For Alex De Ocampo, a Democratic candidate running for the Assembly District 51 seat in the California Legislature, policy is personal.
Alex's parents, Encarnacion and Pedro, immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1970s to live in Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles. Their determined work ethic made an enduring impression on Alex and his four sisters.
"I just remember my Mom and Dad trying to balance their bank accounts so that we had enough food for the week," Alex told Opposing Views.
His fondest memory from childhood, he says, was spending time with his father, who helped support the family by washing dishes and holding a myriad of other odd jobs. Every night, Alex would get a sample of the desserts featured at his father's workplace.
"There's this memory of father having some treats and us walking as a family to our apartment," Alex recalled.
While Alex's family was bonded by determination and mutual love, they were impoverished and living in a neighborhood beset with gang activity.
"When you're growing up poor, you're just trying to survive," he continued. "I can relate to so many people now who are struggling."
As a child, Alex had to knock on doors to sell cookies in order to afford a pair of glasses. He would eventually find his ladder out of poverty through the arts. After attending California State University Northridge through a scholarship, he workshopped in the entertainment industry before landing an assistant role with the Saban Family Foundation (SFF), according to his official campaign website.
The foundation was founded by Haim Saban, an entertainment producer and philanthropist whom millennials have to thank for bringing the Japanese television series "Power Rangers" to stateside audiences. Alex found a kindred spirit in Saban, who also grew up in poverty-stricken Egypt and Israel before becoming a self-made billionaire, according to Variety.
Over time, Alex worked his way up from an assistant to the managing director of SFF.
He supervised some of the foundation's largest investments in Los Angeles. His proudest achievement was coordinating the funding for the Saban Research Institute at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
"It has been an amazing ride working with the Saban family on so many of their great endeavors ... To be able to see the reality of dollars invested has been amazing," he said.
The Democratic candidate added that his experience with SFF, ensuring that every investment paid off in demonstrable social impact, "has really prepared me to be in the State Legislature."
Currently, Alex resides in Mt. Washington with his husband, Todd. In addition to starting the journey of raising a foster child, he is making his big break into politics.
On July 24, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown announced that there would be a special election to replace Democratic Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of Assembly District 51, who had been elected to Congress. While most state elections have a window of two years for candidates to prepare, competitors for Gomez's seat only have until Oct. 3 to win over voters, according to the Bay Area Reporter.
Assembly District 51 encompasses a broad swath of eastern Los Angeles, including Alex's current residence and his childhood home of Historical Filipinotown. No Republican has even made a bid for the Legislature seat, but that hasn't stopped the race from becoming highly competitive. A total of 13 candidates are vying to replace Gomez -- 10 of those candidates are Democrats, according to the California Secretary of State's official website.
Alex asserted that his unique perspective and deep roots within the community made him stand out from the crowded field of contenders.
"I have been there and never left and have a really deep understanding of the needs of the community, which makes me very different," he said.
If elected to the California Assembly, Alex has pledged to improve job opportunities in eastern Los Angeles by incentivizing Hollywood production companies to keep their projects in-state and to rely more heavily on local businesses. He also supports more expansive child care and paid family leave.
Health care is personal for Alex, as well. When the Democratic candidate was only 9 years old, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Pedro could not attain quality health insurance because he had a pre-existing condition. Unable to afford treatment in California, the immigrant father who had journeyed to the U.S. in order to provide his children with a better future had to make a devastating decision.
"I vividly remember my Dad having that conversation with my Mom," Alex recalled. "I was just sitting there playing with my toys and I remember my father saying 'This cancer is spreading, I don't know what we can do. ... I think I need to go back to the Philippines.'"
Pedro flew back to receive treatment but ultimately succumbed to his illness, separated from his children by an ocean.
"It had really, really impacted me in a major way because I never got to say goodbye to my father in person," Alex said. "I remember speaking to him a few days before when it was looking bad. It was really, really tough. You're a little kid, you feel helpless."
Alex and his family never had the time to fully mourn for Pedro. Encarnacion got right to working 80 hours a week to provide for her children.
"No one should have to go through what I went through, no one," Alex said, his voice welling with emotion. "It's just not fair. That's why I'm so passionate about health care."
He supports a single-payer health care system, which recently came close to being a reality in California via SB 562, which proposed just such a system. The bill was shelved on June 23 amid concerns over cost, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"Health care's a right. ... At the same time, Rome wasn't built in a day," Alex said, adding that he would consult with businesses, union leaders and health care advocates to help craft a more complete single-payer proposal.
In the meantime, he asserted, California lawmakers "need to protect the [Affordable Care Act] because it is always on the chopping block with Republicans controlling Congress."
Immigration is another issue that resonates heavily with Alex. Following the election of President Donald Trump, the future for California's undocumented immigrants has become uncertain.
"Growing up where I grew up ... I had so many friends who were undocumented," Alex said. "I walk in precincts in my community and I meet people and they're scared, but they're part of our community no matter what."
The Democratic candidate pledged to partner with local clinics and nonprofit organizations to help DACA enrollees fully understand their rights, while also finding ways to push back against the Trump administration's immigration enforcement on a statewide level.
"The teenagers that I've met ... they were brought here by their parents, against their will," he continued. "I mean, they're here! They are Americans, no matter what ... Our area is a sanctuary for so many of these individuals who are going to be impacted by what this administration's doing."
After several months in the arena of politics, Alex said he has learned to sharpen his time-management skills while juggling the responsibilities of raising a child and hitting the campaign trail. He said the experience has also deepened his appreciation for the community in which his parents made their home.
"What I've learned about a lot is just the community and how it's so diverse and there's so many different thoughts and ideas,” he concluded. "It has made me realize that that's the beauty of Los Angeles, this intricate fabric of amazing people from different countries and different points-of-view. ... It's been amazing."
Sources: Alex De Ocampo for Assembly, Bay Area Reporter, California Secretary of State's Official Website, Foundation Center, Los Angles Times, Variety / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: Alex De Ocampo/Flickr (2)