Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers

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The mayor discusses the growth of Avondale as a city and her reaction to President Obama telling her personal story in a speech he delivered at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in Washington D.C.

José Cárdenas: Imagine listening to President Barack Obama say your name in one of his speeches. Avondale mare Marie López Rogers never imagined it would be her own name she would hear in a speech the president gave at the national council of La Raza's annual conference in Washington D.C. He told her story of being a child of migrant farmworkers who worked the fields in Avondale. Here is what President Obama said at the conference.

President Obama: Recently, I heard the story of a participant at this gathering we had at the White House I was telling you about at the top of my speech. This participant's name was Marie López Rogers and born to migrant farmworkers in Avondale, Arizona, as a young girl, she and her brother would help their parents in the cotton fields and I'm assuming the temperatures were sort of like they've been the last couple days here in D.C. And it is in those cotton field that's Marie's father would tell her, if you don't want to work in this heat, you better stay in school. And so that is what Marie did. And because of that, and the tireless back-breaking work of her parents and their willingness to struggle and sacrifice so that one day their children wouldn't have to, Marie became the first in her family to go to college. And interestingly, she now works at the very site where she used to pick cotton, except now city hall sit there is and Marie is the town's mayor. So -- [Applause] That's the promise of America, that's why we love this country so much. That's why all of us are here. That's why I'm here.

José Cárdenas: Recently I had the opportunity to talk to mayor Marie López Rogers about her reaction to the president's speech and also about the city of Avondale. Marie, thanks so much for joining us on "Horizonte." It's a pleasure to have you here with us. Let's start with a little bit of background. Tell us about yourself.

Marie López Rogers: Well, I'm a mayor of city of Avondale, Arizona, been mayor for about five years. I grew up out there and worked alongside my parents and worked in community organizing, and community work, and now I'm the mayor of the city.

José Cárdenas: That work alongside your parents is actually the subject of the interview, the mention of President Obama made of you, we'll get to that. But tell us about that part of your life. When you say working alongside
your parents, that has a special meaning.

Marie López Rogers: They were migrant farmworkers for Goodyear farms where -- they used the tires for the airplanes and we picked the cotton out there and I was a child and we would go to the fields and I'd help them, eight years old to teenagers, all helped in the fields.

José Cárdenas: And at some point, you got interested in politics.

Marie López Rogers: Well, I was very active in my community. I grew up out there, in the Avondale area and so I was always helping people in my community through systems, whether it was an education system, a government system. So it just took me another step of helping people through those systems.

José Cárdenas: Before we goat to President Obama, let's talk about Avondale how it's changed.

Marie López Rogers: It has changed a lot. The year 2000, it was 35,000, we're now at 76,000. It's changed a lot. We used to be an agricultural community and then a bedroom community with Phoenix and now we're building our own about businesses and work and play and awful the things that communities like.

José Cárdenas: Part of that building is building on the spot where you used to work.

Marie López Rogers: Exactly right. On the spot, the city hall is actually where I used to work. It was a field that the city hall is built upon.

José Cárdenas: Now, how have things changed in Avondale for the Latino, Hispanic population?

Marie López Rogers: Things have changed because
of the work we used to do and now have had to change and there's more of a construction and more of retail and -- and -- so people have gone back to school, actually, and retrained themselves and -- many of them. A lot of the families that have live there had as long as I have, now have their children there and so they've done -- we have a young population, actually. Of 29 years old is our median age and there's a lot of young families with children now.

José Cárdenas: What about the demographics? How do those break down in terms of numbers of minorities?

Marie López Rogers: About half and half. 50% Hispanic.

José Cárdenas: And we want to talk about what President Obama said, but that was at the NCLR convention and you talked to him before that. That was at the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Marie López Rogers: Yes, at the White House, and I had been invited and we were there and I had the opportunity as he was talking about how the -- giving back to the country, I had a chance to tell him my story. I feel like it's the dream. I'm the second vice president for the national league of cities and those opportunities to me came because of the mentoring I received all the way to now, actually.

José Cárdenas: So you had that discussion at the White House. Did you have any inkling you might hear that story come from his lips?

Marie López Rogers: No, not at all. I was surprised, shocked and excited. Many feelings going and at the same time.

José Cárdenas: What we're talking about the president took time out from the current debates and negotiations on raising the debt ceiling to attend the national council for La Raza conference. You weren't there.

Marie López Rogers: No, I was not. I had just returned a week prior from another conference, building one America, and so --

José Cárdenas: That was in Washington.

Marie López Rogers: That was in Washington.

José Cárdenas: But you left before --

Marie López Rogers: So I had left and then he gave a speech to the conference there.

José Cárdenas: As I understand, you were watching it live from your computer.

Marie López Rogers: I was. At my desk and tuned it in, and he gave a great speech and then talked about what Hispanics have give ton this country and how the struggles we've had and so then told my story.

José Cárdenas: And give us a flavor for what he said about you, I know we've got the basic facts how he described you.

Marie López Rogers: He said he had met a participant and her name was Marie López Rogers --

José Cárdenas: And you're watching.

Marie López Rogers: I'm watching.

José Cárdenas: You have no idea --

Marie López Rogers: I'm hearing my name. And he talked about the story I just gave you, that I worked alongside my parents and even though they had struggled and even though they worked hard, they made sure we had a education. Told the story about my dad -- that my dad told me when I was working with the fields. If you don't want to work out here in the heat, then you better stay in school. So he was telling that story and said we have hopes for our children just like they had hopes for her.

José Cárdenas: Did you get a lot of phone calls?

Marie López Rogers: Yes, I did. [Laughter] Well wishing and support. I'm still in awe of the whole thing. It's my life and would never have known he would have actually mentioned it.

José Cárdenas: Let's backtrack a little bit. The trip you were in Washington on. You said building one America. What's that about?

Marie López Rogers: It's looking at the grassroots community. Whether it's faith, business, the education system, and municipalities and how do we work together as suburbs to create a better community for our -- and then, not only in our own communities but as a nation.

José Cárdenas: Now, you were well known in Maricopa County. Pretty high profile Latina politician and officeholder. With the president specifically mentioning you what does it feel to have that role, to be viewed as a high profile Latina politician.

Marie López Rogers: I'm humbled by it all. I can't believe the recognition, I guess, at that level. I feel like, you know, we've all done a lot in this country to make our lives better and worked really hard to make our lives successful and so to be recognized like that, is overwhelming for me.

José Cárdenas: And provides some opportunities for you to serve as a mentor and inspiration to others. Have you had those experiences?

Marie López Rogers: Absolutely. When I go to the classrooms and go into classrooms and they see this face, it's wonderful to see they would be able to recognize that they too, can be mayor, they too, can be secretary of labor, they could do whatever they want. Be president of the United States. And so that, to me, gives me hope for our future.

José Cárdenas: Mayor, as is true of all mayor, I'm sure you're proud of your city. I would like to end this interview what you see as the future of Avondale.

Marie López Rogers: I see the future as hopeful. Like I said, we have median age of 29. That means we have a young community. Young professionals looking for work, looking for ways to make their community and quality of life better and certainly we're working to do that.

José Cárdenas: Marie López Rogers, mayor of the city of Avondale, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."

Marie López Rogers: Thank you.

Marie Lopez Rogers:Avondale Mayor

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