In 2010, Karina Macias was graduating from Mount St. Mary’s with a double-major in political science and psychology. Less than three years later, she’s preparing to take her seat on the Huntington Park City Council, after winning the most votes in that city’s March 5 election.
“It was a very surreal experience seeing those numbers come in on election night,” Macias says. “We did not expect those numbers. We ran a very grassroots campaign and didn’t have nearly the money that the incumbents in the race had.”
But the 25-year-old Mount alum prevailed, with official election results posted March 14. Macias won 1,228 of a total 2,450 votes cast (just over 50 percent) in a four-person race for two city council seats. In the process, she outdistanced two incumbents who had most recently served as mayor and vice mayor of Huntington Park.
The Mount alum managed to walk the streets of Huntington Park at least four days a week during the campaign — all while continuing her work as an assistant justice coordinator at the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet Center, and pursuing her master’s degree in international studies from Chapman University.
“It was exhausting, but it was so encouraging to pull so many people into this,” Macias says. “That’s what I’m most proud of. That we showed a grassroots campaign can still work. All I asked of voters was for them to look at my background and to hear me out. And they did.”
She says it was a combination of reasons that inspired her to run for office. Macias grew up in Huntington Park and had become discouraged at instances of possible mismanagement and corruption, as well as a simple lack of response from her local government.
“My foundation of social justice is important to me, and those ideas, foundations and values that ran my campaign will continue to guide me,” she says. “Those were the kind of things that appealed to me at Mount St. Mary’s, and you take those values you learn with you everywhere you go.”
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Macias first came to Mount St. Mary’s in 2005 to participate in the College’s Summer Skills program, a three-week bridge to classes beginning in the fall. As she worked her way toward her bachelor’s degree with the Mount, Macias consistently took advantage of volunteer and travel opportunities.
One trip took her to El Salvador to work with a pair of professors and four fellow students as official U.N. election observers during the first free post-war elections in that country. Laurie Wright Garry, associate professor of religious studies at the Mount, worked in the same rural area of El Salvador with Karina during that trip.
“Her interaction with the local people showed her humility, understanding of the political process and her respect for all people,” Garry says. “I am so proud of Karina. What you see is what you get with her. She works hard to make change happen from the ground up.”
Macias took that desire and knowledge into her job as an assistant justice coordinator at the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet Center. The Center is located next door to the Mount’s Chalon Campus, which was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs) in 1925.
“Their charisma helps me to keep things in perspective,” Macias says. “I don’t look at political opponents as my enemy, for example. We just look at things differently. We can’t have an ‘us versus them’ mentality. We have to work together to make our community stronger. That’s what I want to do now.”
Darlene Kawulok, CSJ and chair of Mount St. Mary’s Religious Studies department, is not surprised that Macias’ passions have led her to political action. “She is a woman of principle who is committed to being a voice for the marginalized and the oppressed,” Kawulok says. “Her work in the areas of justice here will benefit individuals who are treated as invisible and voiceless by most political leaders.”
Macias hasn’t forgotten her Mount St. Mary’s roots, either. Mark Forte, the director of the College’s Learning Resource Center, worked with her often during her time on the Doheny Campus. Macias served as a tutor back then, and Forte says she still gives back today.
“She readily volunteers her time to speak with Mount students,” Forte says. “She’s frequently visiting campus, guest-speaking to classes, and sharing with incoming freshmen at the very same program that welcomed her back in 2005.”
And this February, in the midst of her campaign, Macias returned to her alma mater to attend Ready to Run™, a nonpartisan, campaign-training program designed to train and encourage women to run for public office. By then, she was less than a month away from Election Day.
With election results now confirmed, Macias will be sworn in Monday, March 25, at Huntington Park's City Council Chambers, and begin her four-year term.
“My primary goal in office is to be accountable,” she says. “If I ever do anything that a resident thinks was wrong, come and ask me questions about why I did something you disagree with. I will always be responsive.”
Follow more of Macias’ story on her campaign Facebook page: www.facebook.com/KarinaMaciasForHPCouncil2013