I was scrolling through Facebook, minding my own business, when I saw the live video appear on my feed, it was Elisa Morales, one of the mayoral candidates from my hometown, El Paso. I tapped on the video and she was standing outside of the forum where The Greater Chamber and KTSM were holding a live Facebook panel for “all” candidates. I had actually watched the forum and had not seen her, as I listened to her Facebook live video, she was speaking to the people from outside the event and giving her position on critical topics, I wondered why she had not been on the panel, turns out…she had not been invited.
This is what compelled me to reach out for an interview, I was so upset that at 32 years old, she is the ONLY young Latina running, the voice of my demographic and she wasn’t allowed a seat at the table? I wanted to get her side of the story.
What I thought would be a small column turned into much more. I saw a lot of myself in candidate Morales and a lot of what happens to women that are trying to break barriers. Sometimes those stories go untold, well this wasn’t going to be one of those times.
Her Facebook page is user friendly and she replies pretty quickly. We went back a forth a few times and were finally able to get on the phone and spend a good chunk of time to chat, in between her events. It wasn’t long into our conversation before I realized how much we had in common.
She was born and raised here in El Paso with her younger brother and parents. With her father’s family being mostly in San Antonio, she decided to attend college there in order to reconnect with her father’s side and spend time with her paternal grandmother, whose health was ailing. It would end up being a timely decision, within her first year at the University of Texas San Antonio her grandmother would pass away. Reflecting on that moment she recalls how difficult that time was. Like many of us in school, she had been working two jobs, she was also mentoring, attending classes and missing her family in El Paso. In addition to adjusting to her new life, she also helped take care of her grandmother. When she passed, Elisa was devastated. Working through that painful time, Morales would go on to, not only complete her undergrad in San Antonio, but also complete her master’s degree.
Unlike other candidates who might be wanting to “appear” like they are all about helping the community, Elisa’s desire to help people is not something that has appeared starting with this election. She has spent over ten years in several roles under the healthcare profession, ranging from a community educator at a hospice company, to eventually making her way over to mental wellness. We spoke about the heavy needs of the Latino community (specifically) when it comes to mental health and combatting the taboo that surrounds it. She explained how her time working in this field in El Paso showed the great amount of stress that our children are under during testing time and how upon one visit to an elementary in El Paso they had 4 cases of children that had attempted suicide by using the sharp edges of LEGOs. This is one of the many reasons that led her to continue her work advocating for healthcare as a community liaison for El Paso Behavioral Health System. If elected mayor, she wants to make sure we create access for children that are processing their fears under this new presidential administration.
Her community activist heart is what led her to want to seek more knowledge on how our government works or does not work, for us. She wanted to see how El Paso was represented at the Federal level, again a twist of fate, would grant her an opportunity to do just that, and she accepted a fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. It was here that she gained the experience of not only being able to see the inner workings of how El Paso’s Congressional District intersects at the federal level, but also, she proved the ability to work across the aisle, having worked in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, working for Senior Republican (Senator Alexander) and Senior Democrat (Senator Udall) also having spent some time in Congressman O’Rourke’s office. This is the kind of experience we should appreciate in the next mayor of El Paso, since they will have to represent ALL the people of El Paso, not just the one side that has the majority in the Texas legislature. To note, Elisa did leave D.C. before the election, needless to say, many things have changed since then. I asked her why she left, and she told me that her goal when she arrived to Capitol Hill was to bring El Paso to D.C. and vice versa, now ready and equipped with knowledge of federal government, she wanted to bring back what she learned in D.C., to El Paso.
“When I was working in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, I was assisting on a Mental Health reform bill and I was able to leverage my experiences in El Paso working in mental health. Now I want to leverage the skills I learned in D.C., understanding legislation, working as a Senate Appropriations staffer and ensuring funding for rural health and for education for disadvantaged students, and being able to build relationships (regardless of party) to advocate for El Paso.”
