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March 27, 2018

A passion for politics, public service

Sofia Rivera ’18

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January 12, 2018, was a day of surreal delight that will be ingrained in my soul forever. Here’s why.

On this day, I served as a translator to seven members of the Massachusetts delegation, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, during their visit to the Hospital del Niño in Puerto Rico to assess the inadequate federal disaster response to Hurricane Maria. I also had the opportunity to tell this group about Mount Holyoke College, and how it has changed my life and my trajectory in more ways than I ever expected. My voice was shaking, my cheeks were numb from smiling and my tongue felt heavy with feelings. (Thats me in the white shirt, in the photos above.)

The Mount Holyoke campus in fall
The Mount Holyoke campus in fall

To truly understand the magnitude of this moment, I have to explain the passion I feel for a rather simple notion: home. I have developed a poignant love and a fierce respect for the places I call home, and I want to take care of these spaces as much as they have taken care of me.

For the first 18 years of my life, home meant Puerto Rico, a small island in the Caribbean where the people are as sweet as sugar cane and as sharp as the machete that cuts it. I was raised in a household where policy, law, activism and social work were as common as the rice found on the dinner table and the melodies of a classic salsa playing on a Sunday morning. For the past three and half years, home has also meant Massachusetts, a place with people as unique and beautiful as the autumn leaves that fall in October. More specifically, home has meant Mount Holyoke College, an enduring institution akin to a dignified, century-old tree that cements itself in the heart of whoever comes to experience it. A tree with deep roots, ever expanding, that connect to a network of branches reaching up to the stars.

The copper beech tree, planted in 1904, by Dwight Hall
The copper beech tree, planted in 1904, by Dwight Hall

It was through the legendary Mount Holyoke network that I came to this opportunity. Thanks to my good friend and “Big” Amy Myers ’16 and the Mount Holyoke College Democrats, I got involved as a first-year student in Massachusetts politics and with the College Democrats of Massachusetts. Thanks to Santiago Nariño, then president of the group and a student at Northeastern, and his vision, I became the group’s Latinx Caucus chair my junior year. Through this experience, I met my mentor and good friend Jossie Valentín, a Holyoke City Councilor who has become family.

It was Valentín who recommended that I accompany the staff of Senator Warren and the Massachusetts delegation on their visit to the Hospital del Niño de Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization where I volunteered during the summer between my first and sophomore years in college. The visit on January 12, 2018, was designed to highlight both the damage caused by Hurricane Maria and the needs of Puerto Rico.

Right there, in that moment, all of my identities came together: Democrat, activist, volunteer, student, daughter. As did my passions: politics, the diaspora, relief policy, immigration, human movement. And the places I call home: Puerto Rico and Massachusetts. And my major and minor, international relations with concentration in global commons and American politics.

All the things I’ve worked for, all the places that made me who I am, meshed together. In that very moment.

And this was just the beginning. Thank you to all who have helped me get here.

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Photo at top left is courtesy of Edgardo L. Rivera. Photo at top right is from a tweet by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. 

Sofia Rivera ’18, born and raised in Puerto Rico, majors in international relations and minors in American politics. In addition to serving as the membership director for the College Democrats of Massachusetts, she is a Department of State virtual intern with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where she researches migration trends and human rights abuses in the region. She also interns with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grassroots organization that focuses on building power at the local, state and federal levels. Rivera previously worked with the American Foreign Service Association as their awards and outreach intern and served as a legislative intern for both U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush of Illinois and Luis Vega Ramos, a member of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives. Rivera wishes to continue a career in public service and community engagement after graduation. One of her favorite quotes is by Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”