BY SABA FIAZUDDIN ’21
When Sofia Rivera ’18 first arrived at Mount Holyoke College in the fall of 2014, she was thousands of miles away from her vibrant community in Puerto Rico and, like most students, felt anxious about being in a place so culturally different. Her anxiety soon subsided as she realized that Puerto Ricans make up almost 50 percent of the population in Holyoke. She instantly felt an affinity for her new home and soon became involved in movements to solve the political issues which affected her community.
Determined to work for the foreign service, Rivera decided to major in international relations and work with the issues she cared most deeply about, namely immigration.
Rivera engaged in a variety of internships and community work to bring attention to issues surrounding immigration. What she didn’t expect was to become so involved in local elections. Amy Myers ’17, environmental caucus chair at College Democrats of Massachusetts, inspired Rivera to engage with politics by inviting her to an event where Santiago Narino was endorsed for the position of the DNC committeeman. Rivera was beginning to open up to the idea of political engagement when the 2016 elections came around.
“The election changed everything,” said Rivera. “It made me realize how we are at the mercy of the federal government and just how seriously local elections need to be taken if we want to make any change. I still had plans to work for the foreign service but I realized that I couldn’t ignore elections anymore.”
Rivera immediately leapt into action when Hurricane Maria hit her hometown. Jossie Valentin, Holyoke City Councilor reached out to her and even recommended that she accompany Senator Elizabeth Warren on her visit to Puerto Rico after the devastation. Touring her hometown with Warren and other government officials exposed Rivera to both the positive and negative sides of the human spirit. While much good was being done, she also recognized the misinformation organizations like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Center) were spreading.
“There was definitely a lack of sincerity when organizations like FEMA said things like ‘power will be back by March,’ when everyone knew it would probably be back by June,” said Rivera. Despite a lack of transparency, Rivera described her experience with the Massachusetts delegation as surreal. “It was unbelievable that all these people like Senator Warren were in my hometown, touring the same places I had grown up in,” she said.
Rivera attributes her success to the strong relationships she has been able to foster at Mount Holyoke, many of which have been cultivated by the Weismann Center. “Sofia is an inspiring leader through her passion and devotion to advancing social justice,” said Janet Lansberry, associate director at the Weissman Center for Leadership. “She has taken a lead role in bringing the mayor of San Juan Puerto Rico to campus and we know she will continue to do extraordinary things in her community and in public life.”
Rivera believes that her strong connections which have propelled her towards great success can be attributed to her distrust of networking. “All the relationships I have been able to make in the Massachusetts delegation and elsewhere have happened mostly because I have been genuine,” she said. “I don’t believe in fostering a relationship only to get something out of it. I have connected with people I have genuinely wanted to be around.”
Rivera hasn’t ruled out the foreign service as a future career path, but is now more interested in working on election campaigns. She is currently working with the MA State Department and is also interning at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “I am not seeking anything based on how much it will pay me,” she said. “I am just looking for something that I am passionate about in the election circuit.”