David Morales, a 22-year-old from Soledad, became the youngest Latino state legislator in the nation this year when he was sworn in on Jan. 5. Morales comes from humble roots; he was raised by his mother who worked multiple jobs to provide for him and his sister. He finished his undergraduate degree at age 19 at UC Irvine. By the age of 20, he became the youngest student to complete a masters of public administration at Brown University. Two years later, he won an election for State Assembly and is now representing the 7th District in Rhode Island.
The issues he campaigned on and now plans to advocate for – well paying jobs, affordable housing, health care and access to clean water – are issues that he got involved in via the Sunrise Movement and Democratic Socialists of America, after being inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run.
Morales spoke to the Weekly about his rise to power, connections to his hometown and his advice to young people back home.
Weekly: What motivated you to go to college?
Morales: My mom inspired me more than anything else. I know how hard my mom was working, and it was my goal to make her, and my sister, as proud as possible and show my mom that si, vale la pena, it was worth all of the efforts that you put yourself through in order to ensure that myself and my sister had the resources to attend a four-year university, have a degree and be able to have a self-sustaining job.
What motivated you to run for state assembly?
My lived experience. Living in public housing. Growing up with a single mother who had to work multiple jobs with a minimum wage job that paid below $12, and recognizing that that is a common experience. And for too long, in Rhode Island specifically, we have not had enough officials who understand the struggles of what poor people, working people have to experience on a daily basis.
You are the youngest Latino in a state legislature anywhere in the U.S. What does it mean for you? What do you want to accomplish?
I take it as a very significant responsibility. I see this as an opportunity to advocate for the issues that are most important to young people and to also send an example to all the older officials to recognize that our generation is engaged.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a breakout young elected official who has become a national celebrity. What do you think of her and her rise?
She is an inspiration of what more public officials should strive to do. Despite her own socioeconomic background, working as a bartender, she understood that she had a voice, and that by coming together with her different neighbors she could build a movement that would be able to provide it and create the change that working people desperately need. I think we got AOC as an inspiration on how to mobilize, how to organize within your community, and ultimately how to use your voice and demand change.
Why did you stay in Rhode Island instead of coming back home to Soledad?
I think I got my home in Rhode Island. I found a community that I felt embraced by. I live in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Providence, which is 40-percent Latino, predominantly working-class and it reminds me a lot of home. While I do think there is some good work happening in Monterey County, specifically the work of MILPA, an advocacy group in Salinas, I did not think that my skills and my approach to create change was going to be most effective there than where I am right now.
What would you like to say to teenagers and young adults from Soledad?
My advice for all young adults in Soledad is to remember that there is a bigger world that exists outside of the 831, and to recognize that how you invest your time is really going to make a difference in terms of the change that you will be able to create. I don’t believe that the goal should always be to escape, or to get out of the ‘hood.’ I think the idea is we take the lessons we’ve learned from Soledad and we try to apply them out in the bigger world knowing that we always have the responsibility to pay it forward.