What Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez's Mom Taught Her About Voting

California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez shares a childhood memory that impacted her. (Courtesy Lorena Gonzalez)

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States, was celebrated on Aug. 18, 2020. So we’re asking politically engaged women in our community to share their personal voting stories.

Today: Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat

Lorena Gonzalez has a powerful memory from her childhood.

It was Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1988 — voting day in the Dukakis-Bush presidential election. ("One of the longest and bloodiest campaigns that anyone can remember," as NBC dubbed the months leading up to that point.)

"And I wasn't old enough to vote," Gonzalez said in an interview with KQED.

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Gonzalez was waiting for her mom to come home from work so they could head out together to the polling station at a nearby church. Her mom was an emergency room nurse in San Diego County and she had to work an extra shift that day. So she was running late.

"She ran through the door and was like, 'All right, we got to get to the church!,'" Gonzalez recalled. "'I gotta go vote before the polls close!'”

Gonzalez said rushing to the polling station seemed pointless because the election results had already been called in George Bush's favor on TV.

But that didn’t matter to her mom.

"Just that moment when she looked at me, and she said, like 'This is the one thing we do,'" Gonzalez recalled of her mother's words that day. "'They can't take this from us.'"

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Gonzalez said her mother was tired and had blood on her shoes from a hard day on the hospital wards – but she didn't even bother to change her shoes before they made a mad dash for the polling station.

"It was that important for her to vote, and it always stayed with me," Gonzalez said. "I never missed an election from the day I turned 18."

Since that day in November 1988, Gonzalez has gone on to become one of the most influential legislators in the Golden State.

She helped raise the minimum wage to $15, and is the main force behind Assembly Bill 5, a controversial new law that reclassifies many contractors as employees. POLITICO Magazine dubbed her one of its top 50 "thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics" in 2016.

Based in San Diego, Gonzalez represents a community that she describes as "overwhelmingly Latino." She's deeply concerned about the White House's anti-immigration policies and the impact COVID-19 is having on essential workers, who are contracting the disease at disproportionately high rates.

So she's working hard to get the message out among her constituents about voting, and said women in particular are likely to make a big impact at the ballot box this November.

"Whether it's white suburban women deciding this was not what they had signed up for, Black women who have become our symbol of trust and guidance or Latinas who know that for the betterment of their children, their community, that they have to vote," Gonzalez said. "I think women are very much going to matter in this election."

Now share your story with us

Use the box below to tell us about the first time you voted. We'd love to potentially feature your experience on KQED: