Interview with Congressman Tony Cárdenas
The first thing that struck me about Congressman Antonio Cárdenas was his passion. While he was talking to us, the strong emotion he felt towards the message he was trying to convey was apparent. He told us about how he was raised in a tough town, and I was impressed by how that influenced his choices as a congressman. Many of the people we’ve interviewed have been influenced by their childhood, but Congressman Cárdenas uses his childhood experiences to fuel his daily decisions. His determination to make sure that the people living in his district are given equal opportunities and the chance to a better life is inspiring.
Another thing Congressman Cárdenas discussed with us that was considerably unique to the other interviews was when he told us about the dedication required in public service. He had been on a red eye flight the night before in order to spend as much time with his daughter as possible before returning to DC. “Public service is very demanding; don’t expect it to be easy,” he told us as he informed us that today was his daughter’s due date. While he told us he hoped we would be inspired to become politicians, he also taught us that it wouldn’t be easy making the possibility seem more real. I felt honored that he would take the time out to talk to us with so much going on in his life.
I think Congressman Cárdenas was particularly inspiring to our group because his policies and issues are close to home. He spoke about agricultural workers and immigrants, which are highly prevalent in our area. He also mentioned that he went to college at UCLA, where our school has several alumni attending and one student (Sophia) who will be attending next year.
The thing that struck me the most was when he said, “Ignorance isn’t bad if you try to learn,” talking about how if you live your life with a single narrative, which in itself isn’t bad as long as you are willing to learn and open your mind to other possibilities. His final advice to us was to “try to learn from others,” and “don’t ever think you’re always right.”
“Welcome to your Capitol; I’m your public servant,” was the first thing Congressman Antonio Cárdenas said to us after he settled into his seat. Just from this opening sentence, the room got a sense for what he was all about. We were in the same room we had already interviewed Congressman Sam Farr with pale yellow walls decorated with painted and framed photos of acclaimed people, and dark wooden chairs placed around a lighter shaded wood table. I found myself staring at the minute chips and scratches on the thick books in the shelves and, for lack of better words, spacing out as we awaited the Congressman.
When he entered the room, Cárdenas’ clear, articulate, and fast-paced way of speaking made it easy for me to focus and become increasingly interested in what he was saying. Something that Cárdenas said that struck me was his emphasis on us, the youth of America, and our part in creating the future for ourselves and our communities. He spoke a lot about how, “people need to empower themselves”, and to, “work hard and value everything you get.”
It was lessons and values like these that I especially took away from this interview. What drove this idea deeper was his connection to his growing up in Pacoima, California. He spoke about his family and how they had influenced the values of hard work, honesty, and being humble into his growing up, and how he tries to implement these into his work as a congressman as much as he can. Just as he started, he ended the interview with advice that tied the values spoken about earlier all together. He said, “Somebody needs to step and up and make things better, and that can be you. That should be you.” His deep focus and emphasis on our power as students and young adults inspired me.
Interview with Senator Joe Manchin
Today was a very important day for me in Washington, DC. We were interviewing Senator Joe Manchin. Senator Manchin is a close friend of my grandparents and has been for many years. Arranging an interview with him has been my own project I’ve been working on for a majority of the trip. I have been on the phone all week with my grandparents, mother, and Bryer Davis, who works in Senator Manchin’s office. As soon as the senator heard that we wanted an interview he texted me and told me how much he was looking forward to meeting with us. He was so nice and gave me the number of Ms. Davis to plan a date and time. I got everything worked out with her and she texted me updates on the schedule, and I gave her Ward’s email because mine wasn’t going through.
As we walked into the building, I felt like a huge hot shot and incredibly proud of myself for doing something that will benefit all of the people that are here with me. I was a little stressed as well because it seemed that everyone expected me to know everything about what was going on. I answered questions as best as I could, even though my knowledge was limited, and I prepared myself for the interview. A bunch of my classmates had been working really hard all week researching him and trying to write questions. We were all very thrilled to be embarking on our first and only senatorial interview.
As everyone took their seats I preached to my class that they should be especially respectful (even though they are respectful to whoever we are interviewing) because we were all upholding my family name and I was not going to have any dropping of the ball. I walked out into the hallway and saw Senator Manchin walking down the hall. He exclaimed, “Isabella, you look just like your mama!” and gave me a hug. I showed him in the room and we began the interview.
In the interview he expressed little nuggets of wisdom that were told to him by his grandmother and that I often hear from my own mother. One beautiful little sentiment was, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This really stuck with me and made me think of all the sweet people I’ve met in West Virginia. He talked about how patriotic West Virginia is and how much people that live there love their state.
Our interview was quickly wrapped up as the senator was called to vote. He whisked me and three other students away under the Dirksen building onto a little train that took us to the senate. There Senator Manchin voted and we talked to a few people that work for him and help him keep his days running smoothly.
