A Heart for New Mexico: Teresa Leger Fernandez NM-03
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared on Democrat's Abroad.
“I originally thought I’d work on social and economic justice issues in Latin America, but while working on a graduate school project with women in Peru, I realized that my roots and heart were in New Mexico.”
WHO IS SHE?
Teresa Leger Fernandez is an American attorney, born and raised in Northern New Mexico. She has lived on both US coasts, having earned her Bachelor’s in Connecticut at Yale and then her law degree in California at Stanford. But she always returned home with a purpose.
Teresa has spent her 30-year career working as a lawyer for Leger Law & Strategy, founded on and committed to the single principle of making a positive social impact. Teresa has represented indigenous tribes and their business entities, as well as community leaders. She is also a fierce proponent of universal access to healthcare (Medicare for All), speaking as a breast cancer survivor and mother.
WHAT IS SHE RUNNING FOR?
Teresa is running on the conviction that communities are the cornerstone to a healthy and vibrant society. Be they rural or urban, communities are successful when they have a leader who is proactive and responsive. Teresa is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to the resources needed for their area so that they can flourish. She will collaborate with local state leaders and pioneer progressive policies so that foreseeable problems such as rural access to healthcare, the need for a standardized pre-K care and education, and competing interests within state groups can be managed fairly and efficiently.
Teresa wants to continue her life’s work as a community advocate. She’s is an exceptionally well-educated and eloquent individual who has returned to New Mexico time and time again with a mission to serve the state and New Mexicans.
An exclusive Democrat’s Abroad Interview with Teresa, shared with Women to Win
Democrats Abroad: You attended Yale University for your undergraduate degree and then Stanford for law school, where you graduated with distinction. Those places are quite far away from New Mexico! Yet, you returned and have dedicated your life to serving the communities of northern New Mexico. What is it about home that made you want to return and work in that community?
Teresa Leger Fernandez: I come from a large family that is rooted in both the land and cultural traditions of the State (17th generation and intermixed with local Pueblo and Apache). My parents were also political activists of their day - pioneering bilingual education, fighting racism, and supporting community improvement. I originally thought I’d work on social and economic justice issues in Latin America, but while working on a graduate school project with women in Peru, I realized that my roots and heart were in New Mexico. The major challenges of economic development and social justice are as present here as anywhere. I truly love this beautiful land we call home, in all its fragility, and cherish every small village, Native American community, and mountain range that surrounds us.
Democrats Abroad: You were appointed Vice Chair to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation by President Obama. Given the public reckoning that America is having with its history of slavery thanks to movements such as Black Lives Matter and the rise in opposition to displays of Confederate pride such as flags and other symbols, what is your professional opinion on how to decide which historical narratives are preserved, shared, and honored?
Teresa Leger Fernandez: At the ACHP, I worked on making cultural preservation more inclusive because unless we acknowledge the presence and struggles of the many communities in our historical arc -- including Black, AAPI, Native American, Latino -- it is too easy to deny their contributions, to demand their expulsion, and to forget their struggles. Charlottesville, El Paso, Standing Rock, the Tree of Life Synagogue, and the regularity of police brutality against Black Americans flows out of a vision of history that ignores these struggles and contributions. We should not be honoring individuals who contributed to genocide or led a war against the U.S. to preserve slavery, but instead be engaged in an honest conversation among the communities about that history. Their role in history needs to be acknowledged, but their actions not celebrated. Celebrating their actions through monuments implies that slavery and the war to preserve it was an honorable task.
Democrats Abroad: You got your start in education as a child in the Head Start program, an early childhood education program for children living at or below the poverty line. While other states such as Ohio have also implemented Head Start programs, outside the U.S., universal pre-K is often the norm. Do you support the implementation of universal pre-K in the U.S., and, if yes, what political arguments do you anticipate having to counter while championing this policy?
Teresa Leger Fernandez: Absolutely, I fell in love with learning at Head Start in Las Vegas and understand the importance of early-childhood education. However, research and good public policy now recognize that we must provide quality, accessible early-childhood education at a much younger age. We have been fighting to support universal pre-K in New Mexico for years, and this last year had the first break-through for some initial funding. States like New Mexico need the support of federal programs to implement universal pre-K and early-childhood interventions (newborn to 3). Improving our early education system is seen as one of the most cost-effective investments we can make in our future. An educated public, with critical thinking skills, is key to diversifying our economy and creating high paying jobs, and strengthening our democracy. The political argument is that it is too expensive. What was emphasized during the Democratic Presidential primary is that this is an investment that must be made, and there are various options for paying for the cost.
Democrats Abroad: Under the Issues—Immigration section of your campaign website, you say that you will “push tirelessly for reform that takes into account the realities of the immigrant experience, including the exploitation of immigration labor and the role of the U.S. in destabilizing governments in Latin America.” Can you provide some examples of legislation you would propose that will acknowledge these thorny truths?
TLF: As an example, recently, we saw undocumented immigrants were left out of the COVID relief bills. I would have pushed to include all workers in the COVID legislative packages. Additionally, the U.S. should put policies in place to support countries from which we are seeing an influx of immigrants and refugees by addressing the root causes of migration. Root causes can include violence, corruption and poverty. The U.S. should reinstate aid to Central America and assist in efforts to address corruption, create job training programs and programs to lower youth violence. Moreover, the comprehensive immigration reform would lead to a positive economic impact. The last comprehensive reform (IRCA) led to a $1.3 trillion positive impact. Aspects such as increasing the minimum wage, and allowing a safe space for immigrants to challenge wage theft would improve working conditions for all.
HOW CAN I SUPPORT TERESA?
Get involved with supporting Teresa! Visit her website and follow her on social media for the most up-to-date information on the campaign: