Dr. Ellen Ochoa: Standing Up for STEAM

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Dr. Ellen Ochoa

By Brady Rhoades

When NASA Hall of Famer Ellen Ochoa encourages young people to reach for the sky, she’s not just using a figure of speech.

It’s literal.

Ochoa became the first Latina astronaut to venture into space when she went up in 1993. She served four tours and 1,000 hours in the cosmos from 1993 to 2002.

“I believe a good education can take you anywhere on Earth and beyond,” she said.

After her trips to outer space, Ochoa served as Johnson Space Center’s director of flight crew operations and deputy director before becoming the head director in 2013. She is the first Latina and second female to lead the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Ochoa, who is retiring this May after 30 years with NASA, said NASA has done a good job of hiring Latinas and other minorities, but more can be done to urge minorities into STEAM fields.

“I plan to continue after retirement to encourage kids and adults—and especially women and minorities who are under-represented in STEM/STEAM fields—to reach for the stars!” she said.

Even as she was making history as the second woman and first Dr. Ellen Ochoa on Flight deckLatina in space, Ochoa’s focus was laser-sharp, her goals stratospheric.

She has a message for Hispanics, especially those held back by poverty and prejudice: STEAM is freeing.

“There are a lot of interesting and exciting careers when you study math and science and related technology fields,” she said. “For me, the key was really my education, so I tell people that it’s important to study and continue to take science and math classes throughout high school. I tell them to graduate from high school and go on to college. That will really give you a lot of options. I realize that a lot of the students I speak to may not end up as an astronaut or may not be completely interested in those fields, but I want them to at least make sure that they have options in their careers and that they think about setting high goals for themselves. People who become astronauts are very similar to a lot of these kids. They put in a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and they set high goals for themselves. That’s something that anybody can apply.”

Ochoa, married to Coe Miles and mother to two sons, was born in 1958 and raised in La Mesa, California. Her grandparents on her father’s side were Mexican.

Ochoa, a flautist who considered majoring in music, earned her bachelor’s degree in physics at San Diego State University in 1980, a Master of Science degree from Stanford University in 1981 and her doctorate in electrical engineering from the same university in 1985.

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first woman in space. That sparked a new passion for Ochoa, and she applied to NASA’s astronaut program. She tried three times before being accepted and worked at Sandia National Laboratories and the NASA Ames Research Center. In 1990, Ochoa was accepted into the astronaut program.

Aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April 1993, Ochoa became the first Latina in space.

AstronautsThe nine-day mission was sent to study the effect of solar activity on the Earth’s climate and environment. Ochoa served as a mission specialist and used the robotic arm to deploy and capture the SPARTAN-201 satellite, which studied the solar corona.

She went on to serve as the payload commander aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in 1994, a 10-day mission to further study the sun’s energy output and the Earth’s atmosphere. She also served as the flight engineer and mission specialist in the 1999 and 2002 missions to the International Space Station.

After retiring from flying, she took to her directorial role at Johnson right away.

“Leadership provides the ability to influence the things you care about most,” she said.

And what does she care about?

“I care deeply about NASA’s mission and its value to our nation—expanding scientific knowledge, engaging globally, providing both economic benefits and technology transfer applied to issues on Earth, and especially serving as a source of inspiration and pride,” she said.

Retirement is just a word. Ochoa’s work continues. She’s vested in the next generation of women and Hispanics.

Her message?

“Go for it!” she said. “There are many interesting, challenging, and rewarding careers associated with STEAM. Often, you have the opportunity to work as part of a team, solving problems and fostering new discoveries. As the tag line for the International Space Station says, we are working ‘off the Earth, for the Earth.’

“As a center director, ‘accomplish the mission’ is expanded to mean not only today’s mission but also tomorrow’s mission, ensuring that we have the appropriate workforce, facilities, and processes to lead human exploration well into the future. Taking care of our people has many aspects—recruiting a diverse group of people, ensuring they have career development and training opportunities, and focusing on an atmosphere of respect for each other where people feel valued.”

Ochoa has earned many awards and honors, including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. She has also received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award.

