Alumnae/i Feature

Bianca Valerio '13 Becomes First Hispanic Woman Elected to Pasadena City Council

Bianca Valerio with City of Pasadena monument

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to serve and represent my community. By majority vote, it means that the voters here respect and want to display inclusivity and diversity. It means that families, including mine, are reconsidering what their daughters are capable of.

Why did you choose to pursue degrees in studio arts, philosophy, and business?

Bianca Valerio, graduate of art degree, philosophy degree and business degree program

Those were areas of study that delved progression, both culturally and politically. Philosophical class discussions intrigued me, and I questioned and collected evidence for my own beliefs. I dove into the studies to take a deeper look at society and human influence. Art allowed me an avenue to work through and express those questions.

Thankfully, I was encouraged by the Simmons Art Department to take my artistic abilities seriously, and I spent many hours working in the studios after classes. Painting in those studios is where I feel that I finally accepted myself as a working artist. I also heeded my stepfather’s advice that a set of business skills would undeniably benefit me.

Why did you choose to attend Simmons?

It’s a funny story, and I was pleasantly surprised that former president Helen Drinan remembered this when I spoke to her last, at the Class of 2013’s 5-year reunion. When I was nine years old, I became a Celtics fan, and in 2009 I took a spontaneous trip to watch the Rockets challenge the Celtics at TD Garden. It was a midweek game, and I needed to tour a college to excuse my high school absence.

While in a taxi in Boston, I searched online for a college offering a bachelor’s in philosophy and chose to tour Simmons without any previous knowledge of the University. I knew before I left campus that I wanted everything Simmons had to offer. I realized Simmons was giving women a fighting shot at success and acknowledged the difficulties women experience in life and the work field. I didn’t get that same feeling from any other school that I had toured. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have received financial aid, which made attending Simmons possible for me.

Simmons was giving women a fighting shot at success and acknowledged the difficulties women experience in life and the work field.

What inspired you to run for Pasadena City Council?

Pasadena is the 2nd largest city in the 3rd most populous county in the United States. It's an industry leader in petrochemicals, and the population has steadily increased at an annual rate of about 1% since I was born in 1990. Witnessing firsthand some of the challenges this city experienced as I grew up fueled my ambitions to join those who work hard to increase the quality of life for residents and families living in Pasadena.

After studying in Boston and working in several other states, a yard sign advertising a Civic Club meeting caught my attention when I returned to Pasadena. I began regularly attending and met many local elected officials there. I gradually became more familiar with local government and political campaigns. When the seat I currently hold opened up, I was encouraged to run. I was also inspired by the successful installation of a water fountain at the local park that I requested from the previous council member. Being a part of community improvements feels great, and I’m enthusiastic about advocating for the ideas and concerns I hear from other people throughout District B.

Bianca Valerio at her campaign party

How did you navigate the election process?

It was a learning experience, and I had to trust my campaign team to polish and market my story. We strategically sent out several mail pieces to registered voters. I wrote most of the content of the marketing materials, and I asked consultants to edit them. My manager created a budget and a field plan. Some voters were using Facebook to do their political research, so we created a candidate Facebook page, and I still keep it active and up to date.

I personally knocked on every door that had a history of municipal voters twice, delivering two different door hangers with voting locations and times. We purchased 250 yard signs with union bugs (union labels), and I asked constituents to show their support for my campaign by displaying the sign in their yard. We also installed ten large signs with union bugs and my picture on it, displayed at various businesses within my district.

In my efforts to get out the vote, I hired local food vendors to provide free barbeque and tacos to anyone who came out to vote, regardless of who they voted for. During the run-off, I focused a little more attention on mail-in ballots. To resonate with voters, who were mostly seniors, I potted hundreds of succulents and presented that along with my campaign literature. I believe this caught people by surprise, put a smile on their faces, and ultimately opened up a conversation. Everything I did to encourage the community to vote was made possible by the financial support we garnered from many minority-owned businesses, constituent donations, and political PACs who were eager to support an upcoming candidate with grassroots.

What does it mean to you to be the first Hispanic woman in this position?

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to serve and represent my community. By majority vote, it means that the voters here respect and want to display inclusivity and diversity. It means that families, including mine, are reconsidering what their daughters are capable of. I hope that it would mean that underrepresented people will get curious about local politics and how it directly affects us. Hispanics make up the majority population of this city, but not the majority of the votes cast. Those numbers are truly disappointing, so I hope this change in Pasadena will encourage more Latino voters to turnout.

How has Simmons prepared you to take on this new role?

Professors at Simmons dispelled misconceptions about women and helped me understand the roots and origins of these ideas. I began to release the emotional pain of oppression and take on a proactive role in my betterment. The University also prepared me to avoid self-sabotaging mistakes commonly made with the best of intentions by women in the workplace.

How would you say your background as an artist is shaping your experience on City Council?

Bianca Valerio's art entitled "Thoughts of Marriage"
"Thoughts of Marriage" by Bianca Valerio

Well, I just have this constant urge to paint it out! I’m definitely looking at a lot of our problems creatively. I’m also meeting and networking with many more Houston-based artists than I ever have before, and I am looking forward to creating a new body of work and hopefully getting a chance to show some work here in Texas.

As an artist and now an elected official, I constantly critique the world around me and translate my experience into my art. Because I attended Simmons' Arts Administration Summer Course in New York, I expect to add public art to Pasadena’s beautification projects. That summer course opened my eyes to the inspiration that’s possible when public art is appreciated and incorporated.

During my first week in office, I made appointments with the directors of our Economic Development Team and our Parks and Recreation Department. I’ve stayed in touch with each director almost weekly, discussing upcoming beautification projects and future murals for our community to enjoy.

What advice do you have for someone considering running for public office?

I found that keeping an organized database or CRM was crucial to tracking progress. To stay positive, I recommend counting your daily wins, both big and small.

I want to bridge the gap between community and government.

Is there anything specific that you’d like to achieve while in office?

I want to bridge the gap between community and government. I have been working with citizens and Pasadena’s Neighborhood Network Department to form more civic clubs in underrepresented areas. I’m eager for park improvements and beautification projects throughout the district. I’m establishing relationships with the Public Works Department as we look forward to drainage mitigation, which I want to be sure is done responsibly and benefits the most vulnerable.

Tell us about MECA and how it felt to be selected as their guest of honor for their Mariachi & Micheladas event.

I’m grateful for the work MECA does as a community-based non-profit organization committed to the healthy development of under-served & underrepresented families through arts and cultural programming, academic excellence, support services, and community building. MECA provides arts education, support services, and multicultural artistic performances and events to students and their families, helping to build discipline, self-esteem, and cultural pride.

It felt great to be selected as their guest of honor. In fact, it felt like the stars were aligning. As a pre-teen, I had attended a play at MECA with my family. There was a Frida Kahlo exhibition there, and it was the first time I had ever seen graphic artwork — I’ve been in love with her work ever since. I’m delighted to have been invited to be a part of this fundraiser and support this organization that has given so much to me. I even benefitted from this organization again when I was 15. My Tía (aunt) Julie hired young MECA Mariachis to perform at my quinceañera.