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California’s Youngest Congressional Candidate Nicole López Aims to Represent SELA in Crowded Race

9:00 AM PDT on May 26, 2022

Nicole López grew up all over SELA. Her time divided between visits with her grandmother living on the border of Florence-Firestone and Huntington Park, her family's bus business, Fronteras del Norte in Huntington Park, and her home in Downey.

Today, at 27, she’s running to represent the SELA region in California’s newly redrawn Congressional District 42. Up until this year, parts of South Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, Bell Gardens, and the cities of Commerce, Cudahy, Downey, Huntington Park, Maywood, Paramount, and Vernon all constituted CA District- 40. District 40 was special for so many reasons, including being home to these great spots, but it’s also the district that counted the most Latino voters in the entire country.

After California’s independent redistricting commission voted to finalize new district maps last year, the newly redrawn District 42 map is roughly shaped like a “J,” connecting Huntington Park to Downey to Bellflower to Lakewood to Long Beach.

López worked on Capitol Hill as an organizer with Friends of the American Latino Museum and also with congressional members to push a bill that would create the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino.

“While I was there, I led the lobbying efforts,” López says. “So I was on Capitol Hill talking to folks, especially Congress, getting them on board with a bill. We actually had the most amount of co-sponsors at that time when I was there.”

In 2020, the H.R. 2420, or National Museum of the American Latino Act, passed, establishing the museum in the Smithsonian Institution.

“It's been years in the making,” she says. “I mean, they've been pushing for the museum since 1994. Since I was born.”

Starting June 18, visitors to the nation’s capital can check out the National Museum of the American Latino’s inaugural physical gallery, when the Molina Family Latino Gallery opens at the National Museum of American History. As for an actual museum building for Latino history, that might take another ten years.

“It's kind of wild to think that I was able to play a part in that,” López says.

Nicole López. Photo via her campaign.
Nicole López. Photo via her campaign.

The Latino Museum was one of López’s most hoped-for achievements during her time working on Capitol Hill. Her career in D.C. began in 2017, when she also worked with an organization called Muslim Advocates to lobby for a bill to overturn Trump’s Muslim ban. She also arrived in D.C. during Hurricane Maria, and worked with Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth to address the concerns of impacted constituents.

“I was answering the phones and talking to constituents,” she recalls. “My first week (on Capitol Hill), I was actually speaking to a lot of people who were really scared and really worried about their family members who were in Puerto Rico.”

“Our job there was to ensure that we documented everything that (the constituents) reported to us and also provided them with any services–constituent services– that they needed in order to get help for themselves or their family members,” she adds.

Despite participating in some of these historical moments, López felt like she didn’t see a lot of folks who looked like her, or came from communities like SELA, on Capitol Hill.

“I would go into these spaces, especially these rooms right on Capitol Hill and Congress, and no one would look like me,” she says.

Instead of being discouraged by working in power centers that were often majorly male and white, López says this was even more of a reason to take up space and be there to tell our stories.

When asked about gun control, López thinks that it comes down to having more “elected officials who are outspoken while on the record” and when it comes down to it, not accepting money from the NRA. “We need to pass comprehensive gun control legislation.  And that means restricting people, the folks who can access assault rifles. I think that it’s time that we have a complete ban on assault rifles. I don’t think it’s necessary for a civilian to have that type of weapon.”

“A lot of these decisions that are being made on Capitol Hill, about our lives, about our communities, about our families, are being made without us,” López says. “And so it was a really big honor for me to be there and to bring the stories from South East L.A., from SELA, bring them into the room and say, ‘Hey, have you all considered the fact that people are struggling, and working-class communities are struggling, in communities where there are a lot of folks who are undocumented?’”

Given her background as an advocate on Capitol Hill, it makes sense why someone like López might pursue federal office instead of local office; her most recent political experience already involved working with federal offices.

“I just think that we should continue to encourage young women, especially young Latinas, to reach for that goal (of being elected to federal office),” she says. “To see themselves running for elected office. It might not be the trajectory that everyone thinks that we should have, which is like, beginning at a local level.”

If López were to be elected, she says she has plans to address the multiple crises that many across the nation are facing.

“We need more emergency rental assistance, and that's something that I really want to advocate for,” López says. “The pandemic isn't over yet. We're still in a crisis and people are still struggling to just make ends meet. So why are we letting the funds for the emergency Rental Assistance Program dry up?”

As for people experiencing houselessness or who are at risk of experiencing houselessness, López wants to push for federal funds to go to mental health services, affordable housing, and free housing.

When asked about gun control, López thinks that it comes down to having more “elected officials who are outspoken while on the record” and when it comes down to it, not accepting money from the NRA. “We need to pass comprehensive gun control legislation.  And that means restricting people, the folks who can access assault rifles. I think that it’s time that we have a complete ban on assault rifles. I don’t think it’s necessary for a civilian to have that type of weapon.”

López is also concerned with immigration issues and how asylum seekers are treated at the border. She did not support President Biden letting the Trump-era Title 42, which essentially suspends someone’s right to seek asylum at the border and has led to 1.8 million expulsions since the beginning of the pandemic, continue for nearly a year and a half before trying to end the policy.

“We should not be playing with people's lives like this, especially when they're seeking asylum and they're facing real credible threats to their lives,” López says.

López says she wants to advocate Congress to address the asylum crisis and also seeks to advocate shutting down all detention centers.

“In my ideal world, I would have all detention centers closed because I think that they're just a hub for sexual harassment, sexual assault, violence against people, and, of course trauma, especially to children,” she says.

López also wants to address climate change by passing a Green New Deal, but she also plans on adding sections to it that would address environmental racism.

“Especially in SELA, we see that there's factories all around us and we're breathing that polluted air and we still don't know what harmful effects, long term, that's going to have on our health and on our kids,” López says about the importance of addressing environmental justice in such a Green New Deal.

Lastly, López wants to push the Biden administration to keep its promise to cancel student debt.

She also aims to continue bringing her communities’ stories with her to Congress, the same way she’s already been doing.

“What a great honor to be in these spaces and be able to talk about how I grew up,” López says. “And talk about growing up in SELA. And growing up with folks with family members of mixed-status families. And growing up with family members who are immunocompromised and really struggled during the pandemic. And I can hopefully bring that same kind of compassion and awareness about my community to Capitol Hill again.”

López will face off against seven other candidates for CA-42, including California assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.

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