Ochoa won the 1995 Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award and was Spaceship Tunnelthe Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation Engineer of the Year in 2008. She has six schools named after her.

She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2017.

“I’m honored to be recognized among generations of astronauts who were at the forefront of exploring our universe for the benefit of humankind,” Ochoa said at the time.

Ochoa is a double pioneer: She’s one of an elite number of people who’ve meandered among the stars, and she broke ground for Hispanics while doing it.

She said she always looked at her heritage as a positive.

“It has added a whole dimension, I think, to my job,” she said. “When I originally applied to be an astronaut, I wasn’t really thinking about the whole sort of role model aspect of it. I was doing it because I was fascinated by space. I was studying to be a research engineer and realized you could do a lot of unique and interesting experiments in space. And so it was really wanting to be part of America’s space program and being able to apply my research.”

Along the way, she saw firsthand how important inclusiveness is—to a profession, to society. It makes sense to draw from a broad talent pool of Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasians, females, males, you name it.

She started off working in STEM, for instance, and that’s evolved into STEAM, to include the arts. Bringing many unique perspectives to the table—be it with regard to culture, ethnicity and thought (let’s bring some artists onboard!)—is almost always a successful methodology, in her experience.

“We’d like to have all kinds of minds involved in our challenges, as well as in telling our story,” she said.

Two Latino pioneers, in civil rights and education, honored with Medal of Freedom
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Raúl Yzaguirre, founder and former leader of the National Council of La Raza, and Julieta García, former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville received the medal of freedom award

By Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News

Two Mexican Americans who have dedicated their lives to fighting for equality and the advancement of Latinos were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, at the White House on Thursday.

Raúl Yzaguirre is the founder and former leader of the National Council of La Raza, considered the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group, renamed UnidosUS, and Julieta García is a former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville — the first Latina to serve as a U.S. university president.

Born a decade apart in the Rio Grande Valley, Yzaguirre and García took lessons from their upbringings in the South Texas region to achieve positions of power, which they then used to dismantle discrimination and fight for the advancement of Latinos and other people of color.

Yzaguirre, 82, born in San Juan, Texas, took a small organization with about $500,000 and 23 affiliates and grew it into a formidable one with a $40 million budget and 250 affiliates.

The group helped shape policy on immigration, education, voting rights and more. Yzaguirre stepped down in 2004, after 30 years at its helm.

He also served as the ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

García, 73, born in Brownsville, Texas, was president of UT-Brownsville and helped oversee its merger with University of Texas Pan American to become UT-Rio Grande Valley, which serves mostly Latinos. She fought for money from the state’s Permanent University Fund, which holds 2.1 million acres and revenue from oil and gas leases on the land, to create the university.

UT-Rio Grande Valley is ranked in the top three schools awarding bachelor’s degrees to Latinos.

Yzaguirre and García are among 17 people awarded the medal Thursday by President Joe Biden. Among the honorees are former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz.; Olympic gymnast Simone Biles; U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe; the actor Denzel Washington; and posthumously, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple.

Yzaguirre’s work with UnidosUS rested heavily on bringing together the nation’s increasingly diverse Latino population to forge a stronger political force that could command the attention of Washington power brokers. The 2020 census counted 62 million Latinos in the U.S.

“What Raúl doesn’t get enough recognition for is how much of a visionary he was,” said Lisa Navarette, who worked with Yzaguirre and now is an adviser to UnidosUS President Janet Murguía.

“In the early ’70s he was already envisioning what would become the Latino community,” Navarrete said.

Yzaguirre was raised by his grandparents and was heavily influenced by his grandfather’s own story of nearly being lynched by Texas Rangers when he was out past a curfew imposed by the state on Mexican Americans and Mexicans at the time, according to a 2016 biography, “Raul H. Yzaguirre: Seated at the Table of Power,” by Stella Pope Duarte.

Yzaguirre was a protégé of the civil rights leader Dr. Hector P. García, a Mexican American physician who formed the civil rights group American GI Forum after witnessing mistreatment of Mexican American World War II veterans. Navarette said García helped Yzaguirre channel his anger over discrimination into activism.

