Vida En El Valle: Speaker Rendón represents a new generation
By: Cynthia Moreno
SACRAMENTO -- Denise Díaz woke up before sunrise to catch a flight from the Los Ángeles City airport to Sacramento. She had received a special invitation to attend Assemblyman Anthony Rendón, D-Paramount, swearing-in ceremony at the state capitol.
Born and raised in the City of Southgate in Southern California and a constituent of Rendón’s district, Díaz witnessed the assemblyman’s rise in the political hierarchy long before he came to Sacramento.
“Everyone knows him in the district for his activism surrounding environmental and early education issues,” said Díaz last Monday morning.
Díaz, who attended California State University, Long Beach and is now a small business owner, was excited to witness history in the making.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but Rendón is such a normal, regular guy. He is definitely not your stereotypical politician, yet he is brilliant, humble and truly has an incredible story,” Díaz said. “He represents a different generation.”
Last Monday, Rendón, 48, a native of Silver Lake and a second-generation Mexican-American and Democrat who represents the 63rd Assembly District, became California’s 70th Speaker of the California State Assembly, succeeding Assemblywoman Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego.
Surrounded by family, friends, constituents and the capitol community, Rendón took the oath standing next to his wife Annie Lam, California Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and a handful of guests including Hilda Solís, former Secretary of Labor and now Los Ángeles County Board Supervisor, and Los Ángeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, among others.
All welcomed Rendón with open arms, and with hopes of an exciting new era in California politics.
“Mr. Rendón will be the Speaker for everybody. Not just for Latinos. Not just for the majority party. But for all Californians,” said Assemblymember Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.
Rendón became the fifth Latino to serve as Speaker of the State Assembly. Past Latino Speakers have included Cruz Bustamante, Fabián Núñez, John A. Pérez, and Antonio Villaraigosa. The latter two were present during his swearing-in ceremony.
While delivering his first remarks as Speaker of the Assembly, Rendón shared very little about his personal story — one that he has “really grown tired of telling,” he said.
“I was a terrible student, and were it not for California’s high quality, low-cost university system, I would not be here today. In those rare instances when I was able to land a job, I worked the graveyard shift in a series of factories and warehouses, always trying to find a way to save enough money to put myself through school, always watching other people get off the bus, excited about their day at college,” Rendón said.
Rendón’s intellectual curiosity took the better part of him. After graduating from California High School in Whittier, he attended Cerritos Community College, then transferred to California State University, Fullerton where he earned his bachelor’s and a master’s degree. He then went on to earn a doctorate degree in political science from UC Riverside.
We made it because California enabled us to get here and because California wanted us to get here. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendón
Díaz was impressed by Rendón’s candid remarks about his educational trajectory.
“I was really happy that he mentioned the Cal State system because it always gets overlooked. I had a couple of classmates from Boston and New York who said California is blessed to have the Cal State system because we don’t have to pay ridiculously high tuition rates and still get a quality education that is credible, and not the cost of big universities,” said Díaz.
Before Rendón vied for a spot in elected office, he was an educator, non-profit executive director, and an environmental activist. When lawmakers were slashing education funding in Sacramento while he worked in Southern California, he wanted to know why.
“Here is a guy who got upset because he couldn’t do his work because the money for education kept shrinking. Instead of complaining, he wanted to come to Sacramento and talk to those responsible,” Alejo said.
Rendón shifted his remarks from his career trajectory to his wife Annie, the daughter of hardworking immigrants who fled one country because of war and another because they were not wanted there.
“While most kids her age were playing, Annie was working in the fields not far from here, picking fruit. Her work in the fields continued straight through high school. Her parents always worked hard at multiple jobs, and while they did, she cooked and cleaned and took care of house chores,” said Rendón.
Rendón also took the time to praise those who were in attendance, specifically two men from his district including Southgate Mayor Jorge Morales and City of Maywood Councilmember Eduardo De La Riva. In a district that has been plagued by corruption and scandals, Rendón’s recognition meant both men are bringing positive changes to their respective communities.
“Mayor Morales and Councilmember De La Riva are efficient, transparent and have changed their cities drastically. They are paying attention to the needs of low-income residents who are often taken for granted. They are both young and bring a breath of fresh air and hope to the Southeast portion of Los Ángeles, just like Rendón in Sacramento,” said Díaz.
It is a unique time in California’s history.
Neither Annie nor I was born with much, but we worked hard, and somehow we ended up here. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendón
For the first time, both the Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin De León and Speaker of the State Assembly are Latino. In California, Latinos are also the plurality with one turning voting age every 30 seconds.
Speculating on how both will govern will be key in the Golden State.
“We are looking at two Latino politicians that offer a different kind of narrative — one of struggle in the state of California where 30 percent of Latinos in the country live. I want to see if their personal narrative will impact how they manage their policies. Will the kinds of decisions they will make affect peoples lives for the better?” said María Hinojosa, journalist and host of NPR’s LatinoUSA.
For Díaz, who is 29-years-old, Rendón’s story and that of his wife is one that will resonate with many Californians because they don’t come from families of “political legacy.”
“Future generations of kids will look up to him and say, ‘He did it. He went through the Cal State system. He didn’t have the best grades or the best GPA and now he has one of the most powerful posts in California. I can do it too, even if my parents work three jobs,” said Díaz.
Hinojosa believes both Rendón’s and De León’s stories are unique to the fabric of California.
It doesn’t quite make sense that either of us should be here. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendón
“I don’t now enough about the both of them, but my sense is that they didn’t grow up in families where they have a legacy — like the Clintons or the Kennedys, and in that sense, it’s opening up truly, another path for a whole generation for young, political activists and future politicians,” said Hinojosa.
Contact the Reporter: Cynthia Moreno / email@example.com