Two weeks after arriving in Washington D.C., I wrote in a tweet that “seeing someone talk about something they’re passionate about is so beautiful.” That tweet was about Angelina Quezada. I was watching the Steinhardt junior talk about education and equality, and I was so heartened that I just had to tell my 394 Twitter followers. I have spent a lot of my time here with her, and she is nothing if not fiercely passionate. She knows the change she wants to see in the world, she knows how she’s going to make it happen and she won’t stop until it’s here.
This week, I sat down to talk with Quezada, an education studies major, to discuss her views, her past and her sure-to-be world-changing future.
Emily Fagel: How do you identify politically?
Angelina Quezada: I identify as a Democrat. I tend to think of myself as a very liberal thinker, liberal person. I care about people and the policies that affect people. And I really care about people who I feel have been underrepresented or treated unfairly, which I think happens a lot. And I think that, personally, I feel that Democrats are more interested in preserving the rights of individuals, especially those who don’t necessarily have the same rights as other people.
EF: Have you always identified this way?
AQ: Yes. I’m from California — I’m from the Bay Area — so it’s definitely a very liberal environment. But I also think that politics was not really a conversation that was going on in my house until I was in high school. My mom’s a teacher, and so we started having conversations about education, and I think when we started talking about education and the inequality that exists just in that spectrum, I think then it kind of opened my eyes to everything that’s going on. So I mean, I guess I truly identified as a Democrat when I was in high school, but I’ve always had a liberal mindset given that I grew up in the Bay Area.
EF: Do any of your other identities, like your gender or your race, influence your views?
AQ: Definitely. I am half-Mexican. I’m also a woman. But I was definitely very privileged in the sense that I received a private education. Like I said, my mom is a teacher, and she taught at a private school. And she worked so that she could provide me with what she saw as a quality education. And truthfully, where I would have gone to public school would not have been the best public school. And what I’ve realized now is that that is a result of the inequality that exists in the public school system, and that is what I believe to be a huge concern. Because just in terms of the Bay Area, in the very very wealthy, white, affluent areas, the schools are amazing. And they’re some of the best public schools in the country. And then 20 minutes away, 30 minutes away, you have some of the worst public schools in the country, and that tends to be in the areas that have a majority people-of-color population and also low income. So, I was very fortunate that my mom was able to squeeze me into the school that she taught at, and I was also very fortunate to have a family who really encouraged me to apply to private high schools and really pushed me in that direction, because I think that my life could have been completely different. But again, that’s all my privilege.
EF: So, basically what you’re saying is that you feel that more money shouldn’t buy a better education?
AQ: No, [it shouldn’t]. Yeah, I 100 percent think that as a United States citizen, as a person living in this country, you have every right to a quality education. I think that it is unbelievably messed up, and the system is completely failing, if we are allowing our students to not perform to the highest level that they can. I mean that in the ways where, why do some schools get more money? Why do some schools get better teachers? Why are underperforming schools getting what some people believe to be under-qualified teachers? Why are they not receiving enough money so that they can have smartboards in their classrooms? Why are some schools having iPads while some don’t even have pencils for students to use? So I think that something is not right, and I think that if the United States is promising to provide an education, it should be a quality education to absolutely every single child.
EF: Do your political views influence your career goals?
AQ: I mean, yes. Yes, my political views, in the sense that I tend to have a more compassionate view on individuals. And I am very interested in hearing the other side, don’t get me wrong, and I think that it’s great to know all that. But I also think that the America that I believe in and the America that I want to see is about inclusion, and it’s about freedom, and it is about the American Dream — but it’s not the American Dream that I feel has been promised to everyone. I think that there’s a fallacy of the American Dream, where it’s not about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps anymore. It’s about finding a ladder that’s gonna help you get up the wall.
EF: So you think [success for all would require] a systemic change, [not just people] working harder?
AQ: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s about grit. I don’t think that it’s an issue of grit. I think that there are plenty of people in this country who are working as hard as they possibly can — they just don’t have the agency to get where they want to be and where they could be. And I think that we often think that if a child, specifically, is not gritty enough, that they’re not intelligent. I feel like the system kind of gives up on that child. And I personally believe that instead of giving up on that child, we as an institution — we as America — should ask ourselves what we can do to help that child get to where they need to be.
EF: So [it’s] not necessarily your political views motivating you, [it’s] more your view of the world [motivating] your political views and also your career goals?
AQ: Yes. What I’ve come to learn, not only this semester but I think just in what I’ve done so far, is where I’m gonna be more influential, and where I really think I’m gonna have the greatest impact is not gonna be on a large, political scale. I think it’s gonna be deep down at a local level working one-on-one with students.
Email Emily Fagel at [email protected].