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Stephanie Valencia

Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of Commerce

This fall, it will have been 12 years since I participated in the Casa de la Solidaridad. And from when I stepped out of El Salvador to today, through the adventure I have called my life since, I don’t think I can say there has not been a day that I have not felt how El Salvador changed me and gave me a perspective on life that has shaped me forever.

The semester I left El Salvador, I studied abroad in Mexico City at one of the wealthiest universities in the country. At the moment, it was hard to swallow - going from living in solidarity the poor to classes with the wealthiest in Mexico - but looking back, what it did afford me was a real life experience of the wealth and inequality in Latin America. I had truly lived at both ends of the spectrum. That was my organizing moment    – what helped me to decide that it was up to me to help “be the change.” Perspective.

After having spent 4 years studying international studies at BC, semesters in El Salvador and Mexico City and trips to Nicaragua I was certain I was going to go into working in international affairs focused on Latin America. Then when I left Boston College, I found my calling....I realized that as a Latina in the United States, an identity I hadn't truly discovered until I went to Boston College and lived in Latin America, I had something to contribute to our country and our community though the political system and that was a way for me to continue to serve our community. The Latino community was a sleeping giant and realized I wanted to work toward helping to realize our own political power, so I moved to Washington, DC. I spent several years working on Capitol Hill and then eventually to the White House to work for President Obama - working on issues from immigration reform to health reform to income inequality and college affordability.

I have had the privilege to be at the decision making table with some of our country's most important leaders - from Members of Congress to Cabinet Secretary's to national business and community leaders to the President of the United States. And yes, as a 5'0 Latina, it can sometimes be intimidating. But I have to remind myself that I am there because I bring a set of experiences and perspective that is important for me to share.

The issues I have worked on are hard and complicated and none have been easy to advance, some of which will continue to be challenges we will work on for many years, maybe even decades - but they are all issues that in my mind, helped us to make the world more just, to make the playing field more even, so that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to succeed. Ideals that I think Archbishop Romero would have fundamentally agreed with. There have been many times when we have hit bumps in the road - like a 2010 failed vote for passage of the Dream Act to where we are with the broken immigration system today - that I have had to channel Archbishop Romero's encouragement to take the long view. These movements of social justice and social change don't happen overnight.

What I have learned over time – from my days in El Salvador to where I sit today is it is It's all about perspective. Whether you are in the class room, the board room, or the Situation Room of the White House, it’s all about the past experiences and perspective you bring to the table. I am grateful to the Casa program and the Salvadoran people that I grew to know and love to have given me perspective - perspective of a world beyond my comfort zone one that has helped me to see a bigger picture and bigger world in various places where I have been able to step up to be a leader. It has a lit a fire inside my heart that has stayed burning bright over the last 12 years and hopefully will for many more.

To close with a quote from another martyr, Martin Luther King, Jr. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” It is our role to take that long view and know our role in this, that we plant the seeds to be sown one day and we all do our part to bend the arc a bit more toward justice.

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