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City Council Candidate Profile: Lourdes Barroso de Padilla

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman City Council Candidate Profile: Lourdes Barroso de PadillaPhoto courtesy of Lourdes Barroso de Padilla for Columbus City Council.
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Columbus City Council candidate Lourdes Barroso de Padilla’s race has been touted as historic—she could become the first Latina ever on council—but she says her race is more indicative of a growing population of immigrants having a seat at the table.

The daughter of immigrants, her parents came to America with her two sisters in the 1970s as political refugees from Cuba. Having already seen two of his brothers become political prisoners, her father did not want to suffer the same fate. They set their sights on America because her father believed deeply in democracy, justice, and opportunity.

Barroso de Padilla, as she laughed, said they came to “this place called Ohio” because they had no idea what an Ohio was. But they did because, like many immigrants and refugees, they knew somebody here. They relied on “the promise of prosperity,” she said.

She graduated from Eastmoor High School and, as she tells it, not with the best grades. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, and she knew she wasn’t going to get into college.

At 17, she did her first year of service at City Year Columbus on the South Side. There she got involved in her community, helped run after-school programs and food pantries, and joined the rehab of an old church into a community center.

Eventually, she said, members began to ask the community what they needed. She points this experience out as significant, because in visiting the largely Appalachian community on the South Side—in a neighborhood seemingly very different than her own—she learned the importance of sharing space with people who are different than you, and truly listening to what they have to say.

“Proximity is everything. And when you are approximate to people who are different than you, you see their humanity and you learn from them,” she said. “And if you sit with people and you really listen…they will inherently they tell you what they need.”

She said she knew then that this was her life’s work.

She’s been with City Year for 25 years, working in a variety of positions and across Ohio, eventually leading her back to Columbus to serve as executive director of City Year Columbus before moving to its national office. She is currently senior vice president of site stakeholder engagement and vice president of national events.

She has also created and been involved in community organizations like the Latina Mentoring Academy, where she has served as director for over 10 years, as well as the Latino Empowerment Outreach Network, where she has served as president for the last 12 years.

“We’re bleeding Latina talent,” she said of the organizations. “Doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, artists, you name it, but they didn’t have a sense of belonging, there wasn’t a community for them here. (Now) you have this network of supportive Latinas that are standing behind you.”

“My life’s work has been about empowering people and giving them the tools that they need to empower themselves, whether it’s young people or communities,” she said.

Barroso de Padilla grew up in the Eastmoor area, in a home her 81-year-old mother still lives in to this day.

Her family was working-class, with her father working as a busboy, unioned sheet metal worker, and warehouse manager—and who actually opened a Latino food store in Columbus in the 1980s. Her mother washed heads at a beauty salon and worked on a production line at a medicine packing company.

Growing up, Barroso de Padilla’s mother worked overtime to help provide for their family, to the point where she no longer technically qualified for free or reduced lunch—despite their legitimate need for the program.

It is experiences from her own life that she pulls from when talking about our systems and programs “not working for everybody.” But today, government support unfortunately continues to miss the mark.

“We usually say that it’s a different time and different era, but the same problems that my parents faced are the same problems that we face,” she said.

From her mother, who is still paying for the house she’s lived in since the ’70s, to her and her husband being priced out of the South Side neighborhood they lived in. They could no longer afford to purchase the house they had rented for 11 years.

“We basically bought this house and gave it to our landlord and said, ‘Thanks sir, we’ll go find us another,'” she said.

Barroso de Padilla says her family is an everyday, working-class family, who has experienced what most people in Columbus have probably experienced.

“I’m coming at this not from having a political background,” said Barroso de Padilla, who notes some have called her a “political insider,” because she has sat on committees—that includes the Columbus Police Chief’s Advisory Panel, the City of Columbus Charter Review Committee, the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission, and the Create Columbus Commission, among others.

“To me, I feel like that’s what an engaged citizen does. An engaged citizen raises their hand and says ‘choose me. I want to bring a perspective,'” she said. “Being Latina, being the daughter of immigrants, I think it’s given me a different perspective.”

In bringing something different to council, she feels the conversations had and issues addressed won’t be the same, because it won’t be the same people—likely referring to herself and Nick Bankston, who have campaigned together along with City Council President Shannon Hardin throughout the year.

