San Mateo Daily Journal: Padilla visits South San Francisco

By Sierra Lopez

Surrounded by South San Francisco High School students and officials, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla highlighted the historical significance of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court and the importance of civic engagement.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Padilla will be one of 22 U.S. senators participating in next week’s confirmation hearings of Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated to the high court.

Ahead of the hearings, Padilla led a roundtable discussion with a group of SSFHS students in which he explained the confirmation process that will span four days and argued that representation in all levels of government matters.

“It was an honor,” Padilla said about participating in the roundtable event. “For me it’s a continuation of my work in civic engagement but given the historic moment that we find ourselves in, I think it’s an important opportunity to share with young people what it really means. Every Supreme Court nomination is important but this one is historic.”

Associated Student Body President Samantha Avila Gomez and her classmates Angela Arevalo and Oscar Duran said they came out of the roundtable discussion inspired and motivated by both Jackson’s nomination and Padilla’s own story.

As the son of two Mexican immigrants, Padilla rose through the political ranks and was tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom to replace Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female vice president and the first Black and South Asian person to fill the role.

Having met with Jackson last week, Padilla lauded her career record as a public defender, which would help her bring an important perspective to the bench along with her experiences as a Black woman and a working mother.

Duran said he saw himself in Padilla and while he doesn’t have intentions of pursuing a political career of his own, he said he recognizes the importance of civic engagement and hopes to contribute to the world through a career in computer science.

“A lot of people in the room saw themselves in him. I know that I did, especially when he spoke about his parents’ education,” Duran said. “The diversity in this room was really important so we could truly understand where he comes from.”

Similarly, Arevalo said Padilla’s message about the importance of voting carried a lot of weight when coming from a fellow Latino. As a member of the military, Arevalo said she feels even more motivated to participate in elections to ensure Latina women in the armed forces have a voice, noting the group makes up more than 21% of the military population.

“Just looking at Sen. Padilla representing the Latino community, I can see myself and other Latina women representing ourselves,” Arevalo said. “Everyone here in the United States, we all represent a huge thing in the country. We actually do matter.”

Like Padilla, Avila Gomez has already prevailed in one election but is unable to vote at the age of 18 because she’s a Dreamer, a nickname given to undocumented residents protected by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Still, Avila Gomez shared Padilla’s conviction around the importance of getting and staying engaged in politics at all levels and giving back to your community after finding success. She said she plans to closely follow Jackson’s confirmation hearings and has aims of becoming a lawyer herself one day.

“Not only does diversity matter but really how you’re repping your culture and heritage and what you’re doing to help the people in your community,” said Avila Gomez, sharing hope Padilla’s visit will encourage other students to get involved in their community.

A number of city and school district officials also walked out of the event feeling inspired, including Mayor Mark Nagales, a South San Francisco High School alumnus, and Councilmember Eddie Flores who was the first Latino to serve on the SSFUSD school board.

Flores, Nagales and Superintendent Shawnterra Moore each said the roundtable was an important opportunity for students to see themselves reflected in a leader from a similar background to them.

“When we have a community where you don’t always see representation, it is a wonderful opportunity for them to see what’s possible to see what they can strive for and that no dream is too big,” Moore said.

Councilmember James Coleman, a South San Francisco High School graduate in the class of 2017, said Friday’s event “hit very close to home.” The candidate for state Assembly said he has rarely seen officials who look like him during his time in school but noted the high potential he sees in local students.

“I think it is very inspiring to see our state leaders come to South City High to speak directly to our students,” Coleman said. “Really, truly, you never know what the world will bring you, where you will be and when you look around the room in communities like South San Francisco, especially in public schools, these are our future congressmen, future assemblymembers and senators.”

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