Yzaguirre’s work in Washington continues to have an impact. Charles Kamasaki, a senior adviser at UnidosUS, recalled Yzaguirre deciding to agree to compromise on what became the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. He didn’t like the enforcement levels in the bill and had worked to improve it until finally agreeing to a compromise in 1986, giving about 3 million immigrants without legal status in the U.S. a chance to become lawful permanent residents.

Yzaguirre helped produce a scathing report on the Smithsonian Institution’s failure to serve and hire Latinos, a report that was instrumental in last year’s approval of a National Museum of the American Latino.

His tenure was also marked by clashes with administrations. He quit a commission on education and Hispanics in the 1990s in frustration over its partisanship and delays and picketed President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration over its lack of Hispanics.

Click here to read the full article on NBC News.

Newest California Supreme Court judge is the first Latina in the role
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Justice Patricia Guerrero was sworn in as the newest judge of California's Supreme Court Monday, becoming the first Latina woman in the role.

By , NPR

California has sworn in a new judge to its Supreme Court, and she’s making history by becoming the first Latina in the role.

Justice Patricia Guerrero has been an associate justice in California’s 4th District Court of Appeal, a Superior Court judge, a law partner and a federal prosecutor.

“I’m incredibly honored to take the bench on our state’s Supreme Court, and I thank everyone who has made this day possible,” Guerrero said in a statement. “I am here because of the courage, sacrifices and dedication of my parents and my grandparents who, like so many others, came to this country with the hope of a brighter future for their children.”

Guerrero’s swearing in is a significant move in California. As the country’s most populous state and where nearly 2 in 5 residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, California is situated in the country’s debate on immigration.

She was joined by her father, sister, husband and two sons during her swearing in ceremony Monday. Guerrero moved to California when her parents immigrated to the Imperial Valley region from Mexico.

Guerrero went on to get her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her law degree from Stanford Law School in 1997.

After graduating, she was an associate at Latham and Watkins LLP before joining the Southern District of California’s U.S. Attorney’s Office as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2002 to 2003.

She returned to Latham and Watkins as an associate and was promoted to partner in 2007.

In 2013, Guerrero was appointed a judgeship in the San Diego Superior Court, where she oversaw the family law division. In 2017, she was appointed to California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One, where she wrote several opinions defending consumer and constitutional rights.

“This is a proud day for all Californians,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. “A first-generation Californian and daughter of the Imperial Valley, Justice Guerrero’s extraordinary ascent to serve as the first Latina justice on our state’s highest court is not only an incredible personal achievement, it is an inspiring example of California’s enduring promise that any dream is possible, no matter who you are or where you come from.”

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Robert Santos is the First Latino Director of the Census Bureau
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Robert Santos

By Natalie Rogers

In a bipartisan vote (58-35), Robert “Rob” Santos has become the United States’ Director of the Census Bureau after being nominated by President Joe Biden. This title makes Santos the first Latinx person and the second person of color to ever hold the position. Though his confirmation occurred in November of last year, Santos was officially sworn into office on January 1 of this year to begin his term.

One of the leading statisticians in the country, Santos has over forty years of experience and has held several high-ranking positions including the president of the American Statistical Association, the vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute and a board counselor for the National Center for Health Statistics. Though knowledgeable across the board in the world of statistics, Santos holds the most expertise in survey design with specialty areas in disadvantaged populations and undocumented immigrants, two of the most heavily affected groups in the U.S. Census.

Santos’ confirmation not only brings an abundance of expertise to the Census Bureau but is believed to bring a nonpartisan, equality-focused lens to the U.S. Census, considered especially important after the complications of the 2020 Census and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although this is a political appointment, I am no politician,” Santos said during his initial confirmation hearing, “I’m a scientist, executive-level manager, a researcher and a longtime supporter of the Census Bureau.”

