Photography courtesy of Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez took her toddler, Santiago, on the campaign trail in her challenge of Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
“For the entire campaign, I was raising him mostly by myself. I took phone calls while changing diapers,” she says. “You know that saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ Well, it took a village to run for Senate as a working mom… I had so many friends and family step up to help.”
Ramirez faced Royce West, the Democratic state senator who represents part of Oak Cliff, and M.J. Hegar, who won the primary and faces Cornyn in the Nov. 3 election.
Ramirez, 38, grew up partly in Oak Cliff, and she launched the Workers Defense Project in 2006, soon after she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She founded Jolt, which works to increase Latino voter turnout, in 2017. Both of those organizations have had offices in our neighborhood.
“Shout out to Oak Cliff,” Ramirez says
On her Senate campaign
I came incredibly close to making it into the runoff. I was the last candidate who launched, and I think if I had launched earlier, maybe the outcome could’ve been different. Ultimately, it showed that, especially for young Latinos and people who weren’t born wealthy, there’s a place for us. And I think this is the exact place for us, on the campaign trail. I learned that you can make incredible headway, and people are hungering for people who understand what they go through and are authentic in what they believe. Even though I didn’t make it to the general election, I’m proud that I made a space for other progressives, other young people, women of color and especially moms, to see themselves better reflected in who does run so that, ultimately, other people like me do run.
“My dad is a white American, and my mom is a Mexican immigrant, and I saw how differently they were treated when I was growing up.”
What she’s doing now
I’m really excited about my organization, Jolt. In 2018, we knocked on 40,000 doors, most of them in the Dallas area, and we had 42% of them turn out, voters who either never voted before or were very unlikely to vote. Now we’ve increased that to knocking on 80,000 voters’ doors this election. We’re working on a documentary now about the power of Latino voters, due out in 2021. And spending time with my little man, Santi. Oh, and I have a new podcast. It’s called “Three Righteous Mamas,” with myself and two other moms talking about the intersection of politics but also our unique perspectives on motherhood and how it impacts us and the world that we want our children to grow up in.
On staying at home:
I’ve been enjoying watching Netflix. After I got through “Tiger King,” which thoroughly fascinated me and made me feel strange for days, the next one is “The Great British Baking Show.”
On writing a book
Maybe later. Right now I have too many balls in the air. The other thing I’m working on is that I got approached to write some children’s books, so I’m doing that. It’s in the early phases.
Why she started the Workers Defense Project
My dad is a white American, and my mom is a Mexican immigrant, and I saw how differently they were treated when I was growing up. So I wanted to help immigrants. I found that one of the greatest challenges immigrants face here in Texas is really terrible working conditions. Being injured on the job or even dying on the job with no compensation or support for their families. Many immigrant workers, especially if they’re undocumented, are not paid for their work. So I started working as a translator at a legal clinic. But I wanted to look at the system that allows that abuse to happen. It really grew because it helped people with their real-life needs: helping get back their wages or making sure they got the medical care that they needed if they were injured on the job. It addressed deeper systemic issues, and it changed laws at the local and state levels that impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers.
She doesn’t consider herself ‘radical’
I used to, but then I realized that it’s not radical to believe in the richest country in the world that we should have universal health care. It’s not radical to be able to provide for your family and earn a living wage if you work full time. We’ve been told that those are radical ideas because they challenge the wealth and power of elite people. As long as we think those ideas are “radical,” we won’t make them the center of American politics and the values of American society. I believe in justice, and I believe it takes courage and guts to stand up to the status quo, but I don’t think my vision for the United States is radical.
Cornyn compared her to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, nicknaming her “AO Cristina”
I thought it was tremendously lacking creativity. At first I thought maybe it’s because of similar political viewpoints. I also think that someone like John Cornyn probably easily confuses two Latinas. I would never confuse him with Donald Trump.
The future of Texas politics
I’m really hopeful about the shift we’re seeing in Texas. It’s taken a lot of work from Texas Organizing Project and other organizations. You’re seeing many candidates run who are more progressive. We don’t know what will happen in the Senate race, but the change is coming here in Texas. You can see it happening.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.