Nathaly Arriola, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids new press secretary for Hispanic media, says she enjoys that her job allows her to connect back to the community.
Five years ago, if someone had asked Nathaly Arriola whether she was involved in politics, she would have said no.
It didn’t matter that teachers expected her to voice her opinion on hot topics such as immigration reform and gang violence. It didn’t matter that her first brush with advocating for a cause she believed in had come four years earlier, when she told city councilmembers how budget cuts would affect her.
Because the reality was, Arriola, now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s press secretary for Hispanic media, didn’t really understand what politics were or how the government worked.
“I didn’t know the structure,” the 23-year-old said. “I didn’t know anyone who was in it or involved in the party.”
She immigrated to the United States from Peru at age 10, a couple of years after her father moved for work. After a brief stint in New York, the family settled in Hayward, Calif., nestled in the Bay Area near San Francisco and Oakland.
When the college preparatory program that Arriola was in faced budget cuts from the city council, she went to a meeting and explained the reality of her situation.
That was her first turning point. She was hooked and spent the rest of high school getting involved in different causes, whether helping organize immigration walkouts or speaking out against police brutality.
Despite that, her formal education was lacking; Arriola didn’t grasp how political parties worked or what their roles were in the government.
The second turning point came when she decided to study political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Arriola struggled in the introductory classes.
“I saw how prepared other students were,” she said. “A lot of the basic philosophies and theories were normal to them. They brought that from high school, and I had no idea.”
With the help of professor Corinna Reyes, Arriola got through the classes and was accepted into the University of California’s D.C. program, the Washington Center. This launched her right into life on Capitol Hill, where she interned in the office of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) in 2009. She learned firsthand how the legislative process worked. This experience convinced her that Congress was where she wanted to work.
But even as she came to that conclusion, she didn’t think she was qualified for it.
“I knew that I wanted to be on the Hill, but I didn’t know how you got here,” Arriola said. “I thought you had to be the Harvard grad with the 4.0 and the political connections. ... It wasn’t me.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.