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Simon Salinas: California Assemblyman, son of migrant workers, cotton picker, soccer dad, role model, success story


By Alma Almanza (aalmanza@cccil.org)

"Who wants to, can"--"El que quiere, puede"

Simón Salinas was born in Slayton, Texas and is one of 12 children of migrant farm workers. His family originates from the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico where his mother attended school until the 3rd grade. His father had no formal education and originally came to the United States under the "Bracero Program" in the 1940's, living and working in Kansas. He returned to Mexico, married and years later returned with his wife and children to the United States in the 1950s, settling in Texas.

Cotton picking in Texas

At the age of 7, Simón started working in the fields picking cotton in Texas. This was the beginning of his experience as a farmworker over a 15-year period of fieldwork that included many migratory moves between the states of California and Texas, working in cotton and orange fields and whatever else was in season. Later, when Simón and his family picked up contract labor work, he picked strawberries in the central coast region of California at the age of 9.

Family's firm foundation

Simón fondly remembers the family's perseverance and cultural values instilled in him by his family throughout his growing up years. Even though his family struggled, many times the 14-member family lived in a three-bedroom apartment, he notes his family's firm foundation gave them the ability to move so frequently with little upheaval. Due to the seasonal farmwork they followed, Simón moved constantly and never fully settled for long periods of time in one place. For his parents, this pattern continued on until their retirement in 1985.

Simón finally settled permanently in the city of Watsonville, California at the age of 18, so that he could focus on his education. He graduated from Watsonville High School in 1974, and then went on to Claremont McKenna College to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Latin American Studies in 1978. In 1981, Simón earned a Bilingual Teaching Credential from San Jose State University and in 1984 graduated with a Jurisprudence Doctorate from Santa Clara Law School in California.

Father inspired him to pursue education

Simón Salinas credits his motivation in seeking a higher education to his parents, who instilled in him the motivation to succeed. He points to the example set by his father who, without any formal education, taught himself to read and write. It was this fact that encouraged Simón Salinas to take advantage of the educational opportunities his parents were never given.

After receiving his law degree, Simón put his Teaching Credential to good work as a bilingual 6th grade teacher, giving him hands-on knowledge in California's classrooms. He also expanded his academic career as a professor at Hartnell Community College, in Salinas, from 1989 through 1993.

First Mexican-American on Salinas City Council

Simón Salinas began his public service career in June 1989 when he was elected as the first Mexican-American to serve on the Salinas City Council. During his tenure with the City of Salinas, the Simón served as Mayor Pro-Tem. Simón was elected to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in 1993 and again in 1997. During his second term, he was elected Chair of the Board of Supervisors becoming the first Mexican-American to serve on the Board in more than 100 years.

Sworn into the California State Assembly on December 4, 2000, Simón Salinas represents the 28th Assembly District. This district includes parts of Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties and encompasses all of San Benito County. The 28th Assembly District is a diverse area of the State that is truly growing and changing. It is rural and heavily agricultural, but is also beginning to have strong ties to the Silicon Valley and high technology as many Silicon residents are moving to this area and commuting to their jobs.

A really active "freshman" year

Assemblyman Simón Salinas capped his first year in the Legislature by sending 11 bills to the Governor's desk, nine of which were signed into law. His legislation addressed district and statewide issues including education, agriculture, healthcare and transportation. For his work on these issues, Skills USA -VICA named him Freshman Legislator of the Year and the California Psychiatric Association named him Legislator of the Year.

Assemblyman Salinas serves as the Vice-Chair of the Local Government Committee and as a Member of the Agriculture, Education, Health and Housing and Community Development Committees. He has also been appointed as the Chair of the Select Committee on Rural Economic Development.

Soccer dad

Assemblyman Salinas has lived most of his life in the Salinas area, growing up around agribusiness. He is the proud parent of a son, and like many other parents, enjoys attending his son's soccer games on the weekends.

Remembering his roots

Perhaps one of Simón Salinas' biggest accomplishments has been his perseverance to succeed and never forgetting his roots. He never forgets his responsibilities as a public servant for his constituents, including farmworkers. He returns to his community in Salinas and is a visible and active member in the community. Simón sets an example of community involvement and activism and is a real role model for the Latinos living in this country.

Simon's philosophy: "El que quiere puede". ("Who wants to, can")