Mary Zendejas, born in Michoacán, has not allowed her physical limitations and discrimination to stop her; She is now one of the representatives of Long Beach, one of the most important cities in California.

Mary Zendejas, a Mexican immigrant, whom her parents brought to the United States as a child in search of a cure for the paralysis that attacked her in her first months of life, is since December the first Latina councilor in a wheelchair nation.

On November 5, 2019, she was elected by the voters. One month after, on December 3 he took his oath as councilor for the city of Long Beach in Los Angeles County. He replaced Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez in District 1 of the Long Beach Council who left the seat to go to the California Senate.

“I never looked at politics. That is why I love every second that I am here because I feel I do something for people who would not have help except for my dedication to this position, ”says Mary excitedly.

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The newly sworn councilor of Long Beach was born 49 years ago in Michoacán, Mexico. At eight months he contracted polio – an infectious disease that affects the brain and spine, and causes paralysis -. Her parents brought her at age three to Los Angeles where she underwent therapies and surgeries.

The need to give a better quality of life, made them stay to live in Los Angeles. The Amnesty of Reagan in 1986 allowed to family get the residence.

Mary Zendejas wants to create policies to address the problem of homelessness, housing for low-income people and lowering crime. (Araceli Martínez / The Opinion).

Mary grew up between Compton and southern Los Angeles.

When she was accepted to study Communication at Cal State Long Beach, she began her independence process.

“I went to live in the dormitories of the university. It was very difficult because I didn't want to be a burden. I wanted to become independent from my parents. What I really liked about Long Beach was that transport buses were already accessible for people with disabilities, ”he explains.

When he graduated, it was not easy for him to find a job. “There was a lot of discrimination. Many times I got discouraged, it made me sad. I went to many interviews that I knew were not accepting me because of my disability, ”he recalls.

Mary Zendejas wanted two members of the community, Hilda and Javier Ortiz to take the oath. (Courtesy).

“What worked for me is that I volunteered for a long time. I helped a nonprofit organization of the St. Mary’s Medical Center. They saw the quality of my work and how I helped them with a program for pregnant people. So they looked for funds to create a position in the hospital, ”he says.

Those seemed to have been the best years of his life. Mary felt she had achieved her dreams, being an independent woman even with a disability. However, everything fell apart when she suffered a fall that made her unable to work for months that took years.

“I felt very bad because I became what I didn't want to be, a woman dependent on everyone,” he says.

Mart Zendejas won the Miss Wheelchair California contest in 2012. (photo provided)

A beauty pageant

What he never imagined is that a beauty contest for women in wheelchairs would take her out of the deep depression in which she was submerged.

“It was a paralytic friend from the neck down who told me about the Miss Wheelchair contest. Seeing her so excited, I was very happy. I said, I have my hands, my arms, I can use everything, even if I don't have strength in my legs, ”he says.

Realizing everything she had, made her remember that she also had a university degree, and it was time to put it to work.

So he started on the path he already knew, volunteering.

"In 2010, I started donating my time to libraries, to people who didn't know how to use computers or speak English," he says.

She was also invited to participate in the Miss Wheelchair contest. "I was encouraged because the organizer said that more than a beauty contest was for those who fight for people with disabilities."

Mary won Miss Wheelchair California in 2012; and in the national contest he won third place. "It helped me a lot in my self-esteem and overcoming myself," he says. To the extent that his dream of forming an organization for people with disabilities who are professionals and work. “I wanted a special group for those who have the same obstacles as me, who, seeing us in wheelchairs, do not hire us, and to motivate them especially to young people,” he says.

Mary Zendejas volunteered for the campaign for Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia. Photo courtesy)

When does politics come into your life?

It all started because I had a friend with disabilities Cynde Soto who she felt very proud of and who was recognized by the mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia, when she was a councilor and whom she had met at the university. She was even a jury of the Miss WheelChair Contest that she won.

"During his Bell for mayor me I involved how volunteer, organizing Y doing calls to the voters. When he won, he invited me to be part of his transition team to connect people with disabilities with resources, ”he says.

He later appointed her to the board of the Long Beach Transportation Agency. "It was such an honor because there had never been a person with a lifelong disability in that position."

At the same time that he helped Robert Garcia, he supported Lena Gonzalez in the campaign for councilor for District 1 of the Long Beach Council, the position she now occupies. That was when Lena predicted that Mary would be the next councilor in that seat. "You would be perfect," he told me. "No, no, no," he replied, thinking that his role was limited to cheating and helping all politicians.

Mary Zendejas, wants to make a positive difference as a Long Beach councilor. (Araceli Martínez / The Opinion).

When he decided to enter politics, he worked at a medical supplement company, but he used to go to the Council a lot to advocate for affordable housing.

"A friend told me that I could do more on the other side than if I stayed as a defender," she says.

He entrusted it to his brother David. "I would love to see the name Zendejas in style," he said to cheer her up.

But Mary was assaulted by fears

“How are people going to see me? Will you trust me being a disabled person? Will I have the votes? ”He wondered.

Mary Zendejas faced a tough and critical campaign, but won the victory due to her years of work for the community. (Courtesy).

The mayor of Long Beach supported her and warned her that a campaign was too much work, but accustomed to working two or three times more for her disability, she didn't care.

He replaced not being able to go door to door, by sending flyers by mail. Not all sidewalks allow you to move in your wheelchair. In return he flooded with phone calls to voters and held many community meetings.

In his campaign message he talked about the sacrifices of his parents María Evelia and Eliodoro Zendejas to get the family forward and support her, he says.

And after resisting criticism that marked her as a candidate of the establishment, something that initially offended her because she considers herself a person in the community, Mary defeated her eight opponents.

Mary Zendejas raised $ 100,000 in her campaign for Long Beach councilor. (Araceli Martínez / The Opinion).

On December 3, they took the oath Hilda and Javier Ortiz, owners of Kress Market, a market that has become the heart of the community. "People in the community had never been seen taking an oath to a councilor in a ceremony in Spanish and English," says Mary.

And he emphasizes that his priorities are affordable housing for low-income people, avoiding evictions, reducing homelessness and crime that are the main problems of his district 1 that is in downtown Long Beach.

“To this day, I feel that I am living a dream. I really want to work and make a difference. I want to be a councilor for everyone not only for people with disabilities but also for undocumented immigrants to feel part (of society)”, He adds.


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