By NY State Senator Jose Peralta
My New York Story is about running for public office, a story about improving the quality of life of New Yorkers by trying to make their lives better than before.
One day as a child, I overheard my father debate passionately about how to change the problems that we, as Latinos and other minorities, faced. It was in the late 70s, and at that time, it was unheard of to have a Latino representative in the neighborhoods. It seemed that my father and his friends always had a solution to every problem that needed fixing. If it were only that simple.
TRY YOUR BEST
My father’s activism and his business relations for the company he worked for led him to become a familiar figure in the community. This situation made him somewhat to be local celebrity where people would always approach him to ask him for advice or simply just to say hello. I remember a day when it took us more than fifteen minutes to walk from one corner of a block to another because of the number of people that stopped him just to chat.
One day, I said, “Wow, Dad, everyone knows who you are.”
His answer was absolute. “Not everyone knows who I am, just those who need help. It is important to assist those who need help. Always try your best to help them.”
That was a New York moment for me. His answer struck me. The moment stuck with me, and ever since, I decided to be as helpful as I could be. The first real tangible consequence: I got involved in my local community board at age 18. However, from my high school days through my college years, I was involved in student government and activism, becoming the first Latino student body vice president. Later, I became the first Latino student body president.
As years passed, I began to get involved in local political discussions. I remember participating in the same types of discussions and debates as my father, hearing similar arguments to solve everyone’s issues. Again, looking back I wish it were that simple.
During those years in the early 90s, the Latino community in Queens was still looking for representation. Although we had achieved some level of representation in other places throughout the city, many at the time launched their political careers to pave the way for me. I am endlessly appreciative of those trailblazers, learning, not only from what they did right but also from their mistakes. I stand on their shoulders and represent my community, helping improve people’s lives.
In 2003, I became the first Latino Assemblyman ever elected in the borough of Queens. I was there for almost eight years, fighting for issues ranging from education, immigration and affordable housing to senior issues and health care. In 2010, I decided to run for the State Senate and became the first Dominican American state senator in the history of the state, which then led the way for others to follow.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
In the State Senate, I have continued to fight for all the issues that matter to my constituency. Previously as an assembly member, and now as a state senator, I am responsible for the passage of a state budget worth billions of dollars on an annual basis, while balancing the needs of all state agencies and keeping the government functioning.
I am also responsible for approving landmark legislation, such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, passing paid family leave, universal pre-K for all and creating a $10 million fund to defend immigrants, among others. I am also responsible for legislation that affects our daily lives. One example is my proposal to launch an educational campaign to educate pedestrians about the dangers of distracted walking.
Now after 15 years in the state legislature and after paving the way for Latinos and minorities to get a foot in the door in public office, I attend local schools and colleges and give back by talking about my experiences on what it takes to be involved. I know and understand that public office is not for everyone, but believe me, it can get pretty exciting once the political bug bites you.
The most ironic part of it all is that my life has come full circle because now as I walk down the streets with my own son, sometimes it takes me several minutes, sometimes half an hour, to walk from one end of the block to another. Now it is my son who says, “Wow, Dad, everyone knows you.” Now I tell him what I was taught, that one should always try to help people who are looking for assistance. No matter what field of work my son chooses, at least he can understand that the goal is always about making a difference in people’s lives. It will cement your own purpose. If you can make today a bit better for someone than what it was yesterday, you have improved the quality of life of that person, making this world a better place. As I continue to pass that along, I hope that it becomes contagious, and everyone will have their own New York story.
Jose Peralta has been a State Senator since 2010. He represents the 13th Senatorial District, which covers Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst, and parts of Astoria and Woodside. For more information on Jose Peralta, visit nysenate.gov/senators/jose-peralta.