Editor’s note: This is one installment in a three-part series on this year’s candidates for ASUC president. Read about the other candidates here.
As early as the third grade, Juniperangelica Cordova knew she could hold political office. She lost her elementary school election for vice president, but that didn’t stop her. She won the title of president as a high school senior and went on to join student government in community college.
Now, she’s running to be ASUC president with CalSERVE — and her campaign comes with a political scrutiny that has followed Cordova for years.
In 2014, Cordova made headlines and history as the first openly transgender student-athlete in California, when she joined the girls varsity softball team after the summer she came out as transgender. Joining the softball team earned her local infamy and a heavy police presence at several games she played.
If she wins this candidacy, she will add to her laundry list of “firsts” for an openly transgender woman, likely becoming the first to bear the mantle of ASUC president. But for all her apparent success in student government and her unremitting work advocating for marginalized communities, she says the road here wasn’t smooth by any means.
The first half of her life was pretty stable and “normal,” Cordova said. But her parents had always been substance abusers, and around the time she was in the eighth grade, they both lost their jobs, and Cordova became homeless — living in motels and with family members off and on.
“Me and my sisters each had a basket of clothes, and we just carried that from hotel to hotel,” Cordova said. “It became a way of life.”
“It sounds really sad,” Cordova said, and she’s still always managing her trauma, but her experience with homelessness, the criminalization she’s felt in interactions with police and the violence and exclusion she faced during a stint in Greek life has reshaped her idea of what support looks like. Her experiences directly inform her platforms on basic needs, campus safety and improving the UC Berkeley experience for everyone.
Cordova’s incredibly intersectional identities serve as her greatest asset, said CalSERVE senator Hani Hussein, illustrated by her machinelike efforts during her time as a senator.
Cordova secured a $25,000 grant for a transgender student mental health initiative through the Wellness Fund, a $51,000 grant for the Queer & Trans People of Color Conference and $10,000 through various fundraisers for her office’s Together We Thrive Fund. She founded an ASUC police oversight commission to work to expand the UC Berkeley Police Review Board, and she also serves on two chancellor’s commissions — the Commission on Free Speech, where she influenced discussions on police presence and the new major events policy, and the strategic plan working group.
In meetings with Chancellor Carol Christ, Cordova’s the person who stands up, continues to push, questions relentlessly and introduces new perspectives like no other senator, Hussein said. But her confrontational, hold-power-to-account style is perceived as “hostile and harsh” by some and could damage the ASUC’s working relationship with administrators, said independent senator Taehan Lee.
Sometimes, in ASUC presidential elections and even in senate races, ideological differences emerge between the two major parties, CalSERVE and Student Action: Can one represent specific communities and at the same time represent the diverse interests of the whole student body? How can one toe a fine line between cozying up to administrators and alienating them?
To that, Hussein says the notion Cordova can only speak for one community is false.
“She’s been advocating for communities not her own throughout her work in senate,” Hussein said.
Whatever one thinks of Cordova’s methods, most agree that a commitment to uplifting marginalized communities is the unwavering force that drives her efforts in student government.
Recently, Cordova has transitioned to living in University Village — a campus housing community for students with families — after beginning the process of adopting her sister’s kid Adrian, who fell into the foster care system for a second time. Becoming a student-parent has compelled Cordova to expand her advocacy further — for more babysitting funds.
Balancing being a parent with school, let alone a position in the ASUC, is rough, Cordova said, considering senate meetings can draw on late into the night. Adrian has joined Cordova on Sproul Plaza after 3 p.m. frequently during campaign season and attended nearly every one of Cordova’s Sociology 140 lectures last semester.
“Adrian sits there, mesmerized by the professor. Watching (Adrian) in a lecture hall so young, being exposed to politics I align with and a college education, embodies what access can look like for young brown girls,” Cordova says.
Ultimately, it is this access for Adrian and for all students that guides Cordova’s campaign and whatever future political office she might hold.