Stu­dent bal­ances col­lege, pol­i­tics

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Erin Kay­ata

STAM­FORD — Some of Eloisa Me­len­dez’s col­leagues have been work­ing in pol­i­tics since be­fore she was born.

It’s not sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing Me­len­dez is only a 24-year-old stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut-Stam­ford who was first elected to the Nor­walk Com­mon Coun­cil when she was 19.

Me­len­dez has long been en­am­ored with elec­tions since she was lit­tle and her mother,

a Colom­bian im­mi­grant, taught her how to vote at the polls. It was a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence when Me­len­dez was able to vote for the first time dur­ing the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“The first time I could vote was very, very spe­cial,” she said. “There’s an elec­tion ev­ery year, but there was some­thing about be­ing able to vote in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. I was like, ‘All right, what’s next?’ ”

The next step came in the form of a va­cant seat in District A for the Nor­walk city coun­cil. With the help of fam­ily friend and for­mer city coun­cil mem­ber War­ren Pena, Me­len­dez went for the seat and won. The Demo­crat be­came one of the youngest coun­cil mem­bers in re­cent his­tory when she took of­fice in Novem­ber 2013.

The Nor­walk High School grad has since joined four com­mit­tees — Plan­ning; Health, Wel­fare & Pub­lic Safety; Pub­lic Works; and Or­di­nance. Me­len­dez es­ti­mates she at­tends about 10 to 15 meet­ings a month and

said she goes out of her way to try to an­swer ev­ery call, email and text she re­ceives from her con­stituents.

She’s also a full-time stu­dent at UConn-Stam­ford and is on track to re­ceive her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal science with a mi­nor in women’s stud­ies next year. She al­ready has an as­so­ciate’s de­gree in gen­eral stud­ies from Nor­walk Com­mu­nity Col­lege. She said at­tend­ing lo­cal col­leges has al­lowed her to stay in­volved in her com­mu­nity while ful­fill­ing her dream of be­com­ing a UConn Husky.

She also is the vice pres­i­dent of the Lat­inx Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion and is the pres­i­dent of the UConn-Stam­ford Col­lege Democrats, both of which were founded this se­mes­ter.

“I’m one of those peo­ple that does not work well if I’m not busy,” Me­len­dez said. “When you have free time, you fill it with things you prob­a­bly shouldn’t be do­ing. Peo­ple are like, ‘How do you work?’ In some ways, I work well un­der pres­sure. I put out fires all day. It keeps me go­ing be­cause I need to get things done.”

Me­len­dez is also among

just three women on the Nor­walk city coun­cil and one of the few His­panic of­fi­cials. How­ever, she brings a fresh per­spec­tive to city plan­ning as some­one who re­cently at­tended Nor­walk schools and plans to one day raise her own fam­ily in the city.

“A lot of young peo­ple are leav­ing Con­necti­cut,” she said. “That’s what’s al­ways re­ported . ... I wouldn’t say young peo­ple don’t want to stay in Con­necti­cut. I think they feel like they can’t. From the per­spec­tive of a young per­son who wants to stay in Con­necti­cut, par­tic­u­larly in Nor­walk, you have to plan. I’ve seen how Nor­walk has grown and I kind of un­der­stand the po­ten­tial we have as a city and more than any­thing, I know what we can be while also pre­serv­ing some of the things that are im­por­tant to us.”

Be­ing Latina and the daugh­ter of an im­mi­grant helps Me­len­dez bring a new point of view to pol­i­tics. When she cam­paigns doorto-door, she is able to use her

flu­ency in Span­ish to break down bar­ri­ers and to un­der­stand the chal­lenges of im­mi­grants.

“Be­ing the child of an im­mi­grant comes with a lot of dif­fer­ent things,” she said. “You have to help your par­ents when you’re the child of an im­mi­grant. I def­i­nitely re­late to a lot of kids who have to deal with that, too. When your fam­ily has lived here for gen­er­a­tions, they know how ev­ery­thing works. They know how the cul­ture works, they’re more es­tab­lished. There’s a lot of dif­fer­ent as­pects of that. When you’re the daugh­ter of an im­mi­grant or an im­mi­grant, you’re start­ing from the very bot­tom and learn­ing the cul­ture and all those dif­fer­ent things. When you have some­one who rep­re­sents you whose ex­pe­ri­enced part of that, I think it’s im­por­tant.”

Me­len­dez said her mother was her age when she came to the United States and she says that adds even more sig­nif­i­cance to her po­lit­i­cal suc­cess.

“I don’t think she ever could’ve imag­ined hav­ing a daugh­ter in of­fice who was able to run for of­fice as a teenager while still get­ting their ed­u­ca­tion and was able to be a part of some­thing so spe­cial,” Me­len­dez said. “That’s some­thing that’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

Me­len­dez has been work­ing re­cently to help es­tab­lish a frack­ing waste ban in Nor­walk, as well as work­ing on a noise or­di­nance so res­i­dents can co­ex­ist with lo­cal busi­nesses. Her term will end next year and she re­mains un­sure what the fu­ture holds.

“Right now, I’m en­joy­ing the ques­tion mark when I think about what’s re­ally in the fu­ture,” she said. “Although it’d be an honor to serve statewide, I’m one of those peo­ple who per­son­ally feels I will only re­ally go for some­thing I can re­ally be the best and help peo­ple the most. It’s hard to pre­dict if I’ll ever be in a po­si­tion where I can be gov­er­nor. Right now, I feel in­cred­i­bly ca­pa­ble and ready to be a coun­cil mem­ber.”

How­ever, Me­len­dez said she will al­ways be in­volved in pol­i­tics and en­cour­ages her peers to also get in­volved. Last year, she gave some ad­vice to Will Haskell, a West­port na­tive who is run­ning for state Se­nate.

“Young peo­ple need to un­der­stand this is our fu­ture,” Me­len­dez said. “It’s not al­ways about get­ting in­volved and run­ning for of­fice. Some­times it’s just vot­ing. Some­times it’s run­ning. Some­times it’s work­ing on some­one’s cam­paign . ... We should def­i­nitely as a gen­er­a­tion un­der­stand the im­por­tance of get­ting in­volved and tak­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity we can to get in­volved in the fu­ture. ”

Matthew Brown / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Eloisa Me­len­dez, 24, is a full-time stu­dent at UConn-Stam­ford and a mem­ber of the Nor­walk Com­mon Coun­cil.

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