As published by The Daily Eastern News
Born to a mother from Cuba and a father from Ecuador in a city in Florida, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti made a way for herself before becoming the first Latina lieutenant governor in the country.
Sanguinetti has spoken at different universities over the last few days including Illinois State University and the University of Illinois, and she came to Eastern and talked to a group of about 15 students and faculty Wednesday afternoon.
Sanguinetti said she was a child being raised by children because her mother gave birth to her at 15 years old. Sanguinetti said while beginning school she found herself disinterested and ended up having to repeat the first grade.
Sanguinetti said she later found out about an educational opportunity to get a degree, so she found herself auditioning for a piano program later in life.
“I always made it my mission to do something with education,” Sanguinetti said.
Sanguinetti said only two or three Latin American students were in her college graduating class.
She was able to become a professor at John Marshall Law School. After law school, Sanguinetti worked for the Illinois attorney general, James E. Ryan. She lived in Wheaton at the time and was the first Latina on the Wheaton City Council.
She later met Gov. Bruce Rauner at a Latin American function.
Sanguinetti said after the meeting, she decided she wanted to get others involved in the civic process and see more women running for office.
Sanguinetti said as lieutenant governor, she is sort of an understudy for the governor. She said while talking to Rauner, she noticed they share the same agenda when it came to the state.
Sanguinetti said education is one of the biggest things she pushes.
She said she wants to get the younger Latin American community involved in education by going around and speaking at schools.
“It’s not only universities, or high schools, or grade schools. I like to see the young get involved with the process,” Sanguinetti said. “The only way they’ll do that is if they start hearing from their leaders very early on, not just when the leaders want a vote.”
Sanguinetti said her position can give the Latin American community good representation. She said it lets the community know anything is possible.
She said she feels the community has waited a long time to have the first Latin American lieutenant governor.
Sanguinetti is the first Latin American lieutenant governor in Illinois and the first female Latin American lieutenant governor in the country.
Gladys Valentin, president of Latin American Student Organization, said she and Sanguinetti’s special assistants tried hard to make the process of her coming as smooth as possible.
“I was busy with meetings and we were both running up and down,” Valentin said. “She would text me and I would reply three hours later and I would text her and she would reply three hours later, but it turned out amazing.”
Valentin said she loved the way Sanguinetti opened the floor and gave students a calm atmosphere. She said she asked Sanguinetti for advice on how to get more Latin American students involved around campus.
“They don’t want to sit down in a lecture because they do that through the day,” Valentin said. “Its 471 Latino students and for only five or 10 students to show up, it says that we need to look for them, but then we have to ask how can we look for them?”
Valentin said if students were able to witness a big figure come to Eastern, they would want to become more involved. Valentin said Sanguinetti’s story is one everyone can relate to somehow.
Stephanie Dominguez, vice president of LASO, said seeing Sanguinetti was empowering because she touched on many problems faced in many minority communities.
“My grandparents always talked to me about education and about how hard I have to work and how difficult it’s going to be,” Dominguez said. “I always remember what they went through for me to be here and how hard it was.”
Valentin said she is inspired by figures like Sanguinetti, who took time out to help the community. She said it pushed her to want to help younger Latin Americans, and generations to come. She said the drive comes from the hardships she has seen and the perseverance used through those tough times.