First-ever pair of sisters in State Legislature recall the obstacles, journey

Hispanic Heritage Month

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The first-ever set of sisters to serve in the California Legislature started out as undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Long before the Rubio sisters settled into their offices at the State Capitol, they were met with many obstacles.

They first moved from Ciudad Juárez in Mexico to Texas.

“Juarez is the capital of the cartels,” said Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park. “There’s a whole bunch of tragedies happening not just to the community but to women. Our parents were adamant about us not growing up there.”

Assemblywoman Rubio was 6 years old at the time. Her sister, Sen. Susan Rubio, was 5.

Their father had worked as a bracero. The Bracero Program granted temporary permits to field workers to work in the U.S. in order to help with labor shortages.

After the program ended, he and his wife ultimately decided to move Blanca, Susan and their two other siblings to the U.S. full time.

“The reality is we had never heard the word undocumented,” Susan Rubio said.

But while in Texas, their visitor visas ran out and their father was confronted at a carnival.

“We saw men in uniform talk to my dad. My dad’s expression was one of distress because it was Immigration, and at that point what happened is we were deported,” Blanca Rubio said.

Their father soon returned to the U.S. by himself, but this time to Los Angeles County where he found work at a carpet manufacturer.

Two years later, by the time the Rubio sisters were in elementary school, the entire family reunited in Southern California.

“My mom and dad sacrificed so much for us to be here, my dad going back and forth,” Blanca Rubio said. “My mom also went back and forth. My mom was a housekeeper for 30-plus years.”

While Blanca and Susan quickly learned English and thrived in school, Susan’s twin brother did not.

“In the ‘70s, children were allowed to be tested based on their language deficiencies, but because he didn’t learn, they segregated him Put him in a school with mentally handicapped people. My brother … literally, that decision back in third grade took his future away from him,” Susan Rubio said.

Years later, a high school counselor would eventually become an obstacle for Blanca and Susan, discouraging them from going to college.

“Even in the ‘80s, the counselor looked at me and said, ‘Honey, you’re just going to have children and get married. Maybe you should go into a home ec program?’” Blanca Rubio said. “So, stuck me in home economics instead of college track. Maybe that ruined or maybe that gave us the fire we have today.”

“I didn’t start college until I was 25 and the assemblymember didn’t until she was 26, but the message is it’s never too late,” Susan Rubio said.

With U.S. citizenship and college degrees in hand, their determination, passion for education, and influence from what happened to their brother propelled both Rubio sisters into careers as teachers.

“I feel like we always continue to chase my brother’s life,” Susan Rubio said. “We couldn’t help him, but we continue to try to help, as much as we can, families, low-income families, those with immigration issues, housing.”

After teaching for 17 years each, Blanca and Susan leaned into public office but were once again met with hurdles.

“It was terrible. People were like, ‘What do you think? You can’t do it,’” Blanca Rubio said. “We weren’t part of the establishment.”

Blanca Rubio was first elected to a local water board, later a school board, and then the state Assembly in 2016.

Susan Rubio was first elected as a local city clerk and eventually, went on to the city council. She was elected to the state Senate in 2018.

“It was brutal. Politics is brutal, the attacks are brutal, the misinformation is brutal. But at the end of the day, it was all worth it,” Susan Rubio said.

The Rubio sisters continue to advocate for families like theirs, noting work still needs to be done to help families in Black and brown communities.

“I think we’ve done great work in California as legislators in trying to provide those resources, but still, we need to work harder to go deep into the communities that don’t normally come out and see how we can help them,” Susan Rubio said.

“Resources mean information. I don’t mean handouts. I have to state that because the rhetoric is immigrants are coming here to take something,” Blanca Rubio said. “Trust and believe what Susan and I have accomplished, nobody gave to us.”

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