Delia Garcia is currently serving as the Kansas Secretary of Labor. Garcia previously served as a Democratic member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 103rd district. She served from 2005 to 2010, and was a member of the Kansas Democratic Hispanic Caucus. She talked to us about her inspiring personal story and what she enjoys most about serving the public.
What made you decide to get involved in public service?
I was born into public service through my family’s small business, which is Kansas’ oldest family-owned Mexican restaurant since 1963. My grandfather earned his citizenship to the U.S. through his military service in WWII, and with my grandmother Connie, started our family business. As one of their five granddaughters, I learned good customer service in the restaurant business and in the community. Later, I ran for state representative in the district where our restaurant is located. It was a new district as the result of the redistricting from the 1990 Census. In 2004, I made Kansas history serving as the first Latina woman and youngest ever female in the Kansas State Legislature. As both an elected and appointed leader, I continue to strive to work hard to serve hard working Kansans and their families. I want to provide access to resources for good jobs, quality health care, and educational opportunities. I treat other families as I would want my family treated. I witnessed the possibility of elected/appointed leadership by my role models who happened to be women. I chose to do my civic responsibility just as my role models did for me, to serve as a voice for the voiceless.
What’s the biggest challenge or setback you’ve faced?
In January 2005, minutes after I was sworn into office in the Kansas House of Representatives, I was approached by a reporter for an interview. He asked me if I felt intimidated starting off as a freshman legislator with four strikes against me. I asked him to repeat and clarify his question as I
gathered my thoughts. He stated the four strikes he was referring to were that I was a woman, Latina, young, and a Democrat in a conservative state. I thanked him for his question and stated I planned to work hard to serve my constituents, that I knew those four attributes would be a true asset to the Kansas Legislature because I brought those unique perspectives with me, and that I looked forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make the best policies for all Kansans. Since then, I knew I had to work that much harder to be taken seriously. I take seriously the responsibility to continue paving the path like others have done before me and to support other women by continuing to make cracks in that glass ceiling.
What is your advice to others, especially women, who want to get involved in public
My advice would be to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, as that would demonstrate a growth mindset to be open to possibilities of elected/ appointed public service. I learned from my own mistake to question if I was qualified enough to run at the age of 27 years old. I have demonstrated and witnessed first-hand that women are natural negotiators, active listeners, and lead collaboration. I would absolutely advise to volunteer on a campaign in the area of town you would run in to get used to the lay of the land. Also, participate in a training that provides you the resources to win. Additionally, I would highly recommend to create a kitchen cabinet of mentors who will tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear. Finally, it is a must to strive to live a healthy lifestyle and have fun with all of this, as life is too short not to do so.
Is there anything that has surprised you about public service?
I was pleasantly surprised at times when both sides of the aisle worked together, and it would show that we actually have more in common than not when we simply communicate and work together. I was, and continue to be, inspired and empowered when I participate and witness this. I want to be the change that I want to see for those I love, as I believe anything is possible.
What’s your favorite thing about serving in your role?
People are my absolute favorite thing serving in my role! This includes my amazing executive leadership team, that I am blessed to work with daily to serve our hard working Kansans and their families, to the custodial workers, that clean our work spaces and hotels we stay in when we travel to do our work. When I get to meet our Kansas workers and employers and actively
listen to their concerns and dreams, I am inspired to work harder for them. I am grateful to the people that serve as partners and stakeholders who deliver services to our Kansas workers to feel safe, happy, empowered, and important. When I get the opportunity to meet people who benefited from our services and share their stories, I am inspired to do more. My approach is personal as if they are one of my family members. I am energized by the people power and their powerful stories that move us to action.
How has your background shaped the way you serve your constituents?
My background growing up in a Kansas small business around daily customer service has definitely shaped how I serve our Kansas constituents. Growing up from humble beginnings in a working class family and as a second generation American, I feel I can relate to many with a similar story. I witnessed my grandparents’ challenges and blessings as immigrants, and my parents’ experiences stemming from that. I have both witnessed and experienced having limited resources and access to good health care, and understand that quality health care should be a right and not a privilege to hard working Kansans. I know that Kansans and my family want the same thing, including but not limited to access to quality health care, good paying jobs, and affordable educational opportunities. I treat others as I would want my family treated. Servant leadership is a responsibility that I take seriously and try to grow.
Have you ever had a mentor, or someone who inspired you?
I am blessed with mentors of various backgrounds in a powerful kitchen cabinet that I have created over the years in various aspects of my life. After all the women role models in my family, one that my family and I admire is Dolores Huerta. Her constant fight for human and civil rights over the past seven decades, especially for workers, has inspired me to be that kind of leader. She has served as my mentor over 15 years, and has empowered me each time we have spent time together. Her energy is infectious, even at her age of 89 today in 2019. She is the originator of the well-known slogan “Si Se Puede,” which means “Yes We Can!” She reminds me of the power of people and organization, and the importance of sharing personal experiences to empower others.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sisters, I encourage you to embrace failure and learn the lessons that take you to your real destiny. Finally, live in a manner of open possibilities that will lead you to live a powerful life you love!
About Change Maker Profiles:
Our Change-Maker Profiles feature elected officials, civic leaders, and everyday citizens who are working for change in Missouri and Kansas.