In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, “In Focus SoCal” host Tanya McRae sits down with Rep. Pete Aguilar, who represents California’s 33rd District, and is currently the highest-ranking Latino in the House. He chairs the House Democratic Caucus and is a fourth generation San Bernardino County resident. 

“It’s just a special place to be, to raise a family, to grow up in that connectedness of community,” Aguilar said. “That’s what keeps up together. That’s what keeps us there.” 

The congressional representative shared about his childhood growing up in the Inland Empire and working his first job at 12 with his grandfather at the San Bernardino County Courthouse cafeteria. The former mayor of Redlands also discussed how, in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, he wrote a letter to the company’s CEO to petition and demand responsibility for the spill. 

“I don’t know if I knew I was being political. You know, at the time, I was reacting. I wanted to be a good community member,” Aguilar said. “It taught me a lot about my role in the community, about using my voice for good, but also the importance that policy can make.”

Aguilar said he is focused on several top issues, including homelessness, the economy and California’s housing crisis.

“We need to be mindful that when, you know, California gets a cold, the Inland Empire and the Central Valley sometimes get the flu. The negative effects of the economy or downfall could be felt on areas like ours,” Aguilar said.

He spent some time with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to tour some of the affordable housing facilities in the Inland Empire. Aguilar said he’s spoken to parents who are concerned about housing costs and if their kids will be able to live in the same communities that they were raised in.

“Parents shouldn’t have to think about that. ‘Where are my kids going to grow up? And are they going to become homeowners?’” Aguilar said. 

The congressman recently announced that San Bernardino County is receiving a $64 million grant for Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which serve nearly 4,000 children and their families.

Aguilar, who worked at a Head Start program in Redlands in college, said, “Head Start is just such an amazing program, and I was pleased to work with my colleagues to make sure that they receive the resources that they need and will continue to fight for more resources.”