She’s Running: Sandra Sepulveda Could Be The First Latina On The Nashville Metro Council
She’s Running is a FIERCE series highlighting Latinas running for office in local, state and federal elections.
Growing up, Sandra Sepulveda wasn’t dreaming about becoming the first woman president or introducing legislation as a state lawmaker. When she studied political science in college, she wasn’t visualizing herself campaigning for elected office. But this year, looking around her community and seeing how much it had been ignored, she did the previously-unimaginable: put her hat in the ring for Nashville Metro Council.
“I’ve been here for 20 years. I’m invested in this community. I’m running because of my neighbors. They’re my people,” the 25-year-old first-time candidate told FIERCE.
Born in Riverside, Calif. and raised in Nashville, Sepulveda spent most of her life in the district she wants to represent. She studied at its public schools, shopped at its supermarkets and dined at its mom-and-pop establishments. She also spent days without running water or light, didn’t have access to a local library and saw the struggle it was to get around without a reliable vehicle.
As a majority-minority district, the Mexican-American contender’s side of Nashville isn’t what’s portrayed in popular media. Here, there are no parks, no libraries and no community centers, despite its low-income residents needing these services and resources.
This is why she’s running.
We chatted with Sepulveda about making the difficult decision to run for office, what she hopes to do for her district, what serving her community would mean for her, the need for young voices and fresh ideas in politics and much more.
FIERCE: Why did you decide to run for Nashville Metro Council?
Sandra Sepulveda: I never thought I was going to run for office. That was never in my plan. But I started looking at my community, and I felt like we have been ignored for so long. My part of Nashville is a very diverse district; it’s a majority-minority district, and if you look at other parts of the city, they have more resources than we do. We are the only one that doesn’t have a community center, library or park. There also aren’t many sidewalks. There are a lot of people that live below the poverty line. I couldn’t sit back. I wanted someone who understood where the district was and who the people are, someone who could really represent them. That’s something that is important to me. I’ve been here for 20 years. I’m invested in this community. I’m running because of my neighbors. They’re my people.
FIERCE: I know that your priorities are tackling infrastructure, transit, public safety and education. Why are these issues currently crucial to your district?
Sandra Sepulveda: Like I said, a lot of people in my district live below the poverty line and rely on public transportation. I’ve been knocking on doors, and I’ve learned that people can’t get to stops safely because there are no sidewalks. They run the possibility of getting run over while walking to bus stops. That being said, we don’t have that many bus stops or bus shelters here. People who do use public transportation have to walk on the edge of the road to get there and don’t even have a bus shelter if it’s raining. We need simple things like this: sidewalks, bus shelters, more bus routes. It doesn’t even have to be that hard. A little could change a lot for us here.
FIERCE: During a talk you gave at a recent event, you said “there’s a voice in District 30 that has been ignored for far too long” and that you want to “amplify this voice.” How do you intend on doing this on metro council?
Sandra Sepulveda: What that would mean is I would have more town hall meetings to hear what the people want and need at this point. I would require a lot of input on them. Our district needs different things than others, so I would sit down with them regularly, just as I have been now that I’m running. I’ve been giving out my cell phone number in case people have questions or concerns. It’s putting the community first.
FIERCE: In that same talk, you said that District 30 is the only one in Nashville that doesn’t have a community center, library or public park. That’s astounding. What does a community lose when it does not have these local services?
Sandra Sepulveda: It’s something that boggles my mind. Kids are coming back from school and they don’t have access to the Internet, so they have to drive to a library in another district to do research on a computer for homework. Parents have to do the same to apply for jobs. We need a community center, where the community can meet, for kids to have a safe place to play. We don’t have a park. A lot of the kids are riding bikes on the street, because there’s no sidewalk. They risk something dangerous happening to them just for wanting to play. Some are lucky and have backyards, but not all do. What about the kids who live in apartments? We need these resources.
FIERCE: As a working-class woman, Latina and young person, what do you think these identities, and the perspectives and experiences that come with them, can bring to Nashville Metro Council that is new or needed?
Sandra Sepulveda: I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, that’s a fact. Sometimes, I’d come home and the water or light would be shut off because my family couldn’t pay it on time. A lot of people in Nashville are struggling, hardworking people. I know what that’s like. I know where they’re coming from. I would be able to represent them. With the cost of living going way up in Nashville, some people are getting left behind, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen. As a Latina, I’d also be the first Hispanic woman elected to the metro council. There’s a man, but I’d be the first woman. Our community is growing so quickly here in Nashville. We are opening so many businesses and becoming such a big part of Nashville. I think it would be great to have more people that could represent them, and I want to be able to do that.
FIERCE: Of course, you are much more than your identities. You are the operations director for the Tennessee Democratic Party and studied history and political science in college. How do you think these experiences and the skills you’ve gained through them prepared you for this office?
Sandra Sepulveda: Back in college, I interned for two political campaigns. I know what the field work of it looks like, how to run a campaign. In my last semester of college, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life when someone from that internship, from that campaign, called me and asked if I wanted to work at the party after I graduated. I immediately jumped on it. I’ve been here for almost four years. I’ve done a lot of the day to day making sure the office is running smoothly. Now, I’m also doing the fundraising work. I look at the budget and work with the executive director. I look at fundraising goals and plan actions for income. I’m not completely new to many of these things. I might be 25, but I’ve been doing this for a couple years. Also, we have to make sure we are training the next leaders, to include them. I hope that people wouldn’t be counting me out because of my age. There’s a willingness to learn and listen from young people.
FIERCE: It’s often said that the biggest and most effective change is done locally. What are you prepared to do or work on locally to combat the policy and rhetoric coming out of the White House?
Sandra Sepulveda: A lot of what I’d be doing on the council is more local, but there is one thing the current federal government is doing that affects the people of Nashville that I could help. The Trump administration’s voucher plan would hurt us. Our public schools aren’t getting the funding they deserve. I went to metro public school here from kindergarten to high school. I remember a time where multiple classrooms shared one book. We didn’t have funding. It’s stuff like that that I want to make sure someone is paying attention to. I lived that firsthand and know what it’s like to not have many resources for you in public schools. Teachers work so hard, and they need to be compensated the way they deserve. I feel many metro public employees are not getting the attention they need and deserve. So that’s one thing that would affect us on a local level being pushed at the federal level.
FIERCE: You’ve lived in District 30 in Southeast Nashville for 20 years. You were raised here, went to public school here, worked here. What would it mean to you to represent the city and people who helped make Sandra Sepulveda?
Sandra Sepulveda: Oh man! It means a lot to me. I grew up here, and it would mean so much to give back to the community that made me the person I am. I want to make sure I do right by them. I know a lot of people say what you want to hear. That’s not me. I want to make sure I put them before anything else. This is not about me. At the end of the day, it’s about them and that they’re taken care of. Come August 1, my mom, who is an immigrant and came here when she was 14 years old, is going to walk into the voting booth and see my name, our last name. That’s something I never thought of, something she never thought would happen. So I want to make sure I do right by her and the people of District 30. It’s big, really big, and I’m trying not to cry right now.
FIERCE: Wow, yeah, I feel that! As a first-time candidate, I think you can offer a lot to young Latinas who aspire to run for office. Do you have a message for Latinas with political dreams but perhaps see those as unfeasible?
Sandra Sepulveda: Get involved, get involved right now. We need so much help in politics. We need volunteers, people who know the issues and are passionate about the issues. We need all the hands we can get right now. If there are any young people that look at me and see themselves, the best thing to do is get involved. Start right now. Don’t wait. You can’t wait.