Growing up in San Ysidro, just this side of the California-Mexico border, Lucia Saldivar never saw herself ending up in politics.
She thought she was going to be a musician, like her father. Saldivar grew up surrounded by music, singing and performing in musical theatre. She plays several instruments and, like her father, she is blessed with the ability to quickly learn how to play almost anything just by ear. So yeah, music seemed like an obvious path.
“I wanted to be a rock star,” she says, while noting she also played in a mariachi band. “I just love music so much. I never even knew this was a possibility.”
The “this” being her current job as the chief of staff to Assemblymember Lisa Calderon.
Saldivar’s parents immigrated from Mexico, and their lives were decidedly blue collar. Her mom is an electrician and, when he isn’t playing music, her dad is a landscaper. The idea of working in the Capitol in Sacramento never entered her mind. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t thinking about the world around here. In that way, Saldivar says politics became something very similar to what music had always been for her.
“Music always helped me make sense of the world and my community,” she says. “Then in high school, I learned a new language to help make sense of the world around me, and that was politics and policy.”
It all started with an AP history class her junior year. She was fascinated by the subject, and she discussed much of what she learned with her parents.
“It was like we were all learning together,” she says.
“Then in high school, I learned a new language to help make sense of the world around me, and that was politics and policy.”
The class sparked an interest in government, and that same year she was elected Associated Student Body president. The campaign intensified her interest in politics, and particularly in how that world was shaping her own.
“I think you don’t realize that there’s all these systems in place, and people within those systems making decisions that result in your environment being how it is,” she says.
She went on to study political science at Barnard College in New York city, a place about as far from San Ysidro as possible both geographically and culturally. But she wasn’t done giving herself a cultural shock to the system – she followed it up with six months studying philosophy abroad in New Dehli.
“My minor was in ancient studies,” she says. “So I was studying the classics, but without having to learn Greek or Latin because I was learning Hindi instead.”
Saldivar pondered staying on the East Coast after graduation, but the weather and long time away from home had finally caught up to her. She says that many of her classmates were already set to go to grad school or to start a job, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Her only immediate plan was to return to San Ysidro and figure out her next steps from there. When a colleague at an internship she was working suggested she apply to the Capitol Fellows program, she quickly applied. The wait was agonizing, but standing in line waiting to walk for her diploma – at Radio City Music Hall no less – she got the email informing her she had got in.
She was placed in the office of Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, where she made an immediate impression.
“We’re blessed to get several of the higher performing Fellows, and Lucia was definitely in that category,” says Brett Williams, Irwin’s chief of staff. “We have a pretty intensive workload in this office, and she was always able to handle whatever we threw at her, including some crazy political situations.”
Enough so that after her fellowship ended Irwin kept her on as a legislative aid, where she stayed for two years before leaving to become legislative director for Assemblymember Lisa Calderon. It was a big leap, but Saldivar was drawn to the chance to be the kind of mentor to a young staff that people like Williams had been for her.
The only wrinkle is that it came right in the heart of the pandemic. With everything gone virtual, she says she didn’t even get to meet her team for months.
Bigger changes were also on the way. White retired at the end of 2022, and in January Saldivar became a chief of staff at the ripe old age of 28. She says it was scary at first, but then tackling scary, uncomfortable things has always been okay with her.
“I always want to put myself in situations where I can grow and learn, and those situations are uncomfortable,” she says. “Moving across the country was really scary and uncomfortable, but I felt brave and I’m happy I did it. And when I was deciding where to study abroad, I think I could have gone to Europe but I thought, ‘when am I ever going go to India for six months?’ It was really uncomfortable a lot of the time, but I felt brave doing it. I don’t know, just growing up on the border you inherently have to have that kind of flexibility, that fluidity. You have to be able to switch between English and Spanish really quickly, and you just do it. So being comfortable in fluidity and not knowing and being brave, it’s all like a muscle you need to constantly work out. And I do.”
Without question. And just to make sure she’s getting the full workout experience, she is also working on achieving her MBA.
Wherever that leads her is to be determined. Saldivar says she loves her job, and offers an emphatic “no, no, no” when asked if she intends to run for office herself someday.
“I like where I’m at right now,” she says.
But just in case she changes her mind, she has one guaranteed vote.
“If she ever wants to run for office, I’ll be the first in line to support her,” Williams says.