Several organizations and individuals alike have expressed their approval for Santos’ appointment including the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights and Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer. The National Leadership Conference even penned a letter of their approval to the Senate which was signed by additional civil rights advocacy groups such as the National Urban League, the National Disability Rights Network, Fair Count and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

“By confirming Robert Santos as director of the U.S. Census Bureau, the Senate will ensure the agency has the leader it needs at a pivotal time to rebuild trust in the census — a cornerstone of our democracy,” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights stated in a press release, “Santos is committed to ensuring the accuracy and usefulness of census, demographic and economic data and the integrity and scientific independence of the bureau.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer additionally gave his outspoken support prior to Santos’ confirmation stating, “He is exactly the kind of person our country needs overseeing the census — impartial, highly experienced, someone from outside politics.”

Progressive Latina Leaders Succeed Conservative Councilmen in Bronx Power Shift
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One of the Latina leaders in the bronx, Amanda Farías, pictured her during primary campaigning in May, will replace Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr. Ruben Diaz Sr

BY , The City

In an election that brought women 29 of the City Council’s 51 seats — the first-ever female majority — three Bronx Latinas are poised to transform what leadership in their districts looks like.

Pierina Sánchez, Amanda Farías and Marjorie Velázquez, all Democrats, ran for open seats in Nov. 2 contests after their male predecessors became term-limited or chose not to run again.

Each of the women identifies as a progressive — and each will replace a Council member with roots in the borough’s evangelical Christian or business communities: Council members Fernando Cabrera, Ruben Díaz Sr. and Mark Gjonaj. Cabrera was term-limited, while Díaz and Gjonaj chose not to run again.

The political climate change is already gusting through Bronx politics. This week, another Latina aspiring politician, Democrat Jessica Altagracia Woolford, announced a run against longtime Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-The Bronx).

“I think almost 30 years of anybody in elected office, it just doesn’t reflect the growth and the change that happens in the community,” Woolford, who is of Dominican descent, told THE CITY.

The former communications staffer for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she relishes “the chance to really show someone from Kingsbridge and to show kids from Kingsbridge that you can grow up and be a lawmaker.”

Reflecting The Bronx
Women are now set to hold five of The Bronx’s nine Council seats, up from two — four of them Latina. One of those current two Council members is term-limited Democrat Vanessa Gibson, who just elected to be the first woman to serve as Bronx borough president.

The new leadership more closely reflects the population of the Bronx, where nearly 53% of residents are women and more than half identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the latest census data.

“Latina representation of City Council members in The Bronx is really important, especially with the lack of Latino representation that we’re seeing in citywide or statewide office,” said Farías, 32, who was elected in the 18th Council District, representing Parkchester and Castle Hill.

She promised “a very different leadership style” for her constituents than the brand practiced by her predecessor, Díaz — a minister who courted evangelical voters and gained national notoriety for anti-gay comments that included a claim that the Council is “controlled by the homosexual community.”

Farías, who campaigned on issues of environmental and transit equity, promises to channel concerns from a broad range of constituents.

“I’m actually really excited about having a majority-women Council,” she said. “I think we bring a different type of intentionality to our policymaking. I think women are more in tune with being solution-oriented and at creating the steps to make sure things are successful.”

Confronting Hunger
While the Board of Elections won’t certify the election until Nov. 30, after all absentee ballots are counted, Velázquez is the presumed winner in the 13th City Council District, leading in-person votes by 10 points in the borough’s closest race.

She is all but set to represent City Island and Throgs Neck — areas where Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa prevailed in many election districts despite losing citywide. Democrats represent 61% of registered voters in the district, lower than the city’s 68% average.

“This district has never seen a person like me before, and now to be representing them in this fashion is huge,” Velázquez told THE CITY. Her immediate predecessors were Gjonaj, a local businessman, and before him James Vacca, both centrist Democrats.

She challenged Gjonaj in 2017 in the Democratic primary and lost by just 400 votes. Velázquez ran in the general election that year as the candidate of the labor-aligned Working Families Party.

Her chance to finally win the seat came when Gjonaj decided not to run for reelection this year. She received endorsements from leading Bronx Democrats, including Rep. Ritchie Torres, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr.

Velázquez, 40, is a local Democratic Party district leader and longtime Bronx Community Board 10 member with a background in corporate finance and accounting. She previously worked on successful campaigns to elect Torres to City Council and Darcel Clark as Bronx district attorney.

