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Anna Valencia: Small Town Girl in Big City Politics

As I continue to write this series (Tacones Exitosos), I feel as if I'm growing with it. In every conversation I engage, I find litle bits and pieces of motivation and inpiration from the amazing woman I have been able to feature and meet.

Sometimes its easy to forget eveything we are capable of doing and for me, this series has helped me to remind myself I can do it too. I hope this blog can do the same for you. I want you to find between the lines of this interview that little something that ignites your passion.

People have told me to stay in my lane and I know a lot of that has to do with my age, that’s the biggest disadvantage but honestly it drives me to do more – to prove them wrong.

Lets jump right in and learn more about Chicago's very own City Clerk, Anna Valencia:

Anna Valencia was first sworn-in as City Clerk of Chicago on January 25, 2017 overseeing one of the largest offices in the City serving 1.2 million Chicagoans and generating more than $130 million annually.

As City Clerk, Valencia has focused on making government accessible to all Chicagoans. Under Valencia’s leadership, the Office of the City Clerk has made it a priority to find new and innovative ways to bring services directly to residents, increase civic engagement, and collaborate across government in the private and public sectors.

Prior to becoming Clerk, Valencia served as the second woman and first Latina to run Mayor Emanuel’s Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs (LCGA). Valencia has also worked as an Illinois political professional for several elected officials including U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, State Senate President John Cullerton, U.S. Congressmen Mike Quigley and Gary Peters.

In 2018, Business Insider named Valencia one of the 8 most influential millennial women in U.S. politics. In 2017, Chicago Magazine listed Valencia as an Emerging Power Player highlighting her as a rising star in Chicago politics. Valencia has also been awarded Negocios Nows’ 40 under 40 for her work as part of the next generation of Latina leaders.

Valencia earned her degree in International Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She currently resides in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood with her husband and dog.

In this feature, I'm excited to share with you my interview with Anna Valencia, a small town Millenial making noise in this windy city. Get comfy, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy:

City Clerk Anna Valencia and I at the Latino Magazine BRAVA Awards

1.Who is Anna Valencia?

First and foremost, I’m Debbie and Joe Valencia’s daughter. I was born and raised in Granite City a small town in Southern Illinois. My dad was and still is a union painter and my mom a nonprofit worker. Their hard work and dedication allowed me to be the first in my family to graduate from college receiving my degree in International Relations from the University of Illinois.

2. What ignited your passion for politics?

My first experience was working on a local judge’s race in my hometown. From there I worked to land jobs on campaigns in Virginia, Michigan and back in Illinois. I’ve always had a desire to help people and as a public servant I get to do exactly that.

3. Small town girl in a big city. What has been your biggest obstacle advancing your career in such a competitive male dominated field?

Coming up in this industry the more rooms I sat in the more I realized that I was usually the only woman and most times the only woman of color in the room. But I didn’t let it discourage me. I let it drive me.

4. Being only 34 and a millenial - what do you think your advantages and barriers are? 

People have told me to stay in my lane and I know a lot of that has to do with my age, that’s the biggest disadvantage but honestly it drives me to do more – to prove them wrong.

5. Tell us about your new initiative New Deals for all Women and Girls. How did it come about and what should we expect? 

Women and girls are my passion. In October 2018, I formed the Status of Women & Girls Working Group. This was made up of more than 120 women from a variety of industries and backgrounds from the CEO of Ulta to our UniteHere workers right here in Chicago. The goal of the Working Group was to review existing research, reports, and best practices, as well as discuss lived experiences, in order to recommend citywide policies and initiatives to make Chicago a safer and more equitable place, and ultimately, the best city in the country for women and girls. In March, we released the The Pink New Deal: Chicago’s New Deal for All Women & Girls, a report entailing all 20 policy recommendations.

Since the report’s release our team has been working diligently to make immediate change. We passed the Fair Work Week ordinance. We’ve also launched a task force in conjunction with Chicago Public Schools and many Working Group members focusing specifically on our first recommendation of restructuring CPS’ health and sexual education curriculum.

Anna Valencia and I at ABC7 Hispanic Heritage Month Luncheon

6. What are your three golden rules for success?

1.) Be Kind to every single person you meet. Always.

