Standing Tall
Miguel Martínez Bustos talks about being a Latino in the White House.
Interview by qvStaff Roldán

Miguel BustosSan Francisco native, Miguel Martínez Bustos is a Policy Advisor to Mrs. Gore in the Office of the Vice President. Miguel advises her on issues relating to health, education, and community development, and he is also one of the Vice President's advisors and liaisons to the Latino community. Miguel is a Latino, and is a great example of what individuals in our Latino community can achieve through hard work, determination and education. We asked Miguel a few questions about the community, how he got into politics, and many other topics. Here's what he shared with us!

This issue of qvMagazine is focused on knowledge and education. What does knowledge mean to you? Knowledge is a very complicated thing. In my opinion, knowledge is about being able to appreciate the whole. It's about having an informed sense of perspective. Here in Washington, many people claim to be knowledgeable. They claim to know what is "right" for others and for the country, but their perspective is limited by prejudice and/or misinformation. Knowledge is about looking beyond those barriers and exploring how different people, things, and ideas relate to each other.

What sparked your interest in politics? Throughout high school and college, I was very active in student government and took part in various school activities, including band and theater. I enjoyed working with other people toward concrete goals. In 1992, then-candidate Bill Clinton came to the "Mission" district's annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta during his campaign swing through California. I remember my mother telling me, "Mijo, pay attention. This man will be our next president."

Up until that moment, I had never been very interested in national politics. Washington had always been a faraway place and the White House was almost mythical. But here was Bill Clinton, the first public official on the national scale to visit the Mission since Bobby Kennedy. His message of hope and change rang very true to me and it sparked a desire in me to know and do more. Government was no longer an intangible concept. It involved every one of us.

I moved to Washington to obtain a Master's Degree. My plan was to complete my education and return home. Little did I know that one day Bill Clinton would be my boss; that I would be working at The White House for the Clinton/Gore Administration; and be a part of that "change" they talked about.

Tell us how your job as a policy advisor came to be? While earning my Master's Degree at American University, I was the Graduate Fellow in the Office of Multicultural Affairs. There, I organized programs geared toward promoting diversity. While I was in school, Propositions 187 and 209 were hot issues in California. (Proposition 187 was a controversial initiative in California regarding the reporting of illegal immigrants; Proposition 209 was separate initiative that ended Affirmative Action in California) I followed developments closely, as I was concerned about my home state and the ramifications that these initiatives would have on our gente back home and nationally.

At a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, I connected with other displaced Californians with similar concerns and, through the university, organized a group of young Latinos who met every Saturday morning in my apartment. Over a breakfast of chorizo and eggs, we discussed pressing issues facing our community and planned conferences to get local leaders involved. During this time I met a young Latina named Araceli.

Araceli, then a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Vice-President and Mrs. Gore, offered me the opportunity to come to her from time-to-time and help her out on some projects. I was so thrilled that I went out and bought a suit! From then on, she did all she could to get me involved and meet the right people, including the Gores. Finally, when Araceli decided to go back to school, I was hired to replace her.

What does a policy advisor do? What types of projects are you working on? My main responsibilities include advising Mrs. Gore on issues that she has always shown great interest in. These include AIDS, Mental & Physical Health, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and Education. I am also one of the Vice President's advisors on Latino issues and assist him with QV and lesbian outreach.

The types of projects that I work on change from day to day. Depending on current issues, and the mood of Congress, projects can vary.

How long ago did you come out? Well, I came out to some of my friends in 1993. I was in college and was struggling with the thought of coming out. It wasn't until I moved away from San Francisco to Washington that I really came out. No, not in the loca way, but in a way that allowed me to feel comfortable being myself. People who know me laugh when I say that I had to move away from SF to come out, but my family and childhood friends are all in San Francisco, and in order to appreciate that, I felt I had to go as far away as possible to discover myself.

When I first moved to Washington, I found myself going deeper into the closet. I was afraid of coming out. I thought for sure that I wouldn't have any friends. Also, this is such a conservative town that I thought that my dreams of doing anything political would be hurt by my coming out. Little did I know that there were reinas all around me! However, one day it all changed for me.

Washington was having the biggest snow storm in history. I had a meeting at the University. So, I got out of bed and got on a bus and went to school. The school was a ghost town. No one was there. I saw someone and asked, "Where is everybody?" They replied, "It's a snow day!" Snow day? I had never heard of a snow day. I had only recently seen my first snow. I thought, "If this Latino from California can get on a bus and go to school, why couldn't these people from the east do the same?"

I went to use a phone in one of the abandoned offices, and as I picked up the phone to dial, I saw this quote and my life changed forever:

"Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.

And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or thought one knew; to what one possessed or dreamed that one possessed.

Yet, it is only when a (person) is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream one has long-cherished or a privilege one has long possessed that he is set free-he has set himself free-for higher dreams, for greater privileges."

From "Nobody Knows My Name"
by James Baldwin

Are you open about your sexuality in your workplace? How has that been for you? Yes, I am very open about myself at work. It's been great! It's great not because of any special pay, hours, perks, or any other privileges that people think we receive; it's great because I can be myself. It is great to get an invitation to an official White House function from the President or Vice President that has yours and your partner's names on it. I feel that if my familia and the President and Vice President of the United States are accepting of my relationship, who cares what others may say.

I was watching one of the Sunday morning political talk shows this weekend and one of the topics they discussed was that the Republican Party may be using some sort of anti-homosexual platform in the coming elections.What do you know about this and how do you think this may play out? I don't want to speculate about other people's possible political agendas. I will speak for myself on this issue. People have the right to voice their opinions. But along with that right comes the responsibility of the individual not to impose their religious beliefs and/or personal opinions on others. This nation was founded by people who left their countries in search of better lives and to be free of persecution. That is why they came to America, and that is also why the Bill of Rights and other basic freedoms were incorporated into the Constitution. So, if anyone tries to impose their views on others, be they political or ideological, I feel that it goes against the very fiber of the foundation of our country, and it is anti-American. We've come a long way in making our system of government more fair and inclusive and it would be a shame to reverse that progress.

What are some of the most important political issues that we, as Latinos, should be aware of and keep ourselves educated about? I think that as QVs and/or Latinos we should not limit our knowledge to only issues that we consider relevant to ourselves. It is imperative to our development as individuals and as communities to keep ourselves informed about as much as we can. We should and must be aware of struggles and concerns of others, as well as our own. How can we move forward and expect people to understand our struggle if we don't take the time to learn the struggles and issues of others? The best thing that we can do is make friends who don't look, sound, act, talk, or think like us.

You've already accomplished a lot. What's next? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? That's always the BIG question I ask myself-What's next? It's hard to say. However, I do know that I will be back home in California. I need to be with mi familia y mi gente. I'm leaving my options open. Who knows, maybe some acting in five years and maybe mayor of San Francisco in 10?!

What advice do you have for our younger Latino hermanos regarding education and reaching their goals? I think that the best advice I could give is not to be afraid to dream, and to remember that a goal imagined is a reachable goal.

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