She had reservations about running a second time, until an encounter through her mutual aid network in Throgs Neck with a woman experiencing hunger, she said, inspired her to join the race.

“I showed up, I brought her bag, and she was very grateful,” Velázquez said. “But then afterwards, she texted me and she was like, ‘You don’t know how much this means to me. This was the only food that me and my husband would have for the entire week. We had nothing to eat tonight.’”

She called the exchange her “turning point.”

Click here to read the full article on The City.

Republican Jason Miyares makes history as Virginia’s first Latino attorney general
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Republican Jason Miyares makes history as Virginia's first Latino attorney general

By , NBC News

Republican Jason Miyares, the son of a Cuban refugee, defeated the Democratic incumbent to become Virginia’s first Latino attorney general and the first Hispanic elected statewide.

Miyares was officially declared the winner on Wednesday afternoon by NBC News after a very tight race.

Miyares had rooted his campaign in his mother’s flight from Cuba in 1965, saying often on the campaign trail that it was where his story started.

He congratulated his mom in a victory statement late Tuesday night. “Mom, you did well.” She arrived from Cuba 56 years ago “with nothing but a dream, a dream for a better life for her family,” he said.

“Now I stand here today — elected to be the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Miyares said, referring to himself as the “first-ever son of an immigrant and the first Latino elected statewide in the Commonwealth’s history.”

With the win, Miyares, a Virginia House delegate and former prosecutor, denied Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring a third term.

Miyares’ win was part of the Republican victory in the state, with GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin defeating Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Miyares had made history as the first Cuban American elected to Virginia’s General Assembly, in 2015. He represented the 82nd District in the House, which is about 83 percent white, 10.3 percent Black, 3.3 percent Asian and 5.3 percent Hispanic.

Miyares took a hard line on law enforcement issues, including attempts at police reforms. But the campaign was mired by Miyares’ attempts to tie Herring to allegations of misconduct by the state parole board, even though Herring has no power over the parole board’s decisions.

“On Day one, we’ll work toward a safe and secure Virginia and ending the criminal first, victim last mindset,” he stated. “Virginia has spoken. We want safe streets, we want our police to be well trained and supported in the community and we want the rule of law respected. I intend on delivering on my campaign promises.”

Democrats had hoped to be the first to elect a Latino to a statewide position, but Hala Ayala lost her bid for lieutenant governor to Winsome Sears, who is the first woman and first Black woman elected to the post.

Ayala, who identifies as Afro Latina, had already made history in 2017 when she was one of the first two Latinas elected to the state House of Delegates.

The other Latina elected that year, Elizabeth Guzman, won her House of Delegates race in District 31 Tuesday. Alfonso Lopez, also won his race in District 49.

Click here to read the full article on NBC News.

Transgender women elected to Mexican Congress call for progress
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By Christine Murray Thomson Reuters Foundation

In a first for Mexico, two transgender women are preparing to sit in the lower house of Congress, with both vowing to push for affirmative action in Latin America’s second-largest economy. More than 100 LGBTQ candidates took part in the June 6 elections, which saw the highest mid-term turnout in more than two decades, according to the electoral authority INE.

Mexico’s first trans Congresswomen, Maria Clemente Garcia and Salma Luevano, are both from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s governing Morena party, which took power in 2018, promising to give priority to the poor. “There’s really a lot of poverty … extreme poverty within our trans population,” Ms. Luevano, an activist who also owns a beauty salon in the central state of Aguascalientes, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I’ll take this fight proudly … for our people who are vulnerable.”

Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies has 500 members, 300 of whom are directly elected, while the remaining 200 are assigned through proportional representation, which means they are allocated to parties based on their share of the national vote.

Ms. Garcia and Ms. Luevano, who will take two of the proportionally assigned seats when the new Congress opens in September, said they intended to work for LGBTQ rights. More than half of Mexico’s 32 states recognize gay marriage, and the nation’s top court has ruled that trans people have a legal right to change their gender identity on official documents.

