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Inspiration – Harvard, Military & Politics

21 Jun, 2012

State Representative Ruben Gallego is a man on a mission to spark change in Arizona’s Latino community
Ruben & wife Kate

Ruben & wife Kate at White House. Courtesy of Ruben Gallego

Ruben Gallego is on a mission to spark change in his community. It’s one of the reasons he chose to run for office in January 2010 and why he’s seeking re-election in 2012.

But as an Iraq veteran and Harvard alumnus, the Arizona State Representative for District 16 has been sparking change—particularly within the Latino community—for a long time.

“The reason I ran was not necessarily because I wanted it, but because I felt the Latino community lacked leadership all together,” says the 32-year-old Gallego.

First Generation
As the son of Latino immigrants—his father is from Mexico and his mother is from Columbia—life wasn’t always easy in Chicago for Gallego and his siblings. He remembers sleeping on the floor of his uncle’s apartment when his parents could not afford their own place.

Yet the young Gallego was a big dreamer. As a high-ranking student in high school, he attended youth enrichment programs for gifted students. There, he met many students who were applying to some of the finest college institutions—Ivy League schools. Gallego knew he was just as smart as they were.

Ruben in Iraq

Ruben on patrol in Iraq. Courtesy of Ruben Gallego

“I realized that if these kids were applying, why couldn’t I?” recalls Gallego, who says he had many positive people in his life supporting his academic career. His ambition resulted in his admission to Harvard, where he majored in international relations. But Harvard was a whole different ball game for Gallego, who was accustomed to the humble ways of his immigrant upbringing.

“When you come from a working-class culture, going to Harvard can be very difficult,” he explains. “It’s a different world … either you sink or swim.” Luckily Gallego learned to stay afloat.

Ruben in Iraq with locals

Ruben in Iraq with locals. Courtesy of Ruben Gallego

After graduating, he pursued another lifelong dream: serving in the U.S. military, which wasn’t just a distant goal: it was a calling he felt compelled to fulfill.

Gallego was sent to Iraq in 2004, where he served as an infantry Marine with Lima 3/25. The unit was involved in the toughest combat in Iraq.

“I always felt I needed to repay this country for taking my family in and allowing us to succeed as much as we have,” says Gallego. “I felt it was something I needed to do to feel like a complete man.”

Gallego’s visit to Iraq, however, prepared him for the political ambitions and business aspirations that would ensue back home.

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About the author

Tatiana Sanchez
Tatiana Sanchez

Tatiana Sanchez is a freelance writer for Latin Business Today, reporting on Latino work, life and culture topics. Originally from San Francisco, Calif., Tatiana received a Master of Science from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. During her time in New York City, Tatiana came alive as a reporter. Her work was featured in the Queen’s Chronicle, the Bronx Free Press, and the New York Daily News.Tatiana was named the 2011 Kaiser Media Health Intern- this past summer, she joined the staff at The Oregonian as a health reporter, where she produced a cover story on the growing obesity epidemic in Oregon.

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