I wanted to know a lot more about her as person so I didn’t get into the topics too much, I figured you can go to her website to see where she stands on the issues, or reach out to her via Facebook or email. What I was here to do was to see why she had been slighted from a lot of the media coverage from certain stations
“We have seen that our government has not been working for enough of us, and that is why I am running. There is some major censorship happening: I have been left out of the #GreaterElPasoChamberofCommerce and #KTSMElPasoProud #NC9votes Mayoral Forum, and now the #KVIA ABC-7 Mayoral Debate that will be happening live on Sunday. I am fighting back. I will tenaciously fight for our community as a Mayoral Candidate and as our next Mayor!” [Facebook post April 22, 2017]
As we continued talking I was really shocked at how much sexism she has encountered (but let’s be real, given the amount of sexism we witnessed in this last presidential election I shouldn’t have been surprised). She told me how other candidates have commented on what she is wearing, something the men don’t do to each other. As one of the only two young candidates, she is also constantly patronized at events, “aw you’re cute mija.” One man even went as far as to tickle her chin while saying “coochy-coo” my reaction was just like yours…WHAT! He actually put his hands on her chin and tickled her like a baby (I need a moment to process that.) The sexism is real y’all. I saw a comment on her Facebook page where a man told her to lose 100 pounds and then maybe she could get elected. Elisa replied in perfect poise: “My brain is just so heavy with knowledge.”
Heavy with knowledge it is, this young woman gave me a full breakdown on how the money that is approved via something called ‘Certificates of Obligation’ acts like a credit card for a city, you must repay it, and El Paso has more ‘Certificates of Obligation’ debt accrued than San Antonio and Austin, combined! WOW, and who is paying that back, you ask? So did I. The taxpayers are paying it, that’s who. Apparently residential property taxes are hit with the picking up the bill, so now it makes sense why some of us and our parents are seeing those tax hikes on our homes, makes you really rethink funding for this new Arena the city wants to build. Hmm…
Did you know that El Paso is one of the top ten heaviest taxed cities with the lowest average wage ratio? Yeah I didn’t either…you know who did know, Elisa Morales who is running for mayor. This young woman really has a great hold on how the money situation runs in El Paso. She is also a quick student and is now becoming all too aware that “the money” in El Paso is often who runs the elections, and she is just like you and me, a regular person without a ton of money.
She educated me on NAFTA and how if whoever comes into power for El Paso isn’t careful when representing El Paso’s voice during renegotiation terms, they could end up passing a tax on imports, which would directly affect those that are of low income status, “we would end up creating food deserts, where people cannot afford to buy healthy fresh items, we can’t have that” Morales explained.
I then asked her thoughts on something that has been on my mind, the budget plans in D.C. that are pending this week which are to include (possibly) funding for “The Wall” that Trump wants to build. Immediately, she made it clear that she is against “The Wall” and everything it stands for, but I pressed the question because, inquiring minds want to know, especially since we will elect a mayor the week after the federal budget passes (if it passes.)
“should the money come through for funding this, then I will want to make sure everyone is present at the table, we need our social justice activist, our environmentalist, our business community, our education stakeholders, law enforcement, etc…this is something that will affect us all, so we need everyone’s voice present in creating a strategic response for the city”
She must have sensed the sadness in my voice over the phone, because she was quick to assure me that things like this don’t pass through so easily, there are many committees and stakeholders on the federal level that will fight against this type of agenda. I breathed a tiny sigh of relief and was grateful that she was so knowledgeable and willing to share all this with me. The same goes for the “Bathroom Bill” which she thinks is the very definition of prejudice: hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics. In her opinion this shouldn’t even be an issue, “there is absolutely no data that proves this bill is needed.” I think she put it simply, and best when I asked her for her final comment on it, she said “people should be able to pee where they feel comfortable peeing, be free to pee.” I think we can all agree on that.
