Spectrum News 1: Sen. Padilla, Rep. Cárdenas make history on Capitol Hill

By Lydia Pantazes

Reminiscing over old high school yearbooks is a reminder of where it all started for two of the most influential Latinos in Washington D.C.

What You Need To Know
Rep. Cárdenas and Sen. Padilla presided over the two houses of Congress on the same day

They are the first Latinos to do so from California

Both grew up in Pacoima and graduated from San Fernando High School

The men are close friends and consider each other family
As Rep. Tony Cárdenas opened his high school yearbook, he pointed to his senior picture.

In it, he’s wearing a suit and tie. He already looks ready for Capitol Hill. In 1981, Cárdenas graduated from San Fernando High School. The man who would become the first Latino to represent California in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Alex Padilla, graduated nine years later.

Padilla explained how his family has a long history at the school.

“Tony played football, I played baseball while we were here, and my sister used to teach here. My brother, my sister, my nephew all graduated from here,” he said.

As they walked through the halls of their Alma Mater, it’s clear that their high school is just one of the things the two politicians have in common.

“We’re from the same community,” said Cárdenas. “We have such a same history. Our parents are all immigrants, and we grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same schools, elementary school as well, not just high school, went to Telfair Elementary. And we just have so much in common.”

Cárdenas was the youngest of 11 children, which may be the reason he sees Padilla as a brother. He said he’s always wanted a little brother or sister.

Cárdenas and Padilla grew up within a block of each other in Pacoima. They first worked together in the mid-90s when Cárdenas first ran for State Assembly and won.

Padilla ran his campaign, but what they didn’t know back then is that the two would make history together. In December 2021, Padilla and Cárdenas presided over the U.S. House and Senate on the same day, the first time for two Latinos from California and they’re both from Pacoima.

The moment was marked on Twitter by both Padilla and Cárdenas, who called it emotional.

“For me to have a moment where we’re both there, and we’re both at this amazing, amazing place, in this beautiful building, presiding over two of the most prestigious places on the planet, and with so much responsibility, it just hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Cárdenas.

While it was important for the men personally, it was also symbolic for their community, especially those who want to follow in their footsteps.

“Dream big,” Padilla told one student. “When you hear adults tell you, you can be whatever you want to be, it’s absolutely true. You gotta work at it, but don’t limit yourself.”

As the two politicians inspire generations to come, they still remember the people who inspired them. For both, it’s their parents — immigrants who came here from Mexico to give their children a better life. But as Padilla explained, his parents also kept him grounded.

“I can’t tell you how many times growing up, you know, my mom would insist on, ‘Aye, que no se te vaya a la cabeza,’ right? ‘Don’t let things get to your head. You’re a member of this family. Nobody is better than us, but you’re also not better than the next person. If anything, try to get a good education and always try to find ways to help other people, whether it’s a neighbor in need or a complete stranger.’”

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