Alex Padilla believes in the power of his story: a son of two Mexican immigrants — a short-order cook and a house cleaner — who became California’s first Latino U.S. senator.
He believes in the power of his story not only to inspire other Latinos but also to convince some Republicans that “Latinos are just as American.” He goes at politics with the laidback confidence that’s on display in a viral L.A. Taco video of him rolling a tortilla. (Admirers gushed: “This is honestly the greatest tortilla roll of all time. And he didn’t think about it.” “He’s like the Snoop Dogg of tortilla rolling.” And “mexican blood indeed.”)
Reflecting on his first year in the Senate, Padilla recalled one of his first interactions with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Graham said he knew Padilla was the son of immigrants, but was surprised to learn that Padilla had attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Padilla recalls Graham asking: “You have an engineering degree from MIT? How does that happen?”
Padilla answered: “I applied. I got accepted.”
Graham is among the few Republicans in recent years to express openness to protecting some immigrants from deportation. Most Republicans today are vocally anti-immigrant.
Padilla is no stranger to anti-Latino hate. Growing up in Pacoima, he played Little League baseball playoffs in affluent communities where rivals’ parents directed racist slurs at his team. “Coming into the Senate and dealing with members who have less appreciation for diversity, it’s not my first experience,” he told me.
As chair of the immigration subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Padilla says he strives to “level set” the discussion. At a committee hearing about citizenship for farmworkers, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) bizarrely conjured up human traffickers sexually assaulting “little boys and little girls” at the border.
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