(This story originally appeared in Vivala)
Being the center of a political campaign in her hometown – and winning – was never something Judith Garcia planned.
In November 2015, the young Honduran American became part of a significant change in the political landscape of Chelsea, Massachusetts, an inner urban suburb of Boston with a diverse population of 35,080. She and five other Latinos won seats in Chelsea’s City Council but she is the youngest of all 11 city council members.
“It went from being all-white to having six Latinos run for office and they won,” she says. “We all won… every person that challenged an incumbent won the seats. The bigger message here is that our community wanted change and they have it.”
At only 24 years old, Garcia was elected Chelsea City Councillor for District 5, a neighborhood with many Central Americans.
“I never imagined that I would run for office until I came back to my community,” Garcia says. “I headed off to college and I traveled and I gained perspective of how things could be improved.”
Traveling through countries like Qatar, South Africa, and Germany taught Garcia about economic revitalization and community building. She realized her beloved city, of which she is a lifelong resident, has potential.
“I really want to make a change and I really want to contribute and add value at the decision-making table,” she says. “I thought there were many voices missing – the millennial, women, and the immigrant community.”
Garcia had dreamed of becoming an urban planner someday because she says she knew she could make a difference in her community and infrastructure without having to run for office. But, she adds, she soon realized the magic of local politics. She described it as the “frontlines of the city,” where change can happen.
“What happens in Chelsea is our youth tends to subscribe to this mentality that you want to graduate from Chelsea Public Schools and leave and never come back. I want to come back to my neighborhood and I want to give back to my community and what better way to do that than to become a public servant?”
Running a campaign was new territory for Garcia, who says she focused it on the people.
“I created a platform after listening to my constituents, listening to my neighbors,” she says. “It became about them… I made sure that before I did that, I actually listened.”
One of Garcia’s devoted volunteers, John Valinch, describes her as intensely passionate about issues that affect the city of Chelsea.
“She is extremely compassionate and understanding, I think, of issues that affect the major demographic in Chelsea – first generation and second generation Latinos and understanding the struggle behind that,” he says. “I think Judith is keenly aware of that.”
On Garcia’s website, the politician says she is the daughter of a single mother who emigrated from Honduras to work in a Chelsea factory.
“I see it as the greatest blessing because she instilled in me the importance of work ethic, the importance of working hard and being independent. My mom is a powerhouse and, when I say powerhouse, I mean she is a woman who has taught me you need to really challenge the establishment, but do it in a very sophisticated way.”
Though shy, Garcia says her mother is a fighter.
“When I told her I was running for office, I caught her by surprise. She didn’t even know what that meant,” she says. “I’m running for office because my mother provided a perspective to me that was so important and now I think it’s important for me to bring the voices of her and her colleagues to the table.”
Though some people doubted her because of her age, Garcia was still able to push through and win at the end. She says she’s proud of being a millennial because it resonates with young children that live in her community.
“I had a 7-year-old come up to me and say ‘I’m following your campaign!’ That was so meaningful to me,” she says. “Not only was I relaying the message about the importance of having millennials be involved in the process, but the importance of teaching our children – not only our children but our girls – that I’m running for office, and they can too.”