Though he was born in California, Pedro Lopez spent most of his life in Colima, Mexico. In 2006, he returned to the U.S. – to Arizona – with his parents and entered high school as a freshman. In school, he worked hard, joined the Young Business Leaders of America program and thought he was headed toward a business or technical career.
But, in his last month of high school, Pedro found himself galled by Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration bill, SB 1070 – nearly everyone in his family was undocumented – and he rallied with other students against the bill at the state Capitol in 2010. Within weeks he’d volunteered as a field organizer with the immigration advocacy group Promise Arizona.
“I was going to go to college at Arizona State – I had my scholarship. But because most of my family is undocumented, I have a connection to that issue,” Pedro says.
Fighting for human rights – not career advancement – was his true passion, Pedro realized. So he packed his clothes and a family photo and headed south to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he spent two months volunteering to register voters. By day, he organized families. At night, he slept in a church janitor’s closet. After several weeks he had helped to register 850 new voters.
He speaks humbly, but Pedro’s get-out-the-vote efforts were part of a massive grassroots campaign that eventually brought him to Washington, D.C. to lobby for passage of the DREAM Act.
He is now a community college student and plans to transfer to Arizona State, majoring in political science. “Delaying school meant losing some of the scholarship money, but I felt the need to help organize my community,” he says.
The decision had impressive consequences: In 2011, Pedro became involved in a successful campaign to recall state Sen. Russell Pearce, an anti-immigration activist.
In 2012, concerned about the lack of youth leadership in his community, he ran for a seat on the Cartwright school board in West Phoenix – and won. “We were the only campaign knocking on doors, calling people,” Pedro says.
Now the youngest officeholder in Arizona, Pedro intends to ensure that all students – no matter their background – have access to quality education. “We need to fight for our students, especially Latino and minority students. So, to me, organizing is an opportunity to help my peers. They hardly ever see successful people that look like me. It’s always somebody way older.”
When his school board term ends in 2016, Pedro plans to go to law school and has put his Shriver Poverty Warrior Award toward that goal. “The plan was to go into tech and have a high-paying job,” he says with a laugh. “But I left that track to organize in my community.”
From January through March, Equal Voice News is publishing a profile each Friday under the theme of “America’s Next Leaders.” Each story features a young person who contributes to his or her community. In 2012, these young people received a Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award. Each year, Marguerite Casey Foundation, which publishes Equal Voice News, honors young people with this award. Promise Arizona nominated Lopez for the award.