WASHINGTON, D.C. — Everything changed for Patsy Maldonado Montesinos when her father was deported.
She was seven years old, and at the time, her father owned a business polishing and chroming cars and motorcycles in North Carolina.
“It was the day before his birthday,” Montesinos, now 23 and a communications fellow for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), tells Latino Rebels. “We were planning to have a party. All I remember was being woken up to flashlights in my eyes, my sister’s eyes. It was ICE agents. We’d had the talk from our parents that they could be taken at any moment, but we didn’t believe that it could happen to us. By the time we got out of bed, he was already handcuffed in the van.”
Her father’s deportation triggered a downward spiral for Montesinos and her family, who soon moved out of the home where she grew up and into a garage.
“Most of the time when these deportations are happening, it’s the head of the household, the breadwinner who’s getting deported,” Montesinos says. “My parents have a hard time speaking about it to this day.”
Three years would pass before Montesinos saw her father again, on a visit to the country where he had been deported to, Mexico.
“I loved Mexico,” she recalls of her visit. “I convinced my mom to move our family there. I lived there for five years before I came back to the U.S. alone.”
While studying media and journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Montesinos became disillusioned with what she found to be an elitist attitude against perspectives like hers in the news business.
“I always had a feeling I wanted to uplift my community through storytelling, but the way we learned journalism, they said we had to be unbiased,” said Montesinos. “But as a Brown person, they told me I couldn’t cover my community, unlike my white counterparts who were allowed to cover their community. Things like that were disappointing to me, so I began thinking: where else can I make a difference?”
Things came to a head during her senior year at North Carolina. “I was already on edge with the 2016 elections,” recalls Montesinos. “Trump led a series of ICE raids. One was in North Carolina. I covered it as a student reporter. I was so scared people would say, ‘You can’t cover this because you’ve been impacted and you can’t be unbiased.’ I wasn’t willing to stand down from what I believe is right. Families belong together.”
After working for a time at the Chatham News & Record in North Carolina, where Montesinos helped launch “La Voz de Chatham,” a website to distribute news and information about COVID in Spanish, she came to Washington, D.C. through a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) fellowship that began in the office of Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL).
That’s where she met Rep. Bowman, her current boss, at a CHCI networking event.
“I was very scared, but I knew I wanted a placement,” she says. “I really wanted to be in Congressman Bowman’s office. He was at the CHCI intern graduation, but I just went up to him and said, ‘I need a job.'”
Rep. Bowman recalls the moment fondly.
“She came right up to me and said, ‘Hi Congressman, my name is Patsy Montesinos and I need a placement for the second half of my fellowship. I would love to work with you,'” Bowman tells Latino Rebels. “I remember being so impressed by her tenacity and courage, that I immediately introduced her to my communications director, Marcus Frias, who also happens to be a CHCI alumni, to get the process started.”
Frias gives high praise to CHCI for creating opportunities for Latinos like Montesinos and him to work in Congress.
“Patsy is a prime example of the power of CHCI and how its work is critical to the advancement of all people,” says Frias. “I was a part of the spring 2018 CHCI internship program and I can’t thank CHCI enough for the work it does to get Latinos, like myself and Patsy, on the Hill. If it weren’t for CHCI, so many of us would still be dreaming about working in Congress. But because of them, we’re here doing the work and advocating for racial justice, a pathway to citizenship, and so much more.”
Montesinos is proud of her work in Congress, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to journalism someday.
“I think about it all the time,” she says. “One of my dreams has always been to have a podcast with Futuro Media. I already know what it’s gonna be about. I have everything in my head.”
The podcast she envisions centers on the trauma carried by young people from her generation who have experienced deportations in their families.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bowman beams about Montesinos’ work performance in his Capitol Hill office.
“Patsy is an incredible addition to our team and we are truly lucky to have someone like her, who unapologetically brings her full self to work every day,” says Bowman. “We’ve been honored to witness her tenacity and courage as a part of our communications team every day. She is fearless in her advocacy for others and is an inspiration to all of us.”
“It’s important to CHCI alumni to pay it forward to young people of color just beginning to make their way onto the Hill,” adds Frias, Montesinos’ supervisor. “It is tough to break through, because if we don’t have each other’s backs, no one else will.”
Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports
So you came back a second time by yourself? Illegally again? For college? Free college?