But access to those rights is uneven and dozens are killed in hate crimes each year as gay and trans people still face prejudice in the predominantly Catholic country where religious groups often criticize LGBTQ rights. Ms. Luevano, director of a collective called Together for the Way of Diversity, said she went into activism after she was detained by police more than three decades ago for dressing in feminine clothes.

“Thirty years have passed and we still have the same discrimination, we still have the same fight,” she said. Ms. Luevano’s nonprofit helped push for new electoral rules this year that introduce minimum numbers of candidates from under-represented groups, including LGBTQ people.

Ms. Garcia said her appointment to Congress gave voice to Mexico’s LGBTQ minority and she intends to push for tax breaks for companies that hire LGBTQ staff to improve diversity in the private sector as well. “It’s an achievement, it’s a step forward, it’s a symbol,” said Ms. Garcia, who has also been a long-time activist in Mexico City.

Ms. Garcia also aims to amend the first article of Mexico’s constitution, which outlaws discrimination based on “sexual preference.” “It’s a concept that no international organization has used for 30 years,” she said, adding that she would like to see the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression” used instead.

Ms. Garcia said she would also fight to defend the budget of CONAPRED, Mexico’s public anti-discrimination body, which has been slashed by Mr. Lopez Obrador, even though she agreed with him that it needed reform.

Click here to read the full article on CS Monitor.

Rhode Island’s Nellie Gorbea becomes first Latina in New England to run for governor
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Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea before giving the oath of office to state representatives at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, R.I.,

By Nicole Acevedo, NBC News

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is running to become the state’s next governor in 2022. Gorbea, a Democrat, is the first Latina to run for governor in New England. If she wins, Gorbea would also be the first Puerto Rican governor in the mainland. Gorbea, 53, is no stranger to making history in public office. In 2015, she became the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in New England when she became secretary of state. She was re-elected to the position in 2018, and her term ends next year.

“Yes, they elected the first Latina statewide official, but almost more important than that is that I performed, that I delivered on what they hoped I would do,” Gorbea told NBC News. “Many of them came up to me and encourage me to run for governor.”

Gorbea said that as secretary of state, she modernized Rhode Island’s elections infrastructure, increased cybersecurity measures and brought both online and automated voter registration to the state. She has developed online resources and reduced red tape to make it easier for small businesses to start and grow.

“It’s being able to deliver an election during a pandemic where everybody who was eligible to vote could vote in a safe and secure manner, or having record numbers of businesses incorporate during the year of the pandemic, because we had already prepared ourselves with online systems and training to make sure that we could do that,” Gorbea said.

“Rhode Island, like a lot of the country, is at a crossroads. We need to elect people into office that are willing to rethink how we’re doing government and make it, deliver it to the people,” she said.

Gorbea is entering a crowded Democratic primary race that’s expected to include the incumbent, Gov. Daniel McKee; General Treasurer Seth Magaziner; and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, an independent, has already announced that he will run as a Democrat, The Boston Globe reported.

McKee, a former lieutenant governor, replaced Gina Raimondo as governor in March when she became secretary of commerce in the Biden administration.

When asked how she plans to stand out in what’s anticipated to be a packed race, Gorbea confidently responded, “I am the only candidate who’s actually transformed an agency of government in Rhode Island, and that’s something that nobody else has done.”

Gorbea said some of her constituents approach her, even when she’s out grocery shopping with her mask on, to thank her for how well the 2020 election went amid the pandemic and for providing more online resources to make it easier to start or maintain a small business.

Additionally, Gorbea overhauled lobbying laws to hold special interests accountable when they don’t follow the law, ensure better compliance so the public can see who is influencing their government and enhance transparency.

“What comes next is a turning point in the history of the state and in the history of our country because we need to build things in a fundamentally different way,” Gorbea said. “The government structures that were created in the ’80s and ’90s are not going to help us handle our cyber challenges” — an issue that rose to prominence this month when Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., was forced to shut down operations after one of the most disruptive cyberattacks in U.S. history.

Click here to read the full article on NBC News.