Elisa Morales is really an open book, which is quite refreshing. I looked through her Facebook page and she replies to everyone one, good or bad, she has been out there on her own with the support of her team and everyday El Pasoans trying to fight not only the old guard, but the media, gender bias, patriarchy, etc…I laughed at several of random thoughts I had to myself as we spoke because I completely understood on a lesser level, while she may have other candidates taking words from her website, verbatim…I have also experienced colleagues taking my ideas, my words, repeating them to the room and then everyone applauds. The bias can be found just doing a random search, if you look her up you won’t find a lot of in-depth items, but you will find plenty of inaccuracies from her name to her story, I think one site even had her listed as a “homemaker.”
You know I found it really sad that she is having such a hard time, I starting to ask myself, have we had any female mayors? I found one, Suzie Azar, so we don’t have a lot of female mayors in our history and for a city that is 79% Hispanic, we have NEVER had a Latina. It isn’t for lack of options, instead of celebrating a young, super intelligent woman that wants to serve our city, like Elisa; she is met with hostility, body shaming, patronizing comments, sexism, ageism, and other kinds of “isms” like “single-ism” (which I don’t know is actual term, but it is a real thing because I too have experienced this). She told me how one woman told her: “I think you are so bright and a fresh voice, why can’t you be married with kids, so I can vote for you.” El Paso, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?! She has knowledge of federal government and how this affects us on state and city levels, she earned her bachelor’s and a master’s degree, did an internship with the FBI, has studied internationally, she understands money and has a heart rooted in advocating for betterment and social justice, as my mom would say, “pues qué más quieres?” (well, what more do you want?). Voters reading this, please remember, if nothing changes, then nothing changes.
As our conversation started to wrap up, I asked Elisa why she decided to run. She told me she had gone on a medical mission trip to Mexico last fall, and everything just starting to fall into place in her heart and spirit.
“you see people that are truly suffering and don’t have very much, and it just puts things in perspective, what really matters. It also reminded me of all the opportunities we have here in the United States…I am proud to be Mexican-American.”
This is what renewed her energy and upon her return, she started to attend all the city council meetings and realized that there was a lot more that could be done. It was then she decided to throw her hat in the race.
Lastly, I asked her thoughts on something I had heard some buzz about, folks that were questioning Elisa’s right to run. She laughed a little and then told me how her grandfather was from Chihuahua, MX and he and his wife started their family in Cd. Juarez then moved to El Paso, where eventually her grandfather would open his own carpentry business in the lower valley, which is still run by her uncle to this day. Her grandmother worked all her adult life in different El Paso manufacturing factories, having dedicated many years to the Levi company. Morales recalled how after so many years, the dye had permanently stained her grandmother’s fingertips purple, which is why she will be wearing the color purple from here to election day, to honor her memory, “I think she would be really proud to see her granddaughter running for Mayor” she told me. Elisa’s mother was born in El Paso and her father also served in the Army (non-combat) both parents have earned their bachelor’s degrees from UTEP and have been an active part of the community, so to anyone questioning, make no mistake about it, Mayoral Candidate Elisa Morales certainly is a daughter of the Sun City.
When we are kids our parents push us to do more, be more. We are told to go out and get an education, and then give back to our community. That is exactly what Elisa has done, and yet she is met with rings of fire to jump through and this weird caste system going on in El Paso politics. We say we want change, and that we want new folks to get engaged in the process, WELL HERE WE ARE! We have done the work and we are showing up for the job, we are knocking, LOUDLY, but no one wants to open the door.
I want to thank Mayoral Candidate Elisa Morales for taking time out of her busy day to share her story with me. I also want to recognize Univision, El Diario and 105.9 FM (which Elisa and I agree is an awesome station) that have shown her the love. She expressed a lot of gratitude for their support. If people like Elisa are the future of El Paso politics, then we can take a sigh of relief knowing that we have sane people, that have the merit and that genuinely care, out here fighting for us. We just need to do our part by staying engaged, asking questions and making sure we have our voices heard at the ballot box.
Don’t forget to cast your vote May 6th!
contributed writer: Columnist, Yol-Itzma Aguirre El Paso, TX