Los Angeles Daily News: Alex Padilla’s first Senate speech: ‘Two Americas’ exposed by pandemic demand bold response


His voice cracking, holding back tears, he took his place at the lectern on the U.S. Senate floor: “My name is Alex Padilla y soy el hijo de Santos y Lupe Padilla…”

In his first 50 days as a United States senator, Alex Padilla took a front row seat to the fallout of the Capitol insurrection, cast a historic vote on the impeachment of a former president and weighed in on one of the largest economic rescue bills in American history.

And yet it was only just Monday, March 15, when Padilla — the first Latino from California to ever hold a seat in the chamber — gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor, a tradition for freshman senators.

But it was more than tradition for Padilla, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in December to fill the remaining term of Vice President Kamala Harris.

The speech was framed by the now-familiar backstory of the middle son of Mexican immigrants who settled their family in the  working-class L.A. town of Pacoima.

That story became the foundation for a speech calling for a bold governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Padilla issued a plea to “open our eyes to the deep, systematic inequities that have been exposed and exacerbated by this crisis.”

Padilla pointed to “two Americas,’ split by divergent economies.

“We see two Californias, where the stock market reaches new highs for some, while in the San Fernando Valley, too many, many families depend on city or church food distribution sites to feed their children,” he said.

“We see the two Californias in the impact the pandemic has had on immigrant communities, the very community on the front lines of this crisis,” he added.

Legislatively, the recovery from COVID-19 demands a “bold” response, Padilla said.

“We must act boldly because that is what this moment demands of us,” he said.

The $1.9 trillion relief package was a “transformational” start to the recovery, Padilla said. It seeks, he said, to speed vaccine production, extend support to small business on the brink of failure, provide food assistance to millions, provide millions for homeless housing and ultimately cut child poverty in half.

Padilla also laid out a vision for beyond the rescue plan, ranging from bold steps on expanding voting rights, improving infrastructure, reforming the immigration process and ending the Senate filibuster.

His first bill, the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, would provide a pathway to citizenship for more than 5 million front-line essential workers “who happen to be undocumented immigrants,” he said.

The new senator flashed back to his roots. He reflected on his mother, a housekeeper, and his father, a short-order cook.

“It seemed liked she never took a day off, ” he said.

“Think about that. In one generation our family has gone from being immigrant cooks and house cleaners to serving in the United States Senate,” he said.

“That’s the California Dream. That’s the American Dream.”

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