Latino Democrats push for Hispanic recognition in military base Renamings
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U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego answering questions at a hearing

Latino members of Congress are pushing for a U.S. Army base to be named after a Latino military hero and for a greater recognition of the role of Hispanics in the nation’s defense.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and several members of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter April 12 to the commission tasked with removing Confederate names from military bases and other Department of Defense properties.

In the letter, provided to NBC News, they urged the commission to “develop new criteria” that increases chances of honoring enlisted service members as well as officers, and recognizes the diversity and demographics of a base’s community.

Many military installations are named for high-ranking officers, including those who served in the Confederate army.

Historic discrimination and exclusion have kept Latinos from rising in the military ranks and kept the numbers of Latino officers low, meaning there’s little chance of a base being named for a Hispanic, according to the letter signed by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, along with others.

“Latinos have fought and died in every single American war since our nation’s independence, yet too often our community’s service and sacrifice has been overlooked,” Castro said.

Castro’s office said that the current criteria essentially emphasizes honoring senior officers, as has been the practice. That tends to mean more white service members would be honored. But Castro, who is from San Antonio which has several military bases, and Gallego, a military veteran, say enlisted service members tend to be more diverse and deserve to be honored too if they have performed heroic or honorable acts. They called for the military’s diversity to be reflected, and said for names of facilities also to reflect the communities where they are located.

“U.S. Army bases should not be named after traitors who rose in rebellion against the United States and attempted to destroy that same U.S. Army in the field,” Gallego said. “We should instead honor the people who upheld their oaths to the Constitution through brave and honorable service to the United States.”

The members also supported the renaming of Fort Hood after Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan for heroic actions to save several wounded comrades in Vietnam.

“MSG Benavidez was a Texas Native and Mexican-American Vietnam War veteran who grew up experiencing the discrimination of Jim Crow,” the letter said, “MSG Benavidez is an extraordinary example of the determination, skill, and courage that Latino Americans in uniform have exemplified for generations.”

The lawmakers pointed out that renaming Fort Hood after a Latino service member “would be a symbolic step forward” after the slaying of Spc. Vanessa Guillén at the base.

Photo Credit: Leah Millis-Pool/Getty Images

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US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visits Houston after raising millions for Texas relief
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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has raised millions of dollars in relief money for Texas relief organizations that are working to help those still in need after suffering from the historic winter storm.

The New York lawmaker appeared Saturday at the Houston Food Bank to help distribute supplies and food.

Ocasio-Cortez’s effort is in partnership with 12 Texas organizations getting on-the-ground relief to residents.

She set up the donation website to where contributions will be split evenly between the following the organizations: South Texas Food Bank, Food Bank of West Central Texas, ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), Feeding Texas, Corazon Ministries, Family Eldercare, Houston Food Bank, Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, North Texas Food Bank, Central Texas Food Bank, Southeast Texas Food Bank, and The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

“These groups are working around the clock to assist houseless, hungry and senior Texans in Travis and Dallas County, and beyond,” the website states.

Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t been the only leader stepping up to the plate. Astros’ Alex Bregman will be hosting a water distribution event Saturday to help those who have been without water for days.

Read the original article at  ABC 7.

Air Force Orders New Review Into Racial, Ethnic Disparities
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image of the military solder and a helicopter in the background

The Air Force inspector general will do a second investigation into racial and ethnic disparities across the force, service leaders said Friday, expanding the review to include gender and additional racial categories such as Asian and American Indian.

The latest review comes just two months after the IG released a report concluding that Black service members in the Air Force are far more likely to be investigated, arrested, face disciplinary actions and be discharged for misconduct. The December report found that “racial disparity exists” for Black service members but that the data did not explain why it happens.

The new study also reflects broader campaigns within the Defense Department and the Biden administration to root out extremism and racism. President Joe Biden declared domestic extremism an urgent national security threat in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The crowd that breached the building as lawmakers were preparing to certify the election was overwhelmingly white and included members of far-right groups.

Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth, who ordered the latest review, said the IG will go directly to Air Force and Space Force service members for input. A survey that will go out to the force soon will look at several different categories: Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, and gender.

Read the full article at HuffPost.

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