2.) If you have no vision, dreams or goals to where you want to go in life. You will remain in the same place. Dream Big and create a plan to get there.

3.) Always give back and help people whenever you get the opportunity. No matter how big or small. We must always do our part especially when people have offered you their kindness. You must have empathy and compassion for people. Don’t always assume you know their story.

7. The future is Latinx. What do you think our role is to make a positive impact and build up other latinas? 

I think a lot of people talk the talk when they get into positions of power, but you have to walk the walk as well and that means uplifting our young Latinas coming up. My goal is to build a pipeline of talent so that I’m not the last person that looks like me to be in this position.

8. Are you a coffee and concha or spot of tea kind of girl? 

I’m definitely a fan of tea.

9. Biggest inspiration? 

My father. He is a kidney transplant recipient. He worked a manual labor job every single day and even up to the day of his surgery while being on dialysis four times a day. He always put his family ahead of his own happiness and encouraged my sister and I to reach for the stars. His work ethic has always inspired me to work hard and complain less.

10. You and your husband are #powercouple goals. What is the secret to a happy marriage?

1.) God and our faith is the center of our marriage. Without it we wouldn’t make it.

2.) Communication is key and we have not always been the best at it but both want to strive to get better at it.

3.) Laugh at each other. Don’t take every thing so seriously. Learn to have fun together. Marriage is hard work and it takes BOTH people in it to commit and work at it. We work at it everyday.

4.) CHOOSE your partners wisely. I kissed a lot of frogs to find Reyahd. Make sure you choose someone that makes you happy. Has the qualities that you find in your dearest friends and family members. If you choose for physical attraction or sparks that fade…well…it’s going to be a lot harder.

11. Knowledge is power - What book should every future leader read?

“Becoming” – Michelle Obama, “More Than Enough” – Elanie Welteroth, “Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward” – Valerie Jarrett , Dare to Lead-

Brene Brown, The Four Agreements- Don Miguel Ruiz

12. Who is the single most influential Latina in your life and why? 

My tia. From a very early age she was breaking the mold in our family. She put herself through college and nursing school. No one in our family had gone to college. She then worked her way up at the hospital where they were flying her around the world to pick up bone marrow donations. At such a young age I looked up to her and aspired to have the life she led. She is fearless. She also always spoiled us and would help us with college and kept pushing us to achieve more.

13. Loving ourselves is powerful because through self-love, we value our gifts, knowledge and strengths. What are some ways to show yourself love? 

I believe getting up and getting your blood flowing first thing in the morning is important. I like to get in a pilates class every morning before I get to the office. I also make sure to guard some personal time for myself. Doing things like getting my nails done or going to dinner with a friend or just journaling.

14. What motivated you in your early 20’s?

My parents. Knowing how much they had worked and sacrificed for my siblings and me. It drove me to create a path and career that was unique to interests and goals.

15. In researching you, I learned that you served as a student council member all four years in high school and were president in your senior year. Was politics always your ultimate goal? 

I don’t like to say I fell into politics, but I definitely didn’t see it as the end goal. I’ve always had a desire to help people and as a public servant I get to do that every day.

16.  What is your favorite pair of Tacones to wear when you are ready to make some badass power moves? 

Leopard or a bold color. It means I’m confident and ready to kick some ass.

17. How has your leadership style evolved over time?

I’m always learning. I’ve learned from other mentors, elected officials and even colleagues. As of gained more experience my confidence has certainly risen and with age I’ve been more comfortable in my skin and decision making. I know that has really helped me. When I’ve made mistakes in the past I’ve looked at them as growth opportunities. I’ve ensured to not repeat the same mistake twice.

18. Chicago is a beautiful yet troubled city, how can we as Mujeres en Tacones Exitosos help curb violence and crime. 

This an issue I personally want to do more on, public safety. I think the biggest part of constructing a strategy is listening to those impacted. Going into these communities and listening to young people and their ideas is extremely important.

19. Let’s forget about politics for a moment, how do you hit reset after a hectic week?

Exercise and journaling are extremely therapeutic for me.

Are you inspired yet? Share this with a friend or two! 👠

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