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Photo: EMILY'S List Twitter
Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Judge Lina Hidalgo. Photo: EMILY's List Twitter

Two Latinas in the running for EMILY’s List’s 2021 Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award

Judge Lina Hidalgo and New York Assemblymember Catalina Cruz are blazing their own paths for others to follow in the political sphere.

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Two prominent and accomplished Latina politicians are among the nominees for EMILY’s List for their 2021 Gabby Giffords Rising Star Award, a prestigious award that celebrates extraordinary women serving in state or local office.

They are New York State Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and Judge Lina Hidalgo, a county judge for Harris County, Texas.

Some past winners of the award are Stacey Abrams, Helen Gym, Ayanna Pressley and Kim Foxx.

EMILY’S List is an organization that helps elect Democratic pro-choice women to office.

Their vision is a government that “reflects the people it serves,” and seeks to promote the campaigns of open-minded women candidates.

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said that the organization is about more than just funding elections for women. The focus is placing these Democratic pro-choice candidates in office to bring balance to the face of the government, and “make decisions that really improve societies across the country.”

The Rising Star Awards are named in honor of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has dedicated her entire career to fighting for more gun control, challenging injustice and changing policies.

Giffords went from running a family business to becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate. Early in her career in Congress, Giffords experienced a trauma that radically changed the course of her personal and professional life.

On Jan. 8, 2011, at a “Congress On Your Corner,” event in Tucson, Arizona, Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman who killed six people and injured 12 others. She stepped down from Congress the following year to focus on her recovery.

After regaining her ability to walk and speak, she sprung back into action, founding the nonprofit organization known as Giffords, that has become a leader in the national gun safety movement. The former congresswoman has worked hard to pass lifesaving legislation in states across the country and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The six nominees for this year’s Gabby Giffords Rising Star Award are Park Cannon, Catalina Cruz, Lina Hidalgo, Debra Lekanoff, Tram Nguyen and Jennifer O'Mara.

All of the nominees have had exceptional lives and careers, bravely taking leadership roles in the fight for climate justice, accessible healthcare, reproductive rights, immigrant rights, gun reform and supporting labor unions.

Born in Colombia and raised in Queens, Cruz came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant and went on to become the first DREAMer elected to the New York State Assembly.

Cruz is an experienced attorney and a leader for tenant protections, immigration reform and workers’ rights. Before joining the 39th District Assembly, Cruz served as the Chief of Staff to the NYC Council Finance Chair, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.

In this role, Cruz assisted in passing important legislation that protects workers, women and small-business owners. Before that, she was the Director of the Governor’s Exploited Workers Task Force, helping New York become a national leader in the battle against human trafficking and worker exploitation.

Cruz also has experience representing low-income, rent-stabilized tenants in New York City housing court as a staff attorney.  Through this position, she was able to ensure that her clients received the full protection of the law under their leases.

Most recently, Assemblywoman Cruz launched a series of civic engagement and educational town hall meetings. The “Community for All” initiative includes monthly webinars intended to help constituents understand the function of government and encourage new American citizens to become civically engaged.

“New Yorkers must understand that their voice is imperative to their communities, and not just on Election Day. Non-citizens and youth under the age of 18 are also influential in holding their leaders accountable. They can garnish momentum on the critical issues they face,” Cruz said.

The Assemblywoman also announced a series of virtual forums aimed at understanding and improving the effectiveness of the programs and resources available to welcome new Americans to the city.

“As we bear witness to an increase in xenophobia and hate crimes across the country. Our government has to do more to ensure new Americans feel welcome in our communities,” Cruz said.

Hidalgo, also born in Colombia, was forced to flee the country as a child, in an escape from widespread gang violence. Her parents left their home with two main goals: to make sure their daughter had a proper education and a safer place to live.

After living in Peru and Mexico for some time, her family arrived in the states in 2005, when she was a teenager. She became the first member of her family to attend college, earning a degree in political science from Stanford University, becoming a citizen within the same year. 

Now, Hidalgo serves as Harris County Judge, the chief executive of the largest county in Texas. She is the first woman and Latina to hold this position and only the second woman to be elected to Harris County’s Commissioners Court.

Before running for office, Hidalgo dedicated much of her time to the Texas Civil Rights Project serving as a Spanish-English medical interpreter and supporting immigrants in search of lost loved ones.

Judge Hidalgo is committed to proactive and creative leadership on issues like transportation, criminal justice reform, education and flood control. She believes strongly in ensuring that Harris County’s government is transparent, accessible for all and accountable to every resident.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hidalgo listened intently to the health experts and scientists and provided the best policies for her community that saved lives and prevented the spread of the virus. Despite significant opposition from the largely Republican base in Harris County, she called for closures and mask mandates early on in the pandemic.

For her brave work in this arena, Judge Hidalgo has been honored as one of this year’s winners of the John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards.

The awards were created to honor Americans under 40 who are changing communities and the country with their commitment to public service. President Kennedy's grandson, Jack Schlossberg, announced this year’s recipients of the award.

Schlossberg said Hidalgo was a bold leader throughout the pandemic by "implementing important health measures before they were popular, or even acceptable."

Voting for the Rising Star Award is still ongoing, and it will most likely be a tight race with such remarkable women as nominees. 

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