The three have only lived for 84 years, yet in that time, these young Latinos have already made an impact in Connecticut politics.
From leading a state commission, to serving on a city council, to heading the state’s leading Hispanic Democratic Caucus and working in a U.S. senator’s office, there is no doubt they are rising stars in the state’s political arena. And while Isaias Diaz, Joe Rodriguez, and Eloisa Melendez may have different backgrounds and ideology, they have all chosen politics as a way to help the Latino community move forward and they agree – their political careers are only just beginning.
Isaias Diaz, 37, is Puerto Rican and grew up in a single-family household in Waterbury with eight other siblings. Though he grew up poor, he believes he is living proof that breaking the cycle of poverty is achievable and a lifetime of relying on government services is not necessary.
“I had to grind and I had to struggle. I had to pay for my own education, it was tough; it’s still tough,” Diaz said.
Diaz was able to overcome the poverty hurdle and eventually earn a law degree from Quinnipiac University. Soon after, he was appointed to the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission [LPRAC] and within four months, he became the commission’s chair. He served in this role for four years, with a Democratic majority membership until 2013. He had to leave the position due to leadership term limits, however, he remains as commission member.
“We try to deal with all the issues that are plaguing the Latino community statewide,” Diaz said. “So that has been a great experience.”
Diaz is active in the Republican Party. He currently supports and is helping Sen. John McKinney in his quest to become governor. Diaz believes liberal polices will not benefit the Latino community in the long run and Republican polices are what Latinos need to thrive.
“I just feel conservative principles are the way to get it done. I don’t want to be the guy who says ‘let’s just go and get our people more benefits,’” Diaz said. “I want to be the guy who says ‘let’s go make great opportunities; let’s create ways to make our people self sufficient so we can be self sustaining.’”
Diaz hopes to not only accomplish this now, but also to do this someday as the first Latino governor of the state of Connecticut.
As chair of the Connecticut Democratic Hispanic Caucus, Joe Rodriguez, 27, believes it is crucial that Latinos participate in politics and in their communities. This commitment to serving was sparked in Rodriguez at a young age.
Growing up in New Haven, Rodriguez joined his neighborhood “block watch” at the age of 16. This gave Rodriguez the opportunity to do neighborhood cleanups and organize events. He even had the chance to organize the Loíza Festival, which was a cultural festival that celebrated Loíza, Puerto Rico.
“That really opened my eyes because before I was sort of active locally, but that sort of opened my eyes to the importance of Puerto Ricans and Latinos preserving the culture,” said Rodriguez, whose father is from Puerto Rico. “So that’s what really threw me into being more active into the Hispanic community.”
Rodriguez, who still lives in New Haven, has since worked on several political campaigns and even ran for a position on New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee at 19 years old, where he was narrowly defeated.
The defeat only strengthened his resolve, and several years later he became the chair of the Connecticut Democratic Hispanic Caucus. The caucus is made up of Democratic Hispanic leaders from across the state, the majority being elected officials.
Rodriguez believes it’s important to have a body like this to set an example for others. “It’s wonderful for young Latino men and women to aspire for something big,” he said. “Seeing someone of their color, seeing someone who is successful, educated, aspiring to be the president of the United States, or the governor, or statewide constitutional officer, I think goes a long way.”
Rodriquez currently works in U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office as an outreach organizer, though he says he may not always remain behind the scenes. He would “not say no to an opportunity” if the right position in public office came around.
“If I wouldn’t have won, then we would have had no Hispanics on the council,” said Eloisa Melendez, a Democrat serving on Norwalk’s Common Council.
Being a Latina is not the only factor that makes here a minority on the council, she is also the youngest at 20 years old.
“I went from being able to vote in 2012 for the first time, and then in 2013, I was on the ballot,” said Melendez, whose mother is from Colombia, and her grandparents on her father’s side, from Puerto Rico.
Being the only Hispanic on the board has given Melendez a sense of responsibility. She has been a supporter of the initiative Latinos Unidos in Connecticut [LUC], which is attempting to bring together the different Hispanic communities to unite and create a stronger voice when it comes to advocating for Latino issues.
“Hispanics in Norwalk are the majority of the minority…we make up 47 percent of the school system,” Melendez said. “So we’re trying to find more leadership in the community and get them more involved to have more seats at the table.”
Melendez also practices what she preaches when it comes to education. She is attending Norwalk Community College and may transfer to the University of Connecticut in the future. Though, she plans to be a life-long resident of Norwalk.
Something else she plans on doing in her lifetime is having her own talk show, most likely on politics, and maybe even running for higher office. However, the opportunity would have to allow her to serve Norwalk still.
“Norwalk’s my gem…it’s like my boyfriend,” she said.
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