Educator’s Calling Leads to Sacramento

by Rachel White

The surreal moment signified the culmination of hopes, dreams, challenges, and hard work. From her position on the Munson Chapel stage, Blanca Rubio ’99, M.A. ’03, could see the faces of family and friends gathered in her honor, and she felt their love and support. As she stood to take the oath of office, the location seemed particularly poignant—Azusa Pacific University, the place that helped shape her passion for public service.

The January 28, 2017, in-district swearing-in ceremony marked Rubio’s inauguration as California assemblywoman for the 48th District, representing approximately half a million residents in the cities of Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bradbury, Covina, Duarte, Glendora, Irwindale, and portions of El Monte, Industry, Monrovia, and West Covina.

Her unlikely journey to the state capitol began in Juarez, Mexico. The eldest of five children, Rubio and her family came to the United States when she was 8 years old in search of a better life in Southern California. After graduating from Belmont High School in Los Angeles, Rubio took classes at East Los Angeles College and became a citizen in 1994 before transferring to APU, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in education.

Rubio’s parents modeled a strong work ethic for their children that left an indelible mark. Her father, now retired, served as a carpet machinist for 30 years and her mother still works as a housekeeper. The two stressed the importance of determination, initiative, and the value of education. Rubio lived out these principles as a young woman, balancing full-time work with her classes at APU, where she found the support she needed to succeed.

“After a rough day at work, I would come to school and we would start the class with prayer,” said Rubio. “It allowed me to regroup.” She remembers a professor demonstrating grace when she expressed doubt about completing an assignment on time. “He said, ‘I believe in you and will work with you.’ With his encouragement, I turned in the paper on time.” Rubio said she took lessons like this to heart, and they influenced how she interacted with her own students as an elementary school teacher for the Baldwin Park and Fontana school districts.

Rubio’s passion for education, especially for helping students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those who struggle with English as a second language, inspired her to run for a seat on the Baldwin Park school board in 2003. “When I came here from Mexico, I spoke little English, but I managed to learn. For my brother, the language barrier proved more challenging, and he was placed in special education classes. He grew discouraged and eventually dropped out of high school. Our education system should do more for students like my brother.”

Having spent nearly two decades in public service as an elementary teacher, school board member, and director on the Valley County Water District board, last year Rubio decided the time was right to take her commitment to the next level. “I asked myself, ‘If not now, when? If not me, who?’”

As mother to Aiden, 9, and Nadia, 8, Rubio will work toward a brighter future for her children and her community with a platform that focuses on education. As the first woman to represent this district in more than 25 years, one of the few immigrants to serve the primarily Latino area, the first Latina to chair the Assembly’s Committee on Human Services, and one of the few freshmen to secure such an important appointment, she will represent her neighbors well. “I knocked on many doors during the campaign and I connected with my community. I told them, ‘I will be your voice. I will work for you.’ I am honored that they placed their trust in me and I look forward to advocating on their behalf in Sacramento.”

Rachel White is associate director of public relations in the Office of University Relations at Azusa Pacific University.

Originally published in the Spring '17 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.