How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Labor Secretary Solis was once 'on be a secretary'

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United States Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced Wednesday that she plans to resign from the Obama Cabinet. She led the federal Department of Labor during some of the bleakest years in the nation's recent economic history.

Many media outlets have mentioned that Solis was the first Latina to lead a federal agency, and that immigrant parents reared her in La Puente, near Los Angeles. Her father, a Teamster organizer, was born in Mexico; her mother came from Nicaragua.

Like many second-generation children of Latin American immigrants, Solis was the first in her family to attend college. She credited people in her orbit for her success during a recent Q&A with the Washington Post:

I know, in fact, that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing or working where I am now had it not been for someone very early in my life who challenged me. This was a high school counselor who was our career counselor there asked me, Mr. Sanchez, [he said] “Hilda, you’re going to prepare yourself for college. You’re going to get ready to go to college.”

And I looked at him and I thought, 'how could you say that? I don’t have the means to go there. I come from a blue-collar family. My parents don’t have money to send me to school.' I wasn’t on the right track. In fact, I was on the other track - to be a secretary.

Another counselor actually told me that I was not college material and that I should lower my sights and stay a secretary. Thirty years later, I can say my title is Secretary of Labor.

Solis began her political career in the mid-1980s on the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees. She joined the state Assembly in 1992 and the state Senate in 1994. A Washington Post story Wednesday reported speculation that she might run for office again in California, perhaps for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

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