Nestled in the North Hollywood area of the San Fernando Valley stands a cream stucco house framed by green trees and adorned with simple Halloween decorations. Acting as the backdrop for a “Caroline Menjivar For State Senate” campaign sign, this is the home of Jason Enright, a member of local progressive advocacy group East Valley Indivisibles.
“I was actually one of her very first volunteers, back when she was collecting signatures to get on the ballot,” Enright said. “It was me, her mom, her wife, and my wife, it was only four of us.”
Enright is one of the many local volunteers who have assembled to support Caroline Menjivar in her race to represent District 20 in the California State Senate. Menjivar’s grassroots campaign has depended largely on these local supporters to canvas neighborhoods, call voters, and contribute small-dollar campaign donations.
“All of her events feel like community events, she raised her money to run for this just by, like, selling pupusas,” Enright said. “It’s a community, people come together because they see her as part of their community.”
Menjivar and her opponent Daniel Hertzberg are both first-time candidates and Democrats who finished neck and neck in the June 7 primary, with Menjivar receiving 32,268 votes and Hertzberg receiving 33,419. Daniel Hertzberg is the son of the current holder of the seat, Bob Hertzberg, who has been in the position since 2014. But redistricting changed the district into District 20, and Bob Hertzberg is running for a seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors.
Menjivar is the daughter of two Salvadoran immigrants and was born in the San Fernando Valley. Growing up in a Latino working-class household, Menjivar experienced firsthand the effects of low wages, housing instability, and discrimination. This propelled her into a life of service and social work — including seven years in the Marine Corps — which is now taking the form of running for political office.
“She will be able to speak out forcefully for her constituents and she won’t be afraid to do that. I think that everything she’s been through in life makes her a perfect candidate,” said Sen. Connie Leyva, the incumbent of the former District 20. “She was active-duty military, she was an EMT, she worked for Mayor Garcetti, she just has amazing experience that she will bring to the senate.”
With Menjivar and Hertzberg each campaigning for the first time, comparisons between the two have focused not only on qualification, but also on the intersectionality of race, sexuality, gender, and social class. In a district that is 55% Hispanic and majority working-class, political endorsers say that Menjivar would be posed to better reflect the diversity of her constituents than Hertzberg. Especially considering that if elected, Menjivar would be the first Latina to ever represent the district.
“I endorsed her because I know that she has the qualifications,” said Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, current representative for District 5 of the California State Senate and member of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. “I recognized a history similar to myself of social work, serving in the military, being a Latina woman, and as part of the LGBTQ community, so I know she’ll be able to do the work and also provide greater representation.”
Menjivar is not unaware of these comparisons and the underlying implications they have based on her own past experiences with discrimination. And as she and Hertzberg are both part of the LGBTQ community, either election outcome would greatly add to the level of representation in the state senate. However, Menjivar stresses that there is more to her campaign than the representation she would bring as an openly gay Latina woman.
“Identity politics is not the end all. That is a cherry on top, but that is not the reason I’m running,” said Menjivar. “I recognize how beautiful that is and that we’ve come a long way, but there’s a heavier burden here. We need someone who can properly represent the Latinos in my district, but also someone who has plenty of experience and qualifications as I do.”
Even though Hertzberg has reportedly been aided by his father in receiving endorsements and campaign donations, Menjivar is not worried about the effect this may have on their race to claim District 20.
“I have the momentum,” she says, “I have outraised him, and I feel good about what we have been able to accomplish all the way until November 8.”