fascists to the far left communists.
My academic training and real life experiences have come together with my faith in God to guide my post-college journey. Tired, of academia, I felt a need to put myself at the disposal of the community. I felt called to make a difference, which led me to have an active political life. By circumstance, I became a substitute teacher for Sarasota County Schools, eventually accepting a long-term substitute position at RHS. Seeing just how much my alma matter had changed for the better gives me hope for what we can do in county government.
When I moved back to Sarasota, the current Board of County Commissioners was in the process of ignoring citizen feedback on their way to a politically motivated and racially tinted redistricting process. I felt forced to speak, to call them out for their mistakes - both according to my liberal principles, and their conservative ones. Their disregard for democratic norms, their open contempt of citizens that disagree with them, and their spineless concessions to monied interests left me with no choice but to run for office.
As I embarked on this journey, I was filled by righteous indignation - after all, Commissioners Moran, Maio, and Detert ignored me better than any student ever has. However, that righteous indignation has been joined by a growing belief that Sarasota County isn't divided on the local issues. How else could you explain notorious bigot, Martin Hyde, and I seeing eye to eye on redistricting and on the removal of former Superintendent Bowden?
The only way forward for Sarasota is to let federal candidates focus on federal issues, and local candidates on local issues. If we let President Trump's and VP Biden's campaigns dictate our local votes, we end up with a 2021 redistricting that moves the Newtown entirely into District 1 (again disenfranchising them). We end up with Board of County Commissioners and Charter Review Board efforts to abolish single member districts. We end up with a county government that is Sarasotan in name only, with a governing document that Commissioners ignore, a "constitution" that doesn't reflect our values, and without elected officials willing to listen and not just hear.