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Raquel Terán: One citizen’s road to the Legislature

Katie Campbell//December 10, 2018

Raquel Terán: One citizen’s road to the Legislature

Katie Campbell//December 10, 2018

Raquel Terán PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Raquel Terán
PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

You probably know Raquel Terán’s name by now.

She was taken to court recently by a woman falsely claiming – for the second time in six years – that Terán is not a U.S. citizen. But she’s more than a name on a frivolous lawsuit.

She is now representative-elect of Legislative District 30, and when she joins her fellow state House members in January, she will be one of 29 Democrats looking to shake things up at the Capitol.

Cap Times Q&AHow did it feel to have to go to court again over those false claims against you?

That train is never late. But it’s never late for many other people in our community. The reason why I posted about it on Facebook right away was because, yeah, this is happening to me, but it also happens to the child in the classroom. Or it could be the boss harassing the worker. It’s happening across the country every day to the everyday person. The good thing is that I have an opportunity to talk about it and to expose this kind of sentiment.

Did it darken the election for you?

Hey, Obama’s citizenship was questioned. He had to deal with it. He didn’t have to go to court. Twice! But it doesn’t darken the election. It just fast-forwarded the work that we need to get done.

Your soon-to-be colleague Rep. David Stringer has been in the news for making inflammatory statements about race and immigration. What would you say to him?

Come to my district. In Legislative District 30, there are more than 50 languages spoken. Somali-American communities are my neighbors. He is welcome to come to my house. He’s welcome to tour the schools in our area and see the richness of our community and how the community actually embraces people from different backgrounds. That’s what I’d say to him, what I will say to him.

Your campaign for the Legislature wasn’t your first foray into politics. You worked on the effort to recall Russell Pearce. Why did you get involved in that campaign?

I’m originally from southern Arizona, born in Douglas and raised between both countries. For me, immigration was very normal. People reuniting with families, seeking the American dream, equality, fairness and the values that the United States carries. So when the anti-immigrant sentiment started to get momentum, I got involved through Mi Familia Vota. … Then SB1070 happens. At that time, we were really optimistic that some kind of comprehensive immigration reform was going to happen at the federal level. But here in Arizona, we were at the tip of the iceberg. … People thought he was untouchable… but it was something that could get done.

You also worked for Planned Parenthood.

I learned quickly that the anti-immigrant sentiment was brought to us by the same people who gut the education system, who took away health care and women’s reproductive rights, voting rights and who deny climate change. So not only did I get involved with the immigration reform movement but with the progressive movement itself. So, in 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost, it was very devastating for many of us who had been organizing. We won by defeating Arpaio, but at the national level, we had elected Trump. … Jodi Liggett (Planned Parenthood lobbyist) called me up and said, “Hey, we know that the first thing that’s going to come out of this Congress is going to be the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and they’re going to try to shut us down.” I was brought in to lead their advocacy campaign to make sure our doors stayed opened.

You grew up in Douglas, on a street that essentially separated Arizona and Mexico.

International Street. When I grew up it was a fence, and now… they’re trying to make it into a wall. It’s interesting because when I go to southern Arizona, they’re trying to beautify it. There’s these images of butterflies and images of hands [holding]. People are trying to make the best of it by beautifying it, but it’s still separation. I totally understand it’s two different countries, but it’s also a community. And living in the community, you don’t even realize that it’s a heavily politicized place because that’s just the way it is. There’s always Border Patrol, and people get used to it. But at the same time, it doesn’t always have to be like that.

You have a 2-year-old son. How has he shaped the legislator you’re going to be?

I’ve always organized under a lot of urgency because I’ve seen how our communities are suffering. The medium income in our district is $29,000. I’ve seen our schools in the district – 90 percent or more [students] are on free and reduced lunch. So, the urgency to do something and to organize and to build political power to benefit our communities has always been there. Now, I have my son, and he’s going to go to school in two years. I need to know that he’s going to receive the best education possible, but I know that the state has been failing our schools. It’s a new level of urgency. … I talk about him, but it’s a whole generation we’re fighting for.

This was a big election cycle for Democrats but also for women across the spectrum. What do you think that says about Arizona?

Women are watching, and women are involved. … In the month after the [2016] election, I couldn’t catch my breath. It took me a while, but the Women’s March of 2017 was the moment my soul went back into my body. Like, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. Women were making phone calls. Women were canvassing. Women were raising money. … There’s no going back.

What’s your top priority for this session?

I am part of the Elections Committee. … So, top priority is going to be protecting democracy. I think we are going to have to make sure that any roadblocks to voting are blocked. … We can’t move anything if we don’t have access to the ballot box.