Op-Ed: Running for Office as a Woman of Color

By Tanya Makany-Rivera

After another eventful day on the campaign trail and having missed tucking my kids into bed—again—I kicked off the high heels I had been wearing for several hours and slumped down on my couch. It is nights like these that I have to remind myself why I decided to run in the first place.

I am running for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1, Place 1, in the open seat being vacated by Dale Gorczynski, who has served us well over the last 24 years. The Justice of the Peace Court is the first place the general public interacts with our justice courts. This court is one of the busiest in the county, seeing over 50,000 cases a year. Many of the people who interact with the court are people of color, Latinos who may not speak English, or undocumented families who come into the court in hopes of getting a fair shot even if they are unable to afford an attorney.

I am confident my 10 years of experience working on the ground at the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and in the Houston City Council and State Senate help me understand communities who face many obstacles. I know that because of my experience as a child of immigrant parents (my father is Persian and my mother is from Nicaragua), I will continue to prioritize issues of concern to minority communities. I have gained significant community support, despite being “the underdog,” because voters understand that if we want to see increased participation by our electorate, we must be willing to support qualified women and people of color.

I knew the campaign trail would be filled with challenges: time management or being away from my family for entire days at a time and running against the establishment and candidates who are able to self-fund their entire campaign. The most unexpected of all has been some of the reactions I received from my peers, reminding me that I am a woman of color running for office. Friends have told me to dress a certain way, straighten my hair, and change my last name—essentially be everything other than myself. Perhaps their intention is to watch me succeed and know that as minorities we are taught to be “more than” just to be noticed and respected.

I rejected their suggestions, because I believe that our voting electorate is smarter than that. They value authenticity and genuine connections more than any number of endorsements and financial resources and do not need me to change things about myself to play a part.

This court has never been represented by a woman or a person of color, although the population of precinct 1 is majority minority. I am thrilled to bring representation that reflects the community we seek to represent.

Although I have worked in politics and have assisted on various campaigns, I quickly learned it is a completely different ball game when you are the candidate running for office. In the end, win or lose, I have grown from this process, and my family will be better because of it. I especially look forward to encouraging and mentoring more women to run for office, given my recent experience. I remind myself about this when I gather the courage to pick myself up every night from my couch and walk to bed to briefly rest only and gladly do it all over again the next day.

Tanya Makany-Rivera is running as a Democrat in the Democratic Primary for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1. For more information about her, visit www.tanya4judge.com.


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