Valeria Carranza feels lucky to be where she is at such a crucial time in history.
A daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, raised in a working-class community in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, the 27-year-old was the first in her family to graduate high school and attend college. She completed her bachelor’s in international studies in 2009.
Valeria Carranza – Photography by Julian Vankim
“My mom had me when she was very young,” Carranza says. “She had to drop out of high school to raise me. She was delivering The Los Angeles Times at 3 o’clock in the morning, and stocking shelves at the Pick ‘n Save to put food on the table.”
Despite their lack of advanced education, Carranza’s parents and stepfather made sacrifices to help better their children’s lives, including driving Valeria for more than an hour each day so she could go to a better elementary school in a different part of the city.
“I was one of the few Latinos at the school, and I was super, super shy,” Carranza recalls. “You couldn’t get a word out of me. Teachers assumed I couldn’t speak English, so they placed me in ESL classes. Because of that immigrant mentality — that you don’t question authority — my family didn’t question the teachers for putting me in ESL.”
Carranza quickly proved those assumptions wrong, demonstrating a reading ability that placed her ahead of most of her classmates.
Perhaps it was that experience that made Carranza more willing to speak out when she was older, as she did after joining the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority during her sophomore year at Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College. Dickinson’s sororities had a rule that members could only bring men with them to dances and other formal events. Through one-on-one conversations with her sorority sisters, she convinced them to change the policy. Other campus sororities soon followed Kappa Alpha Theta’s example.
It was also in her sophomore year that Carranza began her foray into the world of policy and politics, earning a chance for an internship with Tony Cardenas, her city councilman. Following her graduation from Dickinson, Carranza served as a White House correspondence intern, where she gained a stark insight into society’s inequalities.
“I come from a working-class family, and the White House internship was unpaid, so my mom gave me $100 and said, ‘This is it,'” she recalls. “To pursue that internship, I was working nights and weekends at an animal hospital as a receptionist. And in order to have the suits to wear to the White House, I was going to Goodwill and getting my clothes from there.”
Carranza now serves as executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. She participates in behind-the-scenes policy work on behalf of the caucus’s 26 members on issues that impact the Latino community, including education, immigration, small business development, and LGBT employment nondiscrimination.
That same passion is present in her activism. Carranza participated in the “Familia es Familia” initiative which linked together LGBT organizations pushing for marriage equality in Maryland with immigrant rights groups pushing for a state version of the federal DREAM Act, allowing undocumented minors to qualify for in-state tuition rates to state universities. As a board member for Equality Maryland, Carranza facilitated the Safety, Justice and Human Rights Seminar at the Montgomery County Women’s Legislative Briefing and advocated on behalf of several pro-LGBT initiatives that were introduced in the Maryland General Assembly, including the expansion of the state’s nondiscrimination laws to include transgender residents.
In her spare time, Carranza finds herself planning her upcoming wedding to her fiancée, Lauren, with whom she lives in Silver Spring. The couple has adopted a dog, Benson, and hopes to one day raise at least two children. They will wed this August at Jackie’s Restaurant in Silver Spring, the site where Maryland’s marriage equality supporters convened their first advocacy meeting.
Although her family’s reaction to her coming out has been mixed, on the whole, she has found acceptance from her mother and four siblings. But even love and acceptance doesn’t stop a mother’s concern for her child.
“My mom is like, ‘Why do you have to be so loud? Why do you have to be out there on everything?'” she says, laughing. “I don’t even tell her about the rallies anymore.”