1. When did your passion for public service begin?
My passion for public service evolved during college. I studied the civil rights movement and the discrepancies of our criminal justice system. I was often inspired by the men and women who fought for equal rights and became very passionate about helping others who were discriminated by our law enforcement.
After graduation, I considered going to law school to specialize in criminal law, but realized I was interested in many other human and civil rights issues. I wanted to choose a career that would not limit my passion of helping others and shortly discovered public service would give me that opportunity. I accepted my position with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and quickly learned the operations of our Public Safety, Homelessness Initiatives, Economic Opportunity and International Affairs department. My role allowed me to understand the inner workings of Los Angeles’s administration.
2. What advice can you give other Latinas who want to serve our community and get involved in government?
I have several pieces of advice for my fellow Latinas pursuing careers in government:
- Pursue EVERY opportunity – Big or small. It is better to try and fail rather than not try at all (I fail often. It is frustrating at times but I believe every missed opportunity is leading me towards something greater.)
- Attend events in your community and start to introduce yourself to your local representatives. Build relationships with them and clearly express your interests. At an appropriate time, ask them for their contact information and follow up with an email or thank you card, thanking them for their time. Small gestures go a long way. Ask if they can meet for coffee to pick their brain — you won’t know until you try!
- Intern if you can! Internships serve as great opportunities to see the behind the scenes of government at the local and federal level. (After I graduated from college, I interned at the LA Mayor’s Office — I was broke and commuted an hour to City hall and back home everyday. It was tiring but the experience was well worth it. It exposed me to my future career and landed me my first salary job)
- Seek mentors in local or federal government. They have experience in the field and can help guide you. Be patient during this process, it does take some time but I promise it will help. I didn’t find my mentors until two years ago, but once I did they were lifesavers. They exposed me to different opportunities and answered the many questions that come with working in government – Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- Apply for jobs, commissions, committees, and boards in the City or State you want to serve. These positions give you a seat at the table. Let your voice and brilliant ideas be heard. We need more representation in these roles!
- Attend your local city council, school board, commission, committee and board meetings. They are open to the public! I recommend you take notes and keep up with the policies that are discussed and the legislation that is passed. The City will post the agenda with the items that will be discussed. If you see an item you’d like to voice your opinion on you can fill out a comment card or put your name on a list to give public comment. Many important city decisions are made at these meetings, it is important you get familiar with them. 7. Lastly, have fun in whatever you decide to purse! As women of color we have a very unique perspective to offer our government.
3. Tell us about three Latinas in government who have inspired you and why?
I am inspired by U.S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and U.S Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).
These latinas in government each embody leadership traits I aspire to obtain.
- I admire U.S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for her transparency. In 2016, Justice Sotomayor came to speak at an event hosted by my university. She spoke about the triumphs in her career but also intentionally mentioned her struggles. Sotomayor spoke about her first year at Princeton and how she struggled in her english class. She shared that she is not a natural writer and writing still remains a challenge for her in her job today. Sotomayor explained that while many Latina/o professionals struggle with writing it is essential to seek mentors, practice writing on our down time, and continue to learn to become better writers. Her story resonated with me as I also struggle to write at times. Her transparency encouraged me to continue improving my writing skills.
- I admire U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) for her fearless leadership and unapologetic authenticity. AOC is not afraid to voice her opinion about unpopular issues that affect millions of individuals in our country. She fights for the everyday people who suffer from social, racial, environmental, and economic injustice in our communities. I am constantly inspired by Ocasio-Cortez because she is honest with her supporters, makes herself relatable, and encourages women to run for office. AOC comes from a very modest background and uses her past as a motivator. As the youngest member of Congress in United States History and through all the publicity she still remains humble. She gives me hope that I too can run for office and serve my community at the national level.
Fun Fact: My significant other, Aaron and I visited Washington D.C in November 2019 and had the chance to see U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) in action. We visited the House of Representatives Gallery at the United States Capital where many members of congress were voting on resolutions. In the House Gallery visitors are supposed to stay silent and strictly observe. I was silent but very enthusiastically looking for AOC. Once we spotted her I could not stop looking in her direction — she looked so confident, approachable, and very down to earth. She was laughing, conversing, voting, and talking to other members of congress. It seemed like people were just drawn to her. Eventually one of the representatives caught me looking at her with a huge smile on my face. He whispered something in her ear and she stood up, looked back towards the gallery, smiled, waved, said “ Hi, I love you!” and sat down. I was shocked and could only react with tears of joy lol.
- These Latinas are breaking barriers and creating representation for women of color everywhere. However, I believe there are not enough Latinas in office. I am leaving this third spot open for all the latinas who are working hard behind the scenes. For all the Latinas who are waking up early, working long hours, and preserving through the generational doubt we’ve kept with us for too long. For all the Latina working mothers who are providing for their children while also pursuing their dreams. This spot belongs to them.
4. What brings you ALEGRIA (joy)?
Creating honest and meaningful connections with myself, my family, my friends and my significant other is what brings me alegría. I appreciate moments where I can sit by myself, drink a cup of coffee and reflect on my progress. I look forward to moments with my family where we all gather, share stories, talk about our goals, and communicate how we can support each other. I enjoy spending time with my friends and learning to be vulnerable with them. I love sharing a home with Aaron, discovering new things about him, and falling in love with him more and more everyday. These very important people in my life believe in me on the days I don’t believe in myself and for that, I dedicate my success to them.
Denaee Amaya is a proud Latina, 24 years old, and from Southern California. She is a first-generation college graduate from Arizona State University where she earned two Bachelors of Science Degrees in Criminology & Criminal Justice and Justice Studies. After college in 2017, Denaee accepted an Executive Assistant position at the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Public Safety. During her time at the LA Mayor’s Office she discovered her passion for helping others. She mentored young women from underserved communities through the EmpowHer Institute and interviewed for a vacant council member position in her hometown (Covina, CA). She did not receive the council member position, however, the experience encouraged her to continue seeking opportunities. In 2019, the Covina City Council appointed her to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Library Board of Trustees. As a Commissioner and Trustee, she advises the parks and recreation department and the public library on community issues and programs. Denaee’s time spent with the City of Covina has taught her the inner workings of local government. In efforts to continue her public service, she accepted the Communications Deputy position for a Los Angeles City Councilmember. In hopes to create change at a county level, she then joined the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) County Central Committee for California’s 48th Assembly District. In March 2020 during the Presidential Primary Election, Denaee Amaya will be on the voting ballot for a seat on the LACDP County Central Committee. Aside from her work, she advocates for social justice, enjoys reading books, and spends time with loved ones. She plans to continue to serve her community, run for public office, and make her family proud.