Even with the touch and go technology necessary to communicate in the midst of COVID-19, the commitment that drives Texas Rep. Jessica Gonzalez was as palpable as if it were a face to face interview. The core of Ms. Gonzalez was evident — born from the perseverance she saw in her immigrant parents as they fought for the better parts of the American Dream. She has traveled much in her career, but her heart still lives in her family’s Mexican snack store and in her community.
BELatina spoke to Rep. Gonzalez, and what stood out from our talk was her courage, no-nonsense attitude and her commitment to build up the community where her parents still open their shop every morning. She says she wants to change minds by changing hearts.
“Even if you don’t necessarily change things overnight because it doesn’t happen overnight, people just wanted someone who would stand up and fight for issues important to them,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is serving her first term as a state representative for House District 104, located in Dallas. She was born and raised in the community that she now represents and is dedicated to uplift it. Led by a spirit as ardent as the rays of a Texas summer sun, she decided to run in the 2018 Democratic primary against the longtime incumbent representative.
“We were seeing a lot of things happening on a national level with attacks on women, women’s health, immigrants and LGBTQ+ folks,” she said. “There were also things happening at a state level. I think people were frustrated with everything that was going on and nothing was getting done..”
For nearly 29 years, the seat was held by Roberto Alonzo who didn’t seem to have the district’s best interest at heart. It could be intimidating, Gonzalez said, to go against someone who has served for so many years. But this didn’t halt her mission. Without thinking about it twice, she ran, knowing this is what her community craved. Her grassroots approach worked, giving her an overwhelming amount of community support and a win by a large margin.
District 104 is predominantly composed of Latinx people — about 80 percent — and it is changing and growing. However, like many other places in the United States, it is also undergoing gentrification. Prior to running, she saw many people struggling to afford to live in the community they had invested so much of their lives to and had grown to love. She was seeing many businesses, most owned by Latinx people, being pushed away from the community as well.
“My parents own a Mexican snack business that they opened when I was really young and I’m also a business owner myself,” she said. “I understood the damage of those businesses leaving.” Gonzalez has owned a law firm with another Latina for about five years.
After witnessing this blatant manifestation of greed, she made sure that part of her mission was to help displaced people in her community. She knew that business owners leaving the community was detrimental because they had long-standing ties with their customer base, which had taken years to establish.
“I’ve heard that women have to be asked to run for office over and over again,” Gonzalez told BELatina. “There’s a large disparity. But, women shouldn’t be afraid to run, even if you lose the first time around.”
According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), the US has a median of about 25 percent of female politicians. This disproportionate distribution of seats is due to a myriad of factors, yet, historically speaking, a woman’s potential has consistently been overlooked.
She recalled the moments leading up to her decision to run. Many in the community urged her to wait. Nevertheless, she persevered. If there was a so-called turn she had to wait on, then when would her time be? So, she took matters into her own hands and worked towards pushing for the reality she had envisioned.
Doors were knocked on and conversations had. These things helped Gonzalez advance in her campaign, despite not being taken seriously by her predecessor. Though she was seeing the results of her hard work, she knew that it was going to be difficult to obtain any type of endorsement from lobbyists or PACs. Instead, she worked towards circling back with relationships she had previously established.
She focused on issues regarding affordable housing, criminal justice reform, human trafficking and trans rights, to showcase her commitment to her district. Her stance counteracted Texas’s more conservative tendencies that historically have been etched in the nation’s memory: a breath of fresh air for District 104.
Channeling the work ethic and values instilled by her parents, Gonzalez hasn’t taken a break from her vision. When she was younger, she understood she had to package the churritos and chicharrones in a timely manner to help the shop be more successful. Now, she is incorporating this steadfast approach to maximize her impact while in office.
This is why she introduced the comprehensive nondiscrimination bill early. Though she hasn’t filed it yet, she’s rolled it out to explain the significance it would have for Texas.
“We wanted to start the dialogue early to start talking to other legislators, trying to get that support early on, especially with everything that’s transpiring due to COVID-19,” said Gonzalez.
This bill will include discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations such as public spaces, restaurants, and retail stores. As co-founder and vice chair of the Texas Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus, the openly queer representative knows that this type of bill needs to be codified in state law to ensure people’s protection because there are limitations to the Supreme Court decisions. There’s more opportunity for expansion at a state level.
As per the study by economist Dr. Ray Perryman, having statewide nondiscrimination will result in adding $20 billion in gross product, 180,000 new jobs, $2.8 billion in state taxes, and $2 billion in local taxes in only four years. Its benefits will continue to grow for many years after if passed.
The comprehensive nondiscrimination bill has already received bipartisan support. There are two Republicans who have expressed their commitment to this bill, she said.
“I understand the importance of needing bipartisan support, especially in the state of Texas where Democrats are the minorities in both houses,” Gonzalez said. “I’m still working on getting more support from our Republican colleagues. I’ve spoken to a handful and have gotten some positive responses from them.”
In order to achieve optimal results, she is positioning the bill to protect everyone’s rights as discrimination is a human issue. Her inclusive strategy allowed a bill like this, one that focuses on LGBTQ+ protections as well, to obtain support from Republicans early on. Gonzalez believes this is reflective of the progress in the community and the gradual shift in people’s minds.
“In order to change their minds, you have to change their hearts,” she told BELatina.
Rep. Gonzalez is authoring the bill and plans to file it in November.
Her goals for the next session are as ambitious as ever. Aside from getting pieces of legislation passed, she wants to fight for the transgender community because other states are filing bills that would discriminate against transgender people, she said. Gonzalez said that the bills would add discrimination in sports, trying to criminalize doctors and parents for giving medical treatment to their trans kids, and there’s already been talk among the more conservative people in Texas to file similar legislation.
“We definitely have to do more to protect trans people,” she said.
If you were wondering what change looks like, this is it. Texas Rep. Jessica Gonzalez is on a mission. A mission that has been molded by her roots, her perseverance and what she learned packing churritos and chicharrones in her parent’s shop.