Ricky Hurtado can claim many firsts in his life: first-generation college student at UNC, first-generation graduate student at Princeton University — and now, the first Latinx Democrat to ever be elected to the North Carolina General Assembly.
“More than anything, I've been humbled by this moment,” Hurtado said. “We've done something that no Latino Democrat has ever done in North Carolina, and with someone that is truly from the community, a huge hurdle, a huge glass ceiling has finally been broken.”
An adjunct instructor of education at UNC, the co-founder of LatinxEd and now a state representative, Hurtado made history this November when he defeated incumbent Republican Stephen M. Ross for District 63 of the N.C. House of Representatives.
With a combination of early fundraising, a determined phone banking effort and support from various community organizations, like the Triangle-area volunteer group Neighbors on Call and Orange County Democratic Party, Hurtado won the race by just 477 votes.
Elaine Berry, one of Hurtado’s two campaign managers, said representatives are meant to represent — to serve and to listen to the people about what their needs are, and to try to meet those needs.
“We felt that wasn't being done in Alamance County, or frankly in the state of North Carolina,” Berry said.
While their team was making phone calls and socially distanced voter visits, Berry said she had heard nothing about other legislators attempting outreach in the community.
“We wanted to be able to look ourselves in the face the day after the election and say win, lose or draw that we did everything we could, and there was nothing we didn't leave on the table,” Berry said.
As a resident of Alamance County, Hurtado works with various local programs, such as CityGate Dream Center, a community hub that serves diverse children and families in Alamance County. These programs are similar to one where he worked as an undergraduate at UNC in 2009, where he also met LatinxEd co-founder and fellow adjunct instructor Elaine Townsend Utin.
Utin explained that LatinxEd, founded in 2018, was designed to break down barriers to success for first-generation college students in North Carolina. Both Utin and Hurtado come from Latinx immigrant households in the South. In drawing on their own experiences, they aim to expand opportunities for students with similar backgrounds.
“We're also first-generation college students who struggled to find our way past barriers and hurdles, like lack of Latinx representation in school systems in particular, but we really pushed past this to attain our own educational success,” Utin said.
Hurtado said LatinxEd is a manifestation of his passion for education. His struggles as the son of two immigrants from El Salvador, unable to attend college because they fled a civil war, can be seen in the stories of Latinx students across North Carolina.
“Our work is very much about recognizing the gaps in our public education system when it comes to multicultural and racially equitable approaches to dealing with a diverse student population,” Hurtado said.
After taking office in January, he plans to address his priority issues of public education reform, Medicaid expansion, environmental protection and economic restructuring.
Hurtado said he seeks to emphasize the connection between economic prosperity and environmental quality in North Carolina. Both Hurtado and Utin said having the ability to communicate across the aisle to Republicans about key issues, such as climate change, will be a focus during Hurtado’s term.
Berry said thinking of the skills Hurtado could bring to the state legislature reminded her of politician Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress, and her quote: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
“I’m hoping Ricky is going to bring his chair,” Berry said.
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