All four of us were awe struck standing in a beautiful hallway with huge swinging chandeliers, huge pillars, and gorgeous paintings. After voting was over we swooped back over to the room for a group photo and final thank you’s. I am so grateful for this experience, and it is unlike anything I expected. Thank you so much to my grandparents, my mother, and Senator Manchin for making this possible for our little group of adventurers. I will never forget this day.
We were connected with Senator Joe Manchin because Bella’s grandmother grew up with him. As the first and last Senator we would interview, I was interested in what he was going to say, especially because I wanted to learn the viewpoints of moderate democrat. He had a very subtle southern accent and distinctly angular facial features. He was a well-spoken and outspoken man in some areas.
What was most inspiring was his steadfast nature concerning his values that he had absorbed as a child. He was a man made by his environment and grew up in a blue-collar family that was well off enough to live comfortably, and his mother would cook bread to give to people for free. I think he has maintained the humble nature that he was infused with. I have the utmost respect for people who find their values and then stick to them within reason; those are the kind of people that are deserving of trust.
I was delighted to find out that he identified as a moderate democrat, but he did not constrict his decisions to that of either party. He said each vote he would look at from an angle of his values and he would vote for what he thought was right regardless of party. This is intriguing because I haven’t been exposed to people that vote in that way, and I respect that decision-making process. Even if I don’t agree with some of the things he supports fundamentally, I can understand that since those things are relevant to his constituents and he has to be a good representative of them to gain support, they are valid decisions.
After the interview, he had to immediately leave for two votes, and I was lucky enough to get to follow him through the ropes, along with Julia, Isaac, and Bella. We rushed down the elevator, and onto the underground Capitol Subway where we also met Senator Schumer. The corridor it followed was fluorescently lit with calm white walls and went from the Dirksen Senate Office Building to the Capitol. As we got off, walked past a flock of journalists and reporter, and entered the Senate side, the world transitioned from dull whitewashed walls to pure historic artistry.
We waited in the gallery for him to finish voting and talked with his three assistants. I asked them about how they got to where they are now, and we all talked about Senator Manchin and the senate in general as we admired the art all around us. The floor, the ceiling, the walls, the trim, everywhere that there could be art, there was art. The upstairs painting, Battle of Lake Erie was twenty feet long and spanned the entire wall. Gold painted lights hung elegantly down and brought out the color in the expanse of artful architecture.
As we left, Isaac and I told the Senator how much we respected him. I told him that I admired his ability to stick to his values regardless of party. We continued to talk, and eventually we came back to the conference room where we interviewed him, where the group took pictures with him and our interview came to an end.
A gracious soul, a leader, a mentor, Senator Joe Manchin welcomed us by giving us each a firm handshake and a warm smile. A man who is dedicated to public service and helping Americans, Senator Joe Manchin told us how he doesn’t look at the party lines, he looks at the issue. He doesn’t vote as a Democrat, he votes as Joe Manchin, a human being with values. I think that’s something I can work on; I shouldn’t judge people by a title or a skin color or the way they look. Instead I could be open-minded like the Senator who inspired me today.
Today Senator Joe Manchin reminded us to keep sight of what is important to us and we should base that off of our values and how we were raised. And he reminded us that being wealthy or being famous isn’t always an option, but being happy is. “If you like yourself, you’ll be happy,” he said with conviction.
I think an overarching theme I’ve heard on this journey is to be happy with who I am. From Susannah Wellford, to Kakenya Ntaiya, to the Senator today, they’ve all made the point that we are enough just the way we are. This trip has developed my confidence and has boosted my spirit because of the words shared with us from these incredible leaders, activists and politicians.
Finally, I’ll end with the quote the Senator shared with us from John F. Kennedy, “In West Virginia, the sun might not always shine but the people always do.” And Senator Joe Manchin is a shining example of that.
Senator Joe Manchin was the sole senator we were able to interview, and with that I observed that there was a strong difference from the representatives we have been interviewing for the past week and a half. Rather than focusing on the concerns of a small constituency, Senator Manchin focused on the all-encompassing concerns of West Virginia.
Coming from a blue collar family he had an agenda relying heavily on common sense. Senator Manchin brought in strong ideals of bipartisanship and even conservative viewpoints, all the while being a democrat! Although, with all of this aside, what really made this man for me was being able to follow him on a quick and eventful tangent to the senate voting floor. After the interview portion he was called for a vote, and Louis, Julia, Bella, and I were lucky enough to be chosen to accompany him and his assistants.
While on this journey we met Senator Schumer on the private senate rail car. I genuinely felt like there were so many people surrounding me, who were intelligent and competent in their field; there was much that was to be absorbed from an environment like this. This event was also such a spur of the moment one, so my peers and I were not even cleared to be on this level of the senate building. All in all, the adrenaline and pure awe that I experienced while running around with Senator Joe Manchin cannot even be put into words.