Candace Valenzuelain Texas’ 24th Congressional District on Tuesday. If she wins the general election in November, Valenzuela would be the first Afro-Latina to be elected to Congress.
Valenzuela defeated retired Air Force Colonel Kim Olson in a runoff. Olson won the March 3 primary, but failed to cross the 50% vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Valenzuela will now face former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne, a Republican, in the general election.
Valenzuela, who has received support from former presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Julián Castro and Cory Booker, talked about the importance of an Afro-Latina potentially representing a district she describes as diverse, young, suburban, majority-minority and well-educated.
“One of the things we’re lacking here is representation exactly for those groups, for those groups who are younger or more diverse. It means that we have to have better conversations about what equity looks like,” she said during a Wednesday news conference. “Equity in our schools, which isn’t fully there. Equity in our access to clean air, clean water. In Texas, just like the rest of the country, your ability to access those things can still be determined by your zip code.”
“We haven’t had representation in Congress that understands those struggles,” Valenzuela added. “The conversations about what equity looks like will be different when we have more diverse representations in Congress. And I look forward to making that happen.”
Valenzuela and Van Duyne are vying for the seat of retiring Republican congressman Kenny Marchant, who has served the district for the last 15 years.
Valenzuela, who hails from El Paso, Texas, was born into a family of U.S. Army veterans. Her mother is Mexican American and her father is Black.
According to her website, her family struggled financially after her mother left the military. In a campaign video, she described fleeing with her mother from domestic violence. The two of them escaped to a gas station, where Valenzuela slept in a kiddie pool. She said the two of them were homeless and lived in shelters for a time until her mother got back on her feet.
Valenzuela said school became her home. She received a full scholarship to Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, and became the first person in her family to graduate from college. She went on to become a teacher and was the first Latina and first African American woman elected to the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District Board.
On Wednesday, Valenzuela thanked her supporters in a video conference call.
“I wouldn’t be here without the help of y’all,” she said. “The support of our volunteers, our endorsers and partners have been critical in getting our message out to voters, and I cannot thank you all enough.”
Valenzuela, a mother of two, talked about the day she decided to run for office following conversations with friends who worked on political campaigns and her husband, Andy.
“He told me this is what I was meant to do,” she said. “And I went from hoping he would tell me I was crazy to me telling him I was crazy.”