Representative Susan Lopez-Valdes was born the first generation child of Cuban immigrants in New York City, NY and lived in the Bronx until moving to Hialeah, Florida at the age of 8. She would permanently resettle in Tampa a short time later. Rep. Valdes worked as a health practice administrator until winning a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board in 2004, where she served for 14 years until resigning to run for the Florida House of Representatives in 2018. She and her husband Gerry have three children (Mallory, Alexander, and Jean-Luc) and three grandchildren (Julisa, Alexander Jr, and Lucinda.)
Latin Times Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with State Representative Susan Valdes recently, Susan is one of our 2019 Latina Movers N Shakers! Latin Times Magazine: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida?
Susan Valdes: I live in Pinecrest, near Leto High School in Tampa. I was originally from New York City. Born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx. My parents brought me to Florida when I was 8 years old. At first, we moved to Hialeah in South Florida, but relocated permanently to Tampa after my father passed because my mother had family here.
Susan Valdes: As I mentioned above, I was born and raised in New York City. I was the first generation born to Cuban immigrants who immigrated to the United States in 1954. My family was from Santiago de Las Vegas in Cuba before moving here.
LTM: Tell me about what you do for a living
Susan Valdes: As of now, I am a full-time legislator dedicating my time to bettering my community and working for the people of District 62. I served 14 years on the Hillsborough County School Board before that. Before my school board tenure, I was a health care practice administrator.
LTM: Tell us about the biggest highlights of your career
Susan Valdes: My biggest highlight was the passage of a racial equity policy for Hillsborough County Schools when I was on the Hillsborough County School board. Also, bringing the dual language program to Hillsborough County schools was a major highlight. I also established a now-annual back to school fair that provides kids with back to school supplies as well as immunizations for the children and their families.
LTM: As a Latina leader in the community, business or other…what has been your biggest challenge and how have you been able to overcome it
Susan Valdes: My biggest challenge has been overcoming entrenched interests that can’t think beyond the status quo. On the school board, I was a vocal proponent of removing a now-former school superintendent who was intransigent in dealing with board members and mismanaged district funds. The backlash I got from a large portion of the business leaders and political class was massive. I was public enemy number one because I was steadfast in wanting to buy out the contract of this superintendent and move on. But I persevered and didn’t back down and won that fight, and I believe the school district is much better off for it today.
LTM: How important is being a Latina to you
Susan Valdes: I think in general, it is important for people to remember their roots and where they came from. Remembering our heritage provides us with a unique perspective.
LTM: What is your favorite type of musica, and what is your favorite song?
Susan Valdes: I love all types of music! Especially salsa, hip hop, rap, etc. Anything that can get me on the dance floor. It would be impossible for me to pick just one song as a favorite, but La Vida Es Un Carnival is definitely one of my favorites.
LTM: IF you can go back to let’s say 18-21, what are some of the pivotal decisions that you have made that you would do differently
Susan Valdes: I would listen to my mom and finish school and get my education earlier than I did.
LTM: What do you think some of the best career choices are for young Latinas
Susan Valdes: I’d like to see more young Latinas go into government and run for office! On a similar note, that is a demographic that also needs more representation in the legal field, and I’d love to see more young Latinas in law school. We also have a significant nursing shortage in many underserved areas in our community, so I think the nursing field is a great one.
LTM: Tell us about what kind of projects you currently have going on
Susan Valdes: In the legislature, my biggest goal is to establish some alternative graduation pathways for high school students that diminish the impact of high-stakes testing. I want to create more pathways for students with an industry certification that, for whatever reason, may have trouble with test taking and don’t necessarily fit into that box that we expect students to fit into. So developing legislation that enables more students to graduate and succeed is my biggest project.
LTM: What can we expect to see from you in the future
Susan Valdes: For right now, I’m going to continue fighting the good fight in the Florida House for the residents of District 62 and my community as a whole. But I tend to surprise myself as much as anyone else, so you’ll know what my future holds as soon as I do!
LTM: What is your comida favorita
Susan Valdes: White rice, black beans, pork, and yuca! (and Cuban mojo)
LTM: What famous person do you most identify with and why
Susan Valdes: Michelle Obama, because we both firmly believe in just doing the right thing no matter what gets thrown at you.
LTM: What did I miss? Tell me something you want us to know!
Susan Valdes: I’m a proud grandmother! I have three beautiful grandkids (Julisa, Alexander, and Lucinda) with one currently on the way!