The Institute - Session #5 - Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Talks on Her Career and Six Things She Learned in Her 20s


By Hilary Morefield

When Lorena Gon­za­lez stepped into the room for our fifth ses­sion, her pres­ence imme­di­ately com­manded atten­tion. The assemblywoman’s con­fi­dent, hilar­i­ous and can­did approach had the full room from her first line. Gon­za­lez has been a long-​time ally of SDLA and has spo­ken to past fel­lows on numer­ous occa­sions regard­ing her work as the secretary-​treasurer and CEO of the San Diego-​Imperial Coun­ties Labor Coun­cil, AFL-​CIO but this was her first time speak­ing at the insti­tute as an elected offi­cial. For this ses­sion, she approached the con­ver­sa­tion on a more per­sonal level, dis­cussing her expe­ri­ences as a young pro­gres­sive in her 20s, her career and the some of the lessons she learned along the way.

Here are six of these essen­tial lessons:

1. Work hard

Gon­za­lez faced a great deal of ani­mos­ity going through the steps of her early career– as a minor­ity woman grow­ing up in Vista, she had a num­ber of peo­ple try­ing to take her down. “[The expe­ri­ence] made me tough,” Gon­za­lez said. “You have to sac­ri­fice cer­tain things.” Gon­za­lez remained tough, worked hard, and went on to attend school at Stan­ford, George­town and UCLA. She refused to com­pro­mise, how­ever, on what mat­tered the most to her– her fam­ily. She com­pleted law school as a sin­gle mother and made sure her fam­ily was with her every step of the way along her early career path.

2. Take risks

With lim­ited expe­ri­ence and an even more lim­ited bud­get, Gon­za­lez packed up every­thing and moved to Sacra­mento for the oppor­tu­nity to work for for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Lieu­tenant Cruz Bus­ta­mante as his senior advi­sor. Early on, she was asked to advise him on envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion, an area in which she had very lit­tle exper­tise and expe­ri­ence. Gon­za­lez took it on nev­er­the­less and through a great deal of research and self-​teaching became an expert in the area. As Gon­za­lez pointed out, “risk worked,” and the posi­tion served as an excel­lent expe­ri­ence and a launch­ing pad for the rest of her career.

3. Find a passion

Gon­za­lez took some time to dis­cover what drove her pas­sion for pur­su­ing pol­i­tics. She knew she was very peo­ple dri­ven and had a strong inter­est in help­ing work­ing fam­i­lies. She says her even­tual involve­ment in labor finally gave her a solid­i­fied sense of pur­pose, the feel­ing that “Yes– this is why she was put on this earth.” She worked heav­ily on labor issues for many years and con­tin­ues to help work­ers through her leg­isla­tive work and decision-​making as an assemblywoman.

4. Be kind to everyone

Gon­za­lez says her men­tor in her early career, Cruz Bus­ta­mante, taught her this essen­tial les­son. She noted in her expe­ri­ence a ten­dency for more pow­er­ful politi­cians to “feel like [they] are above a cer­tain class of peo­ple” once they obtain a cer­tain stature. Gon­za­lez tries to face every per­son she inter­acts with, from staffers and interns to high level offi­cials, with respect and kind­ness. “Who knows-​your cus­to­dian could be the leader of one of the biggest labor unions in the state,” she said.

5. Be honest

“Hon­esty serves a pur­pose.” Gon­za­lez shared her dis­taste for behind-​the-​back polit­i­cal smack-​talking and lying to employ­ers. She encour­aged the fel­lows to avoid neg­a­tive com­men­tary on oth­ers they wouldn’t them­selves feel com­fort­able fac­ing, as word gets around eas­ily in social cir­cles. “It’s always bet­ter to say it to their face than to have some­one else tell them the same thing.”

6. Remain loyal

“It’s okay to sup­port some­one who isn’t with you 100 per­cent on every­thing,” said Gon­za­lez. She said in her expe­ri­ence it’s essen­tial “to develop the abil­ity to under­stand peo­ple at dif­fer­ent places– dif­fer­ent argu­ments, dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing– and be able to work with them.” As long as you share the same fun­da­men­tal val­ues, you do not have to be point-​for-​point on every value, and you can ben­e­fit from the dif­fer­ence of per­spec­tive. Gon­za­lez believe this mat­ters more than any indi­vid­ual qual­ity in politics.

Gonzalez’s advice res­onated with a num­ber of the fel­lows, who felt sim­i­lar chal­lenges in their own paths and careers. We were delighted to have her back on board for the ses­sion and look for­ward to hear­ing from her again in the future.

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Emily Tran

Emily Tran is a licensed LVN and RCFE administrator since 2012. Her passion for advocating for older adults and their care is one of many driving forces that motivates her to...