This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Alfonso Lopez '92, second from right, meets with constituents in Virginia's 49th district. Photo courtesy Alfonso Lopez.

The Representative

Later this month, Alfonso Lopez ’92 will make history when he becomes the first Latino/a Democrat—and just the second Latino of any political affiliation—to serve as a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly. “It’s a humbling honor,” he says.

Virginia’s GA is often hailed as the “oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.” It dates back to 1619, an almost 400-year legacy. Its past members include Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Despite such longevity, no Latino/a has served at the state level of government. Yet Latinos today account for eight percent of the state’s population and make up its fastest growing minority group.

Lopez has a proud Latino heritage. His father—one of 22 brothers and sisters—came to the United States from a village in the mountains of Venezuela at age 19 with less than $300 in his pocket. He worked as a bus boy and waiter, learned English, and started school. He graduated from North Virginia Community College in 1975, five years after Lopez was born. Then he took one class per semester every year until he graduated from George Mason University, months before Lopez started his freshman year at Vassar. It was the classic American dream: an immigrant pulled up by his own bootstraps through hard work and dedication.

Meanwhile, Lopez’s mother worked as a teacher and guidance counselor in Arlington, Virginia’s public schools, helping immigrant children continue their education beyond high school.

His parents’ stories heavily influenced Lopez. He was an American Culture major at Vassar (with concentrations in history and political science) before earning his J.D. from Tulane University. As a politician, civil rights and education have figured prominently on his platform, as have the environment, jobs and small businesses, and transportation and transit, topics of importance to northern Virginians.

Lopez is no stranger to life as a public official. He has 20 years of experience, which includes serving as an adviser to former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, working on environmental justice issues in the Clinton White House, and serving as the assistant administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in the Obama administration.

Now, Lopez has metaphorically and literally returned home. As the delegate for the 49th district, he will represent Arlington, his hometown, and neighboring communities in southern Arlington and eastern Fairfax counties. It is the most diverse district in Virginia, thanks in part to its proximity to Washington, DC. 

As he looks to the legislative session ahead, Lopez has plenty of work to do. He hopes to pass Virginia’s version of the DREAM Act, designed to ensure educational opportunities for the children of undocumented immigrants. He also will focus his energies on affordable housing incentives, improving transportation and transit options, incentives for renewable and energy efficient technologies, better support for microenterprise and small businesses, the Green Public Buildings Act, and legislation enabling low income legal immigrants access to Medicaid and FAMIS (Virginia’s Family Access to Medical Insurance Security), especially for children and pregnant women.

Lopez remains keenly aware that he serves a second unofficial constituency: the state’s 640,000 residents of Latino/a heritage.

“I’m incredibly proud,” Lopez says of his heritage. “My father was able to change the lives of my entire family in Latin America. I hope to live by his example. He never hesitates to remind me that in the U.S. it is possible for the son of an immigrant to have the opportunity to work for a governor of Virginia, or as a presidential political appointee, or to be elected to the General Assembly. And more importantly, he taught me that if you have the opportunity, you should always give back to your community.”

– Peter Bronski

January 2012

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