“I am deeply committed to bringing other people to the table that can share their perspectives too, so that we broaden the conversation and that we ensure that we’re bringing more people into the fold, and considering everyone and not leaving people behind,” she said.

“Columbus is growing by leaps and bounds, but we are leaving people behind.”

Barroso de Padilla lives just four minutes away from her childhood home today. She said she feels very invested in the East Side and its challenges. But she also wants to learn and understand the challenges people are facing in other parts of the city.

For her time on council, she said more than any one priority for her will be a “values-based” approach. She commits that with every piece of policy or legislation that goes before her, advancing families and bettering the lives of people will be her focus.

However when it comes down to it, she is honed in on housing, transportation, good jobs, pandemic recovery and making City Council more accessible to residents. Those priorities are reflective of the conversations she’s had while campaigning.

“These are the things that I hear from people, these are the pinpoints that they have,” she said. “Even with some of the policies or legislation that we passed, they don’t understand how this benefited the community, or why those decisions are made, or how could they have been engaged in that process.”

As is a common point since 2020, she said Columbus’ problems—from housing to transportation to high crime— were systemic issues happening across the country even before the pandemic.

“You took a very delicate system and laid a pandemic on top of it. And something was going to pop,” she said. “Now everybody is tuned into the fact that that was a reality for too many people in our community for too long.”

She said people should be able to decide where they want to live because they want to live there, not because they can afford to live there or it’s the only thing they can afford.

“Columbus is growing by leaps and bounds but we are leaving people behind,” she said. For too many, the cost of renting or buying a home is too high. For too many people, the choice between paying rent or buying a car, or working and taking care of their kids is one or the other.

“These are impossible choices. People can’t get ahead. I think that we are at a time where we can really ensure that all of our policies, all of our legislation, are squarely planted on our people and our families, and how they succeed, how they thrive, not just survive.”

She said the prosperity that brought her parents to Columbus has been a dream deferred for many people in Columbus “for too long.”

“It’s not that we have unique problems to Columbus, but how we face them and address them can be unique to who we are as a community,” she said. “This is the time for us to be bold, for us to be progressive, and for us to ensure that nobody is left behind, that every person can see opportunity for themselves in the city.”

“I am an example that you can just be a kid from the East Side who hustles hard, and you literally can be your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Barroso de Padilla doesn’t take lightly potentially being the first Latina on Columbus City Council. But she points out that she would also be the first person from Columbus’ immigrant and refugee population on council.

She’ll be a voice that is not often seen or heard, she said.

“When you’re the only one, what you tend to notice is who is not there with you,” said Barroso de Padilla. “Everybody on our council has been Black or white, and we know that the city is not just Black or white. Immigrants, migrants and refugees are the number one leading force behind our population growth, and yet they’ve never had a seat at the table.”

But it’s not just about people seeing themselves. It’s about not leaving anyone behind and helping “build the bench” of the next city leaders, she said.

Barroso de Padilla recently ended a fundraising campaign called 100 Latinos for Lourdes, which ended with Hispanic Heritage Month. She said many of the 200 or so total contributors had never “invested” in a campaign, and half of the volunteers had never canvased before.

It’s getting people who have not been engaged in the political process—and who haven’t been asked to get involved—engaged in the political process that gets Barroso de Padilla excited.

“I will be a council person for all people. But at the same time, I want to ensure that the people who have not had a voice that their voices get elevated,” she said. “Because that’s what true equity is – it’s ensuring that all of us feel like we have a place at the table that all of us have a place in our community.”

She said she doesn’t know if she’ll ever run for another public office—for her, the most important thing is making running more accessible to people for whom this has never been accessible.

“I am an example that you can just be a kid from the East Side who hustles hard, and you literally can be your ancestors’ wildest dreams,” she said, choking up. “You can achieve things that you never imagined that you could, and that every single one of us has the power to do that.”

She said you see that not just in her running for council, but in the everyday, longtime residents who sit on Area Commissions, are involved in activism, or are simply active in their communities.

“There are people every day that hold no titles that are creating things in our community that are changing lives and their community,” she said. “Their voices don’t always get elevated, and they’re not doing it for any sort of glory. They’re doing it because they care about their people. They care about where they live and they care about this city.”

For more information, visit lourdesforcolumbus.com.

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