how did you get to where you are today? Martha Ayon was born and raised in Queens, the youngest daughter of Cuban immigrants who wanted a better future for their children. Her household was always filled with conversations from her parents and relatives discussing politics at social gatherings. As a product of the public school education system, becoming a first generation college graduate has always been a priority to Martha. She graduated from the City University of New York at Queens College with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Wanting to take of an more active role in the political process, Martha applied and was accepted to the New York State Senate Internship program where her political career began. Martha interned with former State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. Witnessing her member advocate and debate for her marginalized constituents, it helped shape her perspective on true public service. Martha has since dedicated her professional career to uplifting all of those who are disenfranchised. As she became more politically involved, Martha became more aware of the local issues in her borough. She decided that the best way to make a positive change in her community was to be proactive and help democrats run for office. She has worked in campaign and on get out the vote operations for New York State Comptroller, Senate, Assembly, New York City Mayoral and local city council races. She ran the Queens borough wide operation for Bill Thompson for New York City Mayor and was the campaign manager for Peter Vallone for Queens Borough President. Martha as also worked in her professional capacity in advocating for smoke free housing, raising the wage and free school lunch in NYC public schools. Currently, Martha is the President of her own firm, Azul Public Solutions. Martha’s passion has always been to educate and empower women and minority communities. Seeing the lack of representation by Latinas, Martha co- founded Latinas Organizing Latinas for Action (LOLA) with its mission to identify, train and run more Latinas for higher office. She was also served as the downstate co-chair of the New York State Young Democrats Caucus of Color whose mission is to empower more young democrats of color to pursue higher office. Who has been the most influential person in your life and why? My mother has been the most influential person in my life by far. As a working mom of two, I saw her judge raising her children and manage working over 40 hours a week. As the first Latina hired at the corporate office of American Airlines, she faced opposition from her colleagues over her accent and race. She is a constant reminder of the struggles Latinas had over breaking into the corporate world. How did you decide on your college major OR the career you have chosen? and how do you see your choice as an opportunity to help your community? My college major pushed me in the direction of government service but it was my personal choice to become more aware and involved in my local community. I saw the lack of people of color and women in elected office and decided that I wanted to see more of us elected. I believe that the more diversity in office allows for more voices and perspectives during debates which allow our people to be properly represented. Progressive issues such as raising the wage can be lost when our people are not at the table to relate more to the worker than the owners. What is your Latino / Hispanic Heritage? Cuban Best memory of growing up. Waking up on a Saturday morning to my mother cooking breakfast and blasting old school salsa music. Best memory of a day at school or work. The smile on the faces of constituents when an issue has been resolved that they felt was impossible. Best day ever. Making the decision to start my own business and work for myself. Where did you go to College and what was your focus/major OR what College are you attending and what is your major? B.A. Political Science, CUNY Queens College Best book you ever read. Island beneath the sea- Isabel Allende Favorite quote? "Men say I am a saint losing myself in politics. The fact is I am a politician trying my hardest to be a saint." ---Gandhi Favorite sports team. New York Yankees Favorite song. La Negra Tiene Bumbao- Celia Cruz Message you would share with all young Latinos reading your story. Whatever you decide in your career, make sure that you know what you want to achieve and what you will not compromise. Many of us are told what to study or career to pursue, but we are not told enough to keep our integrity at all times. Young Latinos should know that we are the wildest dreams of our ancestors and we should honor their sacrifices by uplifting our communites when we can.
Nelson O. Melgar Martinez Constituent Liaison Office of NYS Assemblyman Charles Lavine
How did you get to where you are today? Nelson Melgar was born in Marcala, La Paz, Honduras. At the age of 4, he started working with his parents on coffee farms to provide for the family. When he was 7 his mother left for the United States and, subsequently, his father lost their home, forcing them to eventually emigrate to the U.S to escape poverty. Nelson arrived undernourished and under educated in 2004 at the age of 13. His mother's support galvanized him to persevere. He completed the four years’ worth of English as a Second Language (ESL) in ninth grade, excelled in honors classes by tenth grade, and attended advanced placement classes by eleventh grade. Soon thereafter he learned he was ineligible for financial aid to attend college. Feeling discouraged he abandoned his drive for education and consequently did poorly in twelfth grade. Nelson finally enrolled in Nassau Community College (NCC), but it took him twice as long to obtain an associate's degree. In order to complete his college education on time and pay for his bachelor's degree, he began working 20 hours a day, 6 days a week, to make enough money to pay for full time semesters. He then enrolled at CUNY Hunter College, where he studied Political Science and International Relations. In 2012, President Obama created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and with this relief Nelson was finally able to gain access to better employment and educational opportunities. While pursuing his bachelor's degree, Nelson joined the Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates (LIISA), and began rallying and lobbying State Senators to pass the NY State Dream Act. Since then, he has given multiple television, newspaper and radio interviews; has been personally invited to be a panelist at prestigious and well recognized Universities and Conferences; and also has been recognized as a Role model for Latino Youth for his motivational speeches to young undocumented high school students throughout Long Island who are currently facing obstacles like the ones he faced. His activism and courage to share his story impressed many across Long Island, such as his own state representative and now boss, Assemblyman Charles Lavine. Today, Nelson brings the needs of the Latino immigrant communities to the attention of the Assemblyman as well as through various immigrant rights coalitions that he attends personally. Nelson's work has pushed him to strengthen and unite his community, by co-founding and leading the North Shore Hispanic Civic Association as its founding President. Who has been the most influential person in your life and why? I would do a disservice to the many people who have influenced my life in such a way as to dramatically alter it. What I will say is this: at every turn I have met someone who saved me from myself, my past, despair, ignorance and hopelessness, and instead inspired and guided me to persevere and supersede my own expectations of what I can accomplish. How did you decide on your college major OR the career you have chosen? and how do you see your choice as an opportunity to help your community? The only reason I chose to study Political Science is because I realized I owed my community that much. I originally wanted to study Physics, but life experiences and witnessing my family and friends being treated poorly by the powers that be compelled me to abandon my scientific aspirations and instead prepare myself to service my community. And that's what I do. What is your Latino / Hispanic Heritage? Honduran Best memory of growing up. A much needed speech from a teacher who's class I was failing. Best memory of a day at school or work. I once brought the Latino leaders of my bosses' Assembly district to his office for a general meeting. It occurred to me to invite my mother. When she entered the room no one knew who she was; however, when I introduced her as my mother, the room went silent, and it became clear to them all that they were there that day because of her. Best day ever. None. All days have something to offer. I believe in finding value in any circumstance, and thus I can't say I have ever had a best day ever. Where did you go to College and what was your focus/major OR what College are you attending and what is your major? CUNY Hunter College/Political Science Best book you ever read. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl Favorite quote? "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." - Viktor Frankl Favorite sports team. New York City FC Favorite song. Latinoamerica by Calle 13 Message you would share with all young Latinos reading your story. There will be many who would like to see you fail. Your paramount responsibility is to succeed despite the odds. You owe it to yourself and to your family to defeat the odds and persevere. Lastly, look for opportunity in the good and the bad.
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