Harpeth Hall kickstarts Hispanic Heritage Month by welcoming Metro Nashville’s Councilwoman Sandra Sepulveda
By Cori Magsby '22
When Councilwoman Sandra Sepulveda decided to run for Nashville's Metro Council, she wasn't the obvious candidate. She was young — younger than anyone ever elected to the council — and her opponent was a former legislator who had been in office longer than Ms. Sepulveda had been alive.
As she knocked on doors and campaigned through the neighborhood, there were doubters. "You are not old enough. You are not white enough. You are not Hispanic enough," people told her. But she wanted to be a voice for the community, to create change, so she pushed forward.
On Thursday, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Councilwoman Sepulveda shared her story with Harpeth Hall students at an all-school assembly. The assembly included cultural presentations from middle schoolers, a singalong with the entire upper school, and a senior sharing her experience of being Latina at Harpeth Hall.
Originally born in California, Councilwoman Sepulveda moved to Nashville at the age of 5. Being Mexican-American and Chicana from an immigrant household, her story differs from most Harpeth Hall students’ experiences.
“I realized I had an opportunity in front of me,” Councilwoman Sepulveda said. “I’m speaking to a room full of future leaders in your respective fields and I have an opportunity to share my story and people who have similar backgrounds as me with you."
Councilwoman Supelveda noted the importance of sharing stories from different backgrounds. Her family’s story is of working-class parents who immigrated to the United States from Mexico as teenagers and who did everything they could to make a better life for their children.
With her parent’s full support, Councilwoman Sepulveda became the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her journey as a student and daughter prepared her for what was to come. Councilwoman Sepulveda spoke of her parents’ challenge of being immigrants with a limited grasp of the English language. She often served as the voice for her parents, and as a councilwoman she has seen other teens speak on behalf of their families.
During the assembly, Councilwoman Sepulveda played a video of a recent town-hall meeting, where a teenage Latina-American girl spoke for her mother. As the young woman stood at a podium microphone and shared how a recent bill affected the lives of her community, the audience could see and hear the struggles that other people are going through.
“My parents made it through elementary school, and that’s about it," Councilwoman Sepulveda said “So, I had to be a voice for them, just like this girl. Just like many people in my community.”
Inspired, she wanted to become the voice for others. Councilwoman Sepulveda saw the problems occurring in her community, the lack of support and representation from those in office, and knew that change needed to happen.
“I never thought I would run for office, but I looked around the neighborhood I had lived in since I was 5 and it didn’t look like other places in the city,” Councilwoman Sepulveda said. “I was tired. Tired of the same type of representation, tired of nothing changing. I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I decided to run.”
Councilwoman Sepulveda's experiences demonstrated to Harpeth Hall students her message: If you see a problem, and want change, then take action. And she did, by campaigning, knocking on doors, and speaking for her community as someone who is a part of it and represents its culture.
Councilwoman Sepulveda won the election and became the youngest and first Latina woman to be elected to Nashville’s Metro Council, but the campaign wasn’t always easy.
“It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done," Councilwoman Sepulveda said. "I heard it all: 'You don’t have enough experience. You’re too young. You will never beat them. You’re not white enough. You’re not Hispanic enough.' But I still ran.”
Councilwoman Sepulveda’s win shows the Harpeth Hall and Nashville community what it means to be a confident leader. Through the strength of her community and by having a clear plan of action she made strides in the direction of equality, acceptance, and justice.
She concluded her speech with quotes and the stories from several prominent leaders, including John F. Kennedy, John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, Chloe Kim, Martin Luther King Jr., Malala, and Former President Barack Obama. In her concluding statement, Councilwoman Sepulveda gave her final thoughts and advice:
“In this life, people are going to tell you that you can’t do something. That you are too young,” she said. “One thing I tell young people is to learn your people’s history. Learn how they contributed to society and learn about the trailblazers. When you are not taught where you come from, you might start to think that this place was not meant for you. Don’t let other people write your story. This world will tell you ‘no’ a hundred times, but do not listen. I will not lie to you and tell you that your journey will not be hard, but it is worth it. So, go. Do better than me. Do better than us. Remember that you too can change the world because worlds can come in all shapes in sizes. ”