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Meet my daughter: MLK Diversity Award recipient running for House of Representatives

My name is Amneris Cocco and I am the proud mother of Athena Salman, House of Representatives Candidate in Legislative District 26.

I am shocked and appalled to see this publication diminish my daughter to her relationship status, the same woman who received the 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. Diversity Award in Tempe for her leadership in the community.

For as long as I can remember, the contributions of women have been demeaned because of their gender.

In the 1980s, I worked at an optical shop where I was bypassed for two promotions and raises because I was pregnant with my oldest son and then later with Athena. The company also informed me that I was paid less than a male colleague in the same position as I because, “he has a family to feed.” This is just a snapshot of the sexism I endured before Athena was born.

I always dreamed of having a daughter. In junior high when I learned about Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war and justice, I knew in that moment that I would name my daughter Athena because the world needed more heroines. I raised my daughter to be resilient and strong. I never dreamed that in doing so, Athena would impact so many lives in such a short time.

When she was young, Athena developed a passion for community service. As such, Athena has led several community service projects during childhood and into adulthood. During her second year in college, the Legislature drastically cut funding to the universities, resulting in massive tuition increases that families like ours struggled to keep up with. As an organizing intern and later senior fellow with the Arizona Students’ Association, my daughter organized hundreds of students to protest budget cuts. She worked to get student-friendly legislation sponsored and passed through the state legislature.

Athena served as a senator in the Undergraduate Student Government and chair of the Finance Committee, giving voice to low-to-middle income students who were struggling to make ends meet. She also worked a summer in Washington D.C. where she advocated for working families on a national level. She has written health care policy and higher education policy for Congress. Athena graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Economics and B.S. in Political Science, becoming the first in her immediate family to achieve such success.

Following college, Athena worked on multiple campaigns to increase Latino voter engagement—one which resulted in a 500% increase in voter turnout. She served as a union shop steward and effectively fought for economic justice. She empowered women and girls in northern Arizona as a staff member for Girl Scouts. She worked tirelessly in the public sector to raise awareness about the importance of early childhood development.

For decades, we have worked hard to ensure that the world is full of positive female role models for our daughters to follow. In fact, Athena’s entire life has been devoted to making the world a better place for everyone, especially for women.

Yet, it is almost 30 years since I’ve worked at the optical shop and I am still seeing strong gender discrimination in our society. Regardless of whom you support, your ideology or your party, to see a news organization reduce my daughter and all her accomplishments to a relationship status sets all women back.

Amneris Cocco, Scottsdale

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