Latin Times Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with the Honorable Senator Janet Rifkin-Cruz recently -Senator Cruz 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?
Senator Janet Cruz: I live in Tampa, Florida, where I was born & raised. I am a 4th generation Ybor City resident. My great-grandparents immigrated to Tampa to work in the cigar factories.
LTM: Tell me about what you do for a living
Senator Janet Cruz: I am proud to represent my hometown in the Florida Senate. As a Florida Senator, I work for 500,000 Hillsborough County residents, making sure their voices are heard in Florida’s lawmaking process.
LTM: Tell me about what organizations you are a part of
Senator Janet Cruz: I am a part of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, the Tampa Latin Chamber of Commerce, the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and Women in Government. I have previously served as the Chairwomen of the Hillsborough County Democratic Hispanic Caucus and a board member of Paint Your Heart Out Tampa.
LTM: Tell us about the biggest highlights of your career
Senator Janet Cruz: My election to the Florida Senate was decided by 411 votes, 10 days after Election Day and a manual recount. The campaign was aggressive. I faced personal attacks. That victory means so much to me and is the highlight of my career because I have always stayed true to myself and the voters saw that. I love my hometown and feel truly blessed that my neighbors, friends, and constituents promoted me to serve as their State Senator.
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
Senator Janet Cruz: I am the daughter of a single mother who worked in a factory and became a mom myself at the age of 16. But I did not let those challenges define me. I finished high school, graduated from college, and opened a business to provide for my family. I did not let the challenges and hardships define my life, and I worked hard to provide for my family so that we could prosper. And now I am fortunate enough to fight for families who face their own challenges and help my constituents prosper, as well.
LTM: How important is being a Latina to you
Senator Janet Cruz: As the first Hispanic Woman Minority Leader in the Florida House of Representatives, I know the importance of proper representation. In that capacity, I embraced my Latina roots so that children of the next generation see what they can accomplish.
LTM: What is your favorite type of musica, and what is your favorite song?
Senator Janet Cruz: When I was younger, I loved listening to Julio Iglesias with my mom. She loved his music, and I have such fond memories of listening to that at home with her. Currently, my favorite artists would be Carlos Santana & Jennifer Lopez.
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
Senator Janet Cruz: I would have liked to pursue my dreams of higher education. As a teen mom, I was able to work hard to receive a technical degree, which helped me provide for my family. But ideally, I would have liked to continue my education and learning to earn a Master’s Degree. A good education can change a person’s life in so many ways.
LTM: What do you think some of the best career choices are for young Latinas
Senator Janet Cruz: I think that we need more Hispanic people in leadership roles so that our unique perspective can be heard as well. I also would like to see more young Latinas in STEM roles that are going to continue to propel us forward and innovate our society.
LTM: Tell us about what kind of projects you currently have going on
This summer I am raising money to install filters on school water fountains in Hillsborough County. I sponsored a bill this Session that would have required these filters be installed on all water fountains in schools built pre-1986 when schools were built using lead pipes. There is no safe level of lead for children to be drinking, and I am taking on this project to prove that this is a project our state should invest in statewide.
LTM: What can we expect to see from you in the future
Senator Janet Cruz: I am going to continue fighting for Florida’s working families, public schools, affordable healthcare, and women’s rights. These are the issues that are important to me, my constituents, and the people of Florida.
LTM: What is your comida favorite?
Senator Janet Cruz: I would say I definitely have a soft spot for deviled crab. They taste amazing, and their history is symbolic of Tampa as a city, how different cultures have come together and created something special.
LTM: What famous person do you most identify with and why
Senator Janet Cruz: I was fortunate to hear Maya Angelou speak at President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. I was completely inspired by her message of overcoming life’s trials and tribulations that I wanted to read more of her work and learn more about her. Her works used her personal story to describe many of our personal experiences and matters that affect our country – oppression, poverty, and discrimination. As an elected official, I strive to be open with others about my life to help us all collectively become a better “we” – a better community, state, and country.
LTM: What did I miss? Tell me something you want us to know!
Senator Janet Cruz: During the last election, I was very fortunate to become connected with so many mothers in my district who are deeply concerned about Florida’s public schools. Once I was sworn into the Florida Senate, I was selected to serve on the Senate Committee on Education, so I was able to directly hear legislation that is of the utmost importance to these families. There is so much work left to be done, but a good education can transform a person’s life. Advocating for our public schools – for their safety, their teachers, their desperately needed funding – is a constant priority of mine and my colleagues know that I will continue to fight for the parents, teachers, and students in Florida every day that I am serving as a state senator.