Hilda Solis was born in 1957 and raised in La Puente, CA; her Nicaraguan and Mexican immigrant parents had met in citizenship class and married in 1953. Her father had been a Teamsters shop steward in Mexico; he again organized for the union at the Quemetco battery recycling plant, but his efforts for the workers did not prevent him from being poisoned there by lead. Hilda’s mother was also active in the union during her years working at Mattel once all the children were in school.
At La Puente High School, students were not necessarily expected to try to better themselves through higher education; one of Hilda’s guidance counselors told her mother, “Your daughter is not college material. Maybe she should follow the career of her older sister and become a secretary.” Fortunately, another counselor supported Hilda’s applying to college, and went so far as to visit her at her house to help her fill out a college application. Hilda earned a bachelor’s in political science from California State Polytechnic University and went on to obtain a Master’s in public administration at USC.
Solis interned and edited a newsletter in the Carter Administration’s White House Office of Hispanic Affairs. In Washington, DC, she met her future husband, Sam Sayyad. She returned to the west coast, and in 1982 became the Director of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program, which helped disadvantaged young people prepare for college.
Friends urged her to consider running for elective office, and after a successful run in 1985, she served for some years on the Rio Hondo Community College District. Solis also became State Senator Art Torres’ chief of staff. In 1992 she ran for the California State Assembly and won with the support of Barbara Boxer, Gloria Molina, and her mother, who notably fed her campaign volunteers on homemade burritos.
In 1994, Art Torres was nominated to a statewide position as insurance commissioner, and Solis ran for and won the State Senate seat he vacated. She was the first woman of Hispanic descent ever to serve in the State Senate as well as the youngest member of the Senate at the time. She authored domestic violence prevention bills, and she stood up for workers with a bill to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75, which was massively opposed by business and vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson. Solis didn’t let that stop her; she successfully led a ballot initiative drive, using $50,000 from her own campaign money. When the initiative passed, others knew that she was someone to be reckoned with. Similar initiatives were enacted in other states on the wave of this victory. Solis worked to enact an environmental justice law to protect low-income and minority neighborhoods from being repeatedly targeted for new landfills and pollution sources, and in 2000, she received the JFK Library Profile in Courage Award for this work, the first woman ever to win it. She also called out garment sweatshop operators for their violations of labor conditions, and was an advocate for the people on education and health care issues; 2000 was also the year that she successfully ran for Congress. In 2008, she became the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet when President Obama tapped her for the position of Labor Secretary. After serving for the duration of his first term, she decided to resign and returned to California, where she is presently an L.A. County Supervisor.
Original post here.