by Deborah Gonzalez
2022 Power Breakfast, Keynote Speech
Good morning. Buenos dias.
Thank you, Jerry, and thank you GALEO for inviting me here today to share a few words as your keynote speaker.
I would like to start my keynote today with two quotes that I believe will help put the rest of my words in context:
All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
Poder – power – such an interesting word. Full of many meanings and connotations – some positive, some negative. But what exactly is it?
The dictionary states that power is: authority, jurisdiction, control, command, sway, dominion mean the right to govern or rule or determine. power implies possession of ability to wield force, authority, or influence.
Today as we gather, I look around me and I can call out some names – and you will agree with me that the person I call has power – at various degrees – because power is relative to a person’s role. Gigi Pedrasda – Misty Fernandez – Ana Maria Martinez – Brenda Lopez – Zulma Lopez You recognize these names – women who are in leadership positions – some elected, some not, but all would agree they hold power in some way. But for each Gigi and Misty there are tens of Jennifer Zentenos, Ginny Castillos, Maria de Palacios, Isabel Ortizes. For every Brenda and Zulma there are tens of Yvette Moises, Lizeth Gomezes, Nury Crawfords and Daniela Rodriguezes. And I can go on and on.
Yes, these names are all Latinas – women. For you see the power we seek is wrapped up in the power of gender. At a time where the assault on women’s reproductive and health rights is at an all-time high with not just the overturning of Supreme Court precedent of Roe, but the potential it signals to the end of rights many of us were born into a world that had them – including same sex and biracial marriage – which if taken away would then make my marriage illegal – we face a world where the very personal and private decisions over our bodies, our lives, our familias are no longer our own. We would be returned to a world where oppression of black, brown, and poor is the norm.
But as I say those words are we not in that world now? I work in a system designed to do that very thing. As district attorney I work in a system that seeks justice, but so many of the laws it is meant to enforce to keep the community safe usually have their origins in the idea of power – maintaining power of the status quo and those who already had power. Overrepresentation of black, brown, and poor people impacted by this system has destroyed families, futures, and communities. Wrapped up in this are the processes of marginalization, deportation, and exclusion that have led to suffering, hardship, helplessness, and despair. Worse than being not seen, is being seen only to be exploited.
Self-determination. Our rights lead us to this power of self-determination. We each strive to be able to have power over our own lives – to be able to make decisions on who we love, on what we do with our bodies, in where we work and how we want to be treated. But how do we get that power and then how do we use it?
Today we are in a room filled with elected officials and candidates who want to be in elected office. Today they are here to say Latino community we are with you. Today the Latino community is saying back – so what? You are here – what does that mean? Does it mean that after we give you our votes, we become invisible to you again? Taken for granted and pushed to the side as you select others to leadership positions on your teams? Relegated to Latino outreach coordinator positions, instead of positions that advise and stand side by side with you in power to effect change?
Latinos today are here to say enough with the scraps. You want our vote; we want your commitment to not “address” the issues that affect our Latino community but to do actions that are solutions to these issues – we want results. We are tired of being seen and exploited. We understand our value – the 2020 elections proved our strength and how we deliver. And now, the reckoning has come. For today I have a message for our people – claim the power you have and use it. The vote, the knowledge, the skills, the positions. There is a new sense in our value. A new realization that we as Latinos, are a voice to be listened to.
But we as Latinos must stake this power. Our children are watching. Yesterday I was honored with the gift of stories of our young people and their struggles because of being involved in the juvenile justice system. Their challenges started way before the first court date – I listened as they shared the abuse, the neglect, the substance addiction that took away their parents, and left only despair and a sense of inevitability of gangs and guns and death. But these young Latino men and women had survived. And they were saving others like them because they had been given the power of hope. They still believed the world was good, and they still believed that people in power could make things better. They also believed in me. For you see, the Director of their program, said at the end, that my title – District Attorney – was triggering for them – after all it was a DA who prosecuted and sentenced them and so for them the DA had power over their very lives. But yesterday I showed them a DA who cared, who wanted the best for them, who could be an ally in their journey through recovery and a better future. And in return, I learned yesterday that they believed in me. They gave me their hope. What a gift – what a responsibility.
And so, I tell you this to let you know that we dare not let their beliefs be in vain – that their hope that things can be better should not be trampled on. That they are not alone but in fact part of a bigger familia that grows with each one we bring within our loving arms. For if we do not do this, shame on us.
So, what is power? What is Latino power? Latino poder?
The acknowledgement that we can do something and the responsibility that we must do something – so vote for those candidates who not only say they commit to us but who actually do for us. Use your vote. Your vote is your voice. El Encanto del sueno, the song of the dream of a new world. It is on us. It is our power.
Gracias. Thank you.