I called Mr. Shirakawa as he suggested and found myself in his office a couple of days later. He quickly secured a job interview for me as a legislative assistant to legendary Latina councilwoman Blanca Alvarado. I had met her at the convention center just the week before. As the longtime city council representative who represented east San Jose, she was a household name at my parents’ kitchen table, so it was a surreal experience sitting in her office a few weeks later for the interview. The interview went well, so I was hopeful as I left the meeting.
By mid-summer, more than two months after graduation day, I hadn’t heard back from the her office so I applied for jobs at the City of Santa Clara, the high school district, and an assemblyman’s office. No job offers resulted, and the familiar feelings of doubt and uncertainty about my abilities began to creep in. That fall, after two more months of anxious job hunting, the councilwoman, who had recently been named vice mayor of San Jose, offered, and I accepted, a three-quarter time position.
The next three and a half years were an exciting time for me. After several months, I earned a full-time position as a legislative aide working on community development and controversial public art projects. In this capacity, I had the opportunity to learn about the public policymaking process, and the rough and tumble world of local politics. I worked tirelessly, never turning down an assignment or a night out at a political event.
I had quickly become one of the vice mayor’s most reliable lieutenants. When her tenure ended due to term limits, she asked me to manage her campaign for the county board of supervisors. I was flattered, excited, and apprehensive as I had never even worked on a campaign, much less managed one. It was a hard fought campaign, complete with mudslinging from both sides and eighteen hour days, that wasn’t decided until the early hours of the morning after Election Day.
I had taken myself to the limits physically, emotionally, and mentally juggling the responsibilities of managing the candidate, the press, campaign donors, advisers, and volunteers. After the early morning victory had been secured, I spent the next thirteen months in her office as a senior policy aide on the county board of supervisors. Within months of assuming my new position, I was itching to do more as the failure demons began sneaking back into my consciousness.
I was thirty-two years old working as an aide to a local politician. In my impatient mind, it wasn’t good enough to erase all of the years I lost in my personal wilderness. The summer after Election Day, the supervisor sent me to Los Angeles to represent her at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual conference where I attended workshops on campaign management, and media relations, and heard the mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of California, and United States senators speak on a national stage at luncheons and dinners attended by thousands of politicians, community leaders, and education leaders.
I was fascinated and intoxicated by the power and influence that permeated throughout the convention hall so much so, that on the flight home, I had decided that I would pursue a career in politics. I was certain that the prestige of being a successful public servant would cast away my demons for good. That fall, I ran for a seat on the neighborhood school board, and despite running a solid campaign, I lost to a couple of longtime incumbents by a few percentage points.
When I returned to my full-time duties working for the supervisor, I continued doing my job as my impatience to become successful began to rise and my confidence sank. As I contemplated my future, I faced struggles in my personal life. Early in 1995, my mom suffered a major heart attack that required bypass surgery and my dad died of stroke at the age of sixty-nine later that fall after a series of heart attacks and strokes that began in his fifties. Those two events had a profound effect on me.
My mom was the glue that kept everything together, so to see her in a vulnerable state heightened my sense of uncertainty. My dad provided the philosophical and practical foundation of my life, so a deep emptiness and an uneasiness of what the future would hold became part of my being. During this time, I began to pay attention to my own health and mortality, and developed an intense urgency to erase the disappointments of the past and achieve success before the fate of genetics cut my life short as well. I started to eat better and exercise on a regular basis, but I also began a pattern of working to near exhaustion.