Sunday, June 23, 2024

Hilda Solis: An American Success Story

“Your daughter is not college material. Maybe she should follow the career of her older sister and become a secretary.” These were the words Labor Secretary Hilda Solis often remembers. This is what her high school guidance counselor told her mother.

Defying the odds, Solis today is the first Hispanic woman to serve as a cabinet member.

While delivering a commencement speech at Hunter College in New York recently, she said, “There are so many people I knew when I was growing up who were not even paid the minimum wage. They wouldn’t know where to go to lodge a complaint. And if you didn’t speak good English, forget it.”

Solis grew up wanting to fight for the rights of immigrants, workers, minorities and women. “I’ve always been about seeking social justice and combating discrimination and racism. I always wanted to stand up and fight for the underdog.”

As the third of seven children, she was raised in a community just east of Los Angeles. Her father, an immigrant from Mexico worked in a battery recycling plant, where he contracted lead poisoning. Her mother from Nicaragua worked in a toy factory.

Solis remembers, “My father spoke to management and fought for the workers’ health and safety. That is something I bring to the Department of Labor. Those values my father shared with me.”

With a political science degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California, Solis first interned at the White House under the Carter administration and then worked at the Office of Management and Budget.

Solis got into politics when she was elected to the board of the Rio Hondo Community College at the age of 28. In 1992, she won a seat in the California State Assembly, and two years later she was elected to the State Senate becoming California’s first Latina state senator.  In 2000, she was elected to Congress where she served for four terms.

In her new post at the Department of Labor, Solis hopes to reinvigorate the department, which she describes as “neglected, atrophied, often pro-business backwater under President George W. Bush”

Among the issues she intends to tackle are making the department a major player in fixing the pension system and creating green jobs. She hopes to explore complaints on minimum wage, overtime and child labor violations partly through hiring more than 250 investigators to conduct a nationwide outreach program so that workers know their rights and employers know their obligations.

Labor leaders would like to see Solis help make being able to unionize easier. When she was nominated was serving on the board of a pro-union group, American Rights at Work, which is fighting for the passage of pro labor legislation.  Republicans used this issue to delay her confirmation.

Solis concluded her commencement speech by saying, “People always say that women, people of color, Latinas, they’re not ready to go to college, they’re not ready to be in those big positions,” she said. “There are probably a dozen of you in this hall who are future Sonia Sotomayors, and there are probably two dozen future Hilda Solises. You have to have the ganas — the desire — to do it.”

New York Times


  1. Jess Martinez says

    I am most impressed by Hilda Solis’ rise to the ranks of one of the highest offices in the United States.

    Although I am a little older than Ms. Solis, I remember when as a high school student in my small (mostly Hispanic) community, most Latino students (boys) were told by their counselors ” You will be well suited to a job as a mechanic, welder, or body and fender man”, and for the girls, “You will be a good hairdresser or manicurist”. Never were we even told that we would be good secretaries, police officers, teachers, lawyers, etc., as back then, even those jobs for Hispanics were unthinkable of for minorities, according to the powers that be.

    Many of us fought those stereotypes, and rose above the prejudices of those times. We succeeded in our own right, well before Equal Opportunity or hiring quotas came to be. Many times, we were told that we were the “token” Mexicans, but we just laughed at those idiotic comments.

    Today, there are thousands of Hispanics who are in the professional ranks, captains of industry, and in so many fields that are too numerous to mention, not because of hiring quotas or mandated court orders, but because we proved ourselves in our own right, and disproved the fallacy that Hispanics are second class citizens.

    Jess Martinez