THERE'S SOMETHING AWESOME ABOUT MARY
Storytelling by Ellen Ioanes
Politicians aren’t exactly known as down-to-earth, sincere people of integrity. Between photo-ops and carefully crafted statements, it’s easy to pin legislators as slicksters with their own agendas. But Mary Gonzales, 34, the sincere, queer Latina farmer’s daughter who now represents Texas’ House District 75, is just about as far from your average politician as you can get.
“Most girls want to be ballerinas [when they grow up.] I wanted to be an agricultural extension agent, to help the farmers farm,” Gonzales says. Raised by a single father, Gonzales grew up on a goat dairy farm. “There are pictures of me being a goat whisperer,” she adds.
But although she still lives in a heavily agricultural district, Gonzales’ path took a different turn. She graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with a degree in history and Mexican-American studies, and went on to get her Master’s in Social Justice from St. Edward’s University.
When Gonzales decided to run for office, she was teaching at Southwestern University. She wanted to encourage her students to go out and make change in the world. But she couldn’t do that unless she, too, was willing to walk the walk.
Gonzales ran for office in 2012, at the age of 28; the rest of the candidate pool was predictably older, white and male. “Societally, we’re taught to respect elders and men,” she says. “I had to work on my own internalized stuff to realize I was just as qualified. The process gave me confidence and strength.”
Gonzales, who has been out as bisexual since she was 21, knew that she had to be out during her campaign to show who she really was, and that her constituents could trust her. Her district has dealt with intense politicized corruption; being open about her sexuality was important because it signalled to voters, “I’m going to tell you the honest truth, no matter what,” she says.
Gonzales came out as pansexual after she was elected to office, but it’s not the tentpole of her political career. “We can talk about my sexuality, or we can talk about the issues,” she says. Gonzales represents 253 colonias, or unincorporated townships mostly inhabited by marginalized populations. They often lack access to basic necessities; “Some people don’t have running water,” she says.
Gonzales herself understands the struggles many of her constituents face; in order to have a political career, she’s put everything on the line. “I live in a barn that doesn’t have heating or cooling. You have to be willing to be poor,” she says.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I made the right decision; I may never have a family, I may never have the career I want.” But the costs of her life have to be weighed with the benefits, too: “Every month, every day, I learn something new. And I care, I care about it,” she says.
And ultimately, the sacrifices Mary Gonzales has made allow her to to fulfill her mission: to “make the world a better place, and fight oppression every day.”
You can learn more about Mary Here
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