Her Juvenile Parole Officer Gave Her The Second Chance She Needed, And She Went On To Become The First Latina Legislator For Nevada
Lucy Flores likes to call herself an accidental politician. Why? Flores says that, statistically speaking, her troubled past and run-ins with the law mean that she was never supposed to become a politician. Yet despite that, she used her time as a troubled youth to drive her life through law school and, eventually, into the political spotlight. Since her first election, she has worked tirelessly to keep helping her community and other disenfranchised communities around the country. Lucy Flores currently works at mitú as the vice president of public affairs.
“It really was a series of fortune and good luck and a lot of hard work,” Lucy Flores told mitú about her path to becoming a politician.
Flores opened up to mitú about the experiences that led her to career in politics and it all started with the tragic, gang and drug-related murders of two of her brothers in east Los Angeles.
“That’s what led my dad to try and start over in Las Vegas. Heading to Vegas, we did struggle but we made do like so many low-income immigrants and families struggling in this country,” Flores told mitú. “That was primarily what inspired my run for public office. And what still inspires my work every day is that the challenges that I experienced growing up are still very much what people are experiencing, even more so now under the economic conditions that we live in.”
But it wasn’t all good fortune for Flores. She said that her family struggled a lot when she was younger. When her mother left, that’s when things started to spiral downward.
“When I was 9 that was a really hard experience for me,” Flores said about her mother leaving. “I was doing really well in school. I was in gifted and talented education and I loved learning and I loved everything about school.”
But the family dynamic was so grueling that her father was working at all hours and when she started to suffer academically, no one noticed.
“I didn’t have any support. I didn’t understand what was happening. I started doing poorly in school and not a single person intervened,” Flores recalled to mitú. “I went from this gifted and talented education student to really failing every single one of my placement exams and doing poorly in school – almost overnight, and not a single person noticed. So, I didn’t have that support structure there and I fell through the cracks like so many people do and I didn’t have a whole lot of positive role models and people to aspire to, but I did have a lot of negative ones.”
Things went from bad to worse when Flores was a teenager. Starting at 12, Flores had run-ins with the law and found herself in juvenile centers starting with statutory infractions like ditching and running away, up to grand theft auto.
“Just going through that system, it was really traumatic and partially explains why, statistically speaking, I should have ended up in that system,” Flores told mitú when recalling being strip-searched at just 12 years old. “But, eventually I ended up on juvenile parole at 15 because all of that seriousness quickly escalated and was sent away for grand theft auto and a couple of other major, more serious, crimes. When I got out I was expected to do better given the same circumstances, the same resources, the same everything because there also isn’t enough of a support structure when you are released out of the correctional facility.”
Thanks to the second chance given to her by her parole officer, Flores began to see that a positive life for herself was possible.
“I successfully got off of parole, I still ended up dropping out of high school at 17 because, again, that’s just kind of what people in my community do. Everybody in my family except for one of my brothers had dropped out of high school and then I just started working” Flores told mitú. “It was through a series of mentors and role models that came into my life over the years that I finally started to believe that I could do something different. I started to see that people were successful and going to school and doing all these things. People would tell me that I was smart and that I should study and that I could go to college. So finally at 21 I got my GED and enrolled in community college and did everything that I possibly could to make into a regular four-year college.”
Eventually, Flores made her way to law school and began to work to help her community, a common theme in Flores’ public service career.
It was during her second year in law school, after completing an externship in the Nevada capitol of Carson City and passing some wrongful conviction reform legislation, that Flores decided she would run to be the first ever Latina legislator elected in the state of Nevada, and she won.?
“In my third year of law school, I went to school full-time, I campaigned full-time, ultimately graduated, was elected, and then sat for my bar during my first legislative session. That has kind of brought me to here,” Flores told mitú. “For me, it is very critical to be very open and transparent about my story and the various challenges I have gone through and the decisions that I’ve had to make. To me, that’s always been the impatience that I’ve had around my approach to public policy. And when people call me courageous, I just call myself on a mission.”
Since serving as the first ever Latina state legislator for Nevada, Flores has also run for lieutenant governor and, most recently, to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
Flores, who was supported by Bernie Sanders, didn’t win her race but she’s not backing down from her public advocacy.
“I haven’t closed the door to elected office. I think that everything happens for a reason and I did my very best in my last election. I lost, but I’m incredibly proud of the campaign that I ran and the efforts that I made and the things that I achieved on behalf of others, like my policy accomplishments and everything that I’ve managed to do to help others,” Flores said about her political future. “While, I am temporarily doing other political work, I am on the board of [Sanders’] Our Revolution, after his primary loss. So, I’m still deeply involved with the trajectory of this new progressive country that we are trying to build and still doing strategic work around politics for major organizations, including mitú. I think that I am still able to have a voice in trying to improve the outcome of our communities.”
She might have lost, but she does have some advice for the incoming Congressional class.
“We start making progress by empathizing and understanding other people’s experiences and that’s partially the reason why our government oftentimes experiences as many problems as it does in making good public policy because we have so many of the same kind of people running our government, old white people,” Flores shared with mitú. “Even though you might be black or white or Asian or anything else, you aren’t ever going to entirely know what the experience is to be somebody else but it’s your job to try to understand.”
And Flores really wants young Latinos to get involved in politics because it’s through involvement, sustained involvement, that real change can occur.
“Their voices matters every single day in their communities,” Flores told mitú about young Latino political involvement. “When you look at laws that have been passed or policy that affects them, it’s not just being done by the president. It’s being done by state legislators, it’s being done by city councils. People need to stop thinking that just because they voted in a presidential election and the outcome didn’t turn out in their favor that that somehow means that their voice isn’t valuable or that their time spent doing that doesn’t make a difference.”
“People can get involved in the smallest of ways and it truly does make an impact.”
“It can be as simple as just informing yourself,” Flores recommends to Latinos looking to get involved. “By spending one extra hour a week instead of reading TMZ, by reading your local paper and figuring out what’s happening at your school board this week, what’s happening at your city council, what’s happening at your state legislature this week and just keep yourself informed. As you inform yourself about what’s happening in your community you start to find all of these opportunities to get involved in those issues.”
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