After 20-year-old Jewel Hurtado got elected to Kingsburg’s City Council, some negative comments on social media – including accusations she had cheated – tried to discredit her victory.
It was on a recent afternoon in December, during her work break at Victoria’s Secret, that she was having a bad day because of the negativity.
Hurtado said “no names will be named and no one will be pointed out, but it was young people” making comments on social media that were putting down her hard work.
Those comments were made on Dec. 4, a day before she was sworn in. But on the same day, she also heard from someone who would brighten her day.
Newly elected Rep. TJ Cox, who represents her 21st district, said a friend wanted to say hi. That person was newly elected 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who sent Hurtado a video shout-out.
“She said congratulations and she was very personal, saying you won by eight votes – we are very proud of you,” Hurtado said on a recent afternoon with a lot of excitement. “I was feeling very down, and so to have that message from somebody in Congress, both of them, because it’s a honor, to know that I have that support, motivated me even more.”
The negative comments didn’t make her cry, Hurtado said, but the video did bring “happy” tears to her eyes.
Hurtado defeated Kingsburg City Council incumbent Staci Smith by eight votes, although the road to claim victory wasn’t an easy one.
She knew from the beginning she was going to have to work “10 times harder” during her campaign, compared to others. That would be due to being Latina and young, plus having a baby and not being married, yet.
The Fresno City College sociology student also doesn’t yet have an established career under her belt. But the eagerness to serve in a public office capacity began when she was only 16.
At that time, a family friend, Emilio Huerta, was running for Congress, and he encouraged her to start registering people to vote.
“From there, I was sparked,” she said.
Hurtado later went on to serve on the Kingsburg’s community service commission, and soon after she was running for City Council.
Ocasio-Cortez’s example moved her as well. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been somebody who has inspired me ever since the second she announced her run,” she said.
Hurtado said it has become evident more everyday people are running for public office, as seen even with members of Congress, Ocasio-Cortez being among them.
Hurtado is not the only local Latina to recently take on civic leadership. Esmeralda Hurtado (no relation to Jewel Hurtado), another young Latina, was appointed to the Sanger City Council to replace her sister Melissa Hurtado, who got elected to the state senate during the mid-term elections.
“We are real people, we are just trying to pay the bills. We are just trying to get by, we are students and we have kids,” she said. “That’s my individual story, and so definitely, stepping up and showing people that everyday people can step up and lead their community, is definitely what I try to do.”
Being a young woman of color, with a baby before marriage, made her put much more effort into months of campaigning, in what’s known to be a conservative town.
“All those things come into play,” Hurtado said, who is now engaged.
For example, on her ballot designation, where candidates have to choose three words that describe themselves, she only used the word, “mother.”
“I’m thinking to myself, what am I going to do, I don’t have an established career, I’m a mother,” she recalled.
She thought of adding the words, “community organizer,” but city elections staff wouldn’t allow it. Hurtado opted to go only with the word “mother,” which staff inquired about. She was asked how many hours a month she spent being a mother.
“That was the first key in for me to understand that it was going to be hard,” she said. “That people weren’t going to take me seriously.”
Hurtado also faced personal hardships. Her son, Anthony, now 10 months old, was diagnosed with a rare disease called tuberous sclerosis complex, and was having seizures throughout her campaign.
She spent a week at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, with her son, right before elections.
“The roadblocks didn’t just come from the outside, but also within my family,” she said.
The road ahead might also not always be smooth. Hurtado knows being a council member won’t be easy , but she’s ready for the challenge.
“The hard times will come and go, but we just need to be persistent,” she said. “As family and friends say ‘Si se puede’ — Yes, it can be done — and we are going to get through it together.”
Hurtado wonders if she can inspire other young people if they come to council meetings and see “somebody who looks like them, somebody who is young, somebody who is brown and somebody who is a woman.”
“I remember when I saw that our Mayor (Michelle Roman) was a woman, I was so blown away because I thought wow, in Kingsburg, we have a woman mayor,” she said.
“Our mayor is the person who inspired me, and so, I hope that I can then be that mentor for other young women.”