Street: Tell me about your campaign.
Nicolas Garcia: I’m running for the Florida State House of Representatives for District 41. It’s where I grew up and lived. It’s pretty much the center of the state. It’s my hometown and my community. It’s where I really want to go back to. My whole plan was to go back home and do something good for the community and this is a way I think I can use what I learned at Penn to have a positive impact on a community that really needs help.
Street: When did you decide to run for Florida state legislature?
NG: It’s always been a plan that I would run for office at some point. I was always thinking it would be much later in the future. Last summer, I interned at the White House and really got the bug for doing public service and doing it now. Some of my mentors really pushed me to think about running for office as a younger person instead of waiting ten or fifteen years down the line. So I went back home and talked to my family and friends, and they were all behind it. So once I got them cleared, that’s when we started doing all the real planning.
Street: What was your internship at the White House?
NG: I was in the presidential personnel office, which is the office that recruits and places everyone in the administration, so I saw how the government works and how you get jobs in the government. The people in that office are really great to work with. Seeing how passionate they were at the White House pushed me to really want to do this. Their passion for public service really rubbed off. I was like, ‘This is something I really need to do. I don’t want to wait until after I have a law degree. I don’t need it. I can do it now, and I can really use what Penn taught me.’
Street: Did you think about waiting until after you graduated?
NG: The one thing that I don’t like about politics is the money. You have to have money to run. So you have to start so much earlier than the election actually happens to have everything. So we had to start fundraising back in October because it takes so long to get all that to happen. The other issue is we graduate May 16th and to be on the ballot, I have to get approved by May 1st or 2nd. I have a lot of people back home who are doing the groundwork while I’m not there.
Street: How do you manage running a campaign while being a full–time student?
NG: I think anyone that runs for office has other commitments. School is technically my job. If I wasn’t in school, I would be working and running for office. So I just see it as a commitment that anyone else would have while running; it’s just a little different.
Street: Has running for office changed your approach to school?
NG: It hasn’t really changed at all. I’m working on my thesis right now. I didn’t take as many classes as I have in the past. School is still my most important thing. I’m running back home on education, so I don’t want to drop education to go run for office. I want to show that I can practice what I preach.
Street: Has running for office changed your experience at Penn?
NG: I’ve always thought about the future and what I can do for others. I don’t know if it’s changed. That’s why I did a lot of different things at Penn just because I was really invested in making sure things happened before I left and use the time I have to enact some kind of change on campus. I’ve always had that kind of mentality. It changes how much time I have for other things.
Street: How do people back home respond to an undergraduate running for office?
NG: They’re pretty open to the idea. I think they’re really interested in seeing someone different run. Lots of times, the people that run are really connected to politics and aren’t as connected to the community. Even though I haven’t been there full–time the past three years, I’m always back home working with my father doing landscaping work and working with my sisters. I’ve always been really connected to the community, and I understand what the issues people working paycheck to paycheck face. Those issues that everyday people have to face back where I’m from.
Street: Have you met anyone else that’s run for office while they were in school?
NG: Not while they were in school. When I was at the White House, I asked one of my bosses, ‘Can you connect to me to as many people as you can that have run for office?’ They were all surprised a little bit when I told them I would be in school for a good amount of the time that I was running. Just because that’s not a normal thing to do.
Street: Do you recommend that more people do it?
NG: Yeah! If you care about something, I think it’s really important for young people to run for office and make their voices heard. Not many people do it just because most young people aren’t as involved in politics. I think it’s important for young people, people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds to really be involved. The more perspectives you have, the better democratic governance you have because there’s more voices at the table being heard. Not necessarily in college because it’s really time consuming and it messes up all your plans. But maybe one or two years out if you really have a passion for helping other people and big issues affecting your community.
Street: Why do you think more people don’t?
NG: It’s kind of scary. Because you never know what someone’s going to ask you. You always have to be ready to be a politician. Which isn’t the most fun thing in the world to do because you have to have scripted answers all the time. I’ve been trying to push away from that. I don’t want to be a politician; I just want to talk to people. This is why I’m doing this. Money has such a big influence on politics. It really pushes away people from low–income backgrounds or people that don’t know how they would raise money.
Street: What’s the platform of your campaign?
NG: I’m running on three big issues: Education reform, bringing jobs to my district and protecting the environment. The campaign slogan is ‘Build a Brighter Future for the Sunshine State.’
Street: What’s your dream job?
NG: If I was going to go into politics and stay in politics, being Governor of Florida would be my top spot.
Street: Do you travel back and forth to Florida?
NG: I’ve been going back a little bit and slowly ramping up as the semester goes on to go knock on doors. But here I’m calling people up, asking for money, working on social media and connecting with people that way.
Street: Is it weird running a campaign while being a college student?
NG: I think people have a little more freedom, while I’m focused on trying to raise money and write speeches or make campaign videos. So that’s always in my head. Some issues might not seem as big to me because I’m thinking of these other issues that affect hundreds of thousands of people back home. So sometimes I feel different with some of my friends.
Street: What do you love most about Penn?
NG: The opportunities it gave me. I came from a really low–income background and didn’t have much. Neither of my parents went to college, so I’m a first–generation student. And Penn gave me so many resources and opportunities that really shaped me. I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I’ve done without Penn.
Street: If you were going to be famous for something what would it be?
NG: Well running for office as a 23–year–old in school is already kind of different. But among my friends, I’m notorious for the sheer amount of Taco Bell I eat.
Street: What are some of your favorite spots outside of Penn’s campus?
NG: I really love South Philly. I really love the mix of the Italian market and now the Mexican immigrant population and how those two are mixing. It creates a really interesting experience.
Street: Tell me about your involvement with the Latin@ Coalition and MEChA.
NG: MEChA is a Mexican–American student group. While I was involved, we worked to try and reignite community involvement. The LC is the umbrella group for all Latino students on campus. While I was the chair on that, we tried to increase the number of Latino faculty on campus. We had round table events with faculty, students and grad students to work together to solve those issues. We worked on different ways to have better resources for first–generation and low–income students.
Street: What are some of those issues?
NG: The resources that Penn has are so great that you don’t know where to go. When I was in high school, there wasn’t someone around that helped you with tutoring. Here you have Weingarten, which is an amazing resource, but not many low–income students know how to use it because it wasn’t available to them. I read somewhere that a lot of the students that go to Weingarten are from more affluent backgrounds because they know how to use those resources because they’ve had them. More broadly, just making sure more Latino students feel that their voice matters. I’ve sat down with the president and talked to her about different issues that Latino students are facing. We always talk with our constituents. We’ve seen when we get people to give their stories, it gets the ball rolling more. A lot of them were really surprised at how much they really have the power to change things on campus if we can figure out the right avenues.
Street: Describe yourself in 3 words.
NG: Driven, passionate, steady.
Street: What was your first AIM screen name?
Street: Who was your first celebrity crush?
NG: Mila Kunis on That '70s Show.
Street: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
NG: The power to teleport would be really cool. It would make the campaign way easier.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn…
NG: Those that have helped with the campaign and those that are yet to help with the campaign.
Street: What do you think your chances are of winning?
NG: I think we have a good shot. People are naturally interested in someone who isn’t tied to the establishment. The other people I’m running against are connected to politics in a way that I’m not. They’re out raising plenty, but the thing that I have is I’m from the area. I know what it’s like to face the issues that normal people face in the county. People want something different, and I think we can give it to them.