Mario Lopez


Mario Lopez was born in Mexico City, came to the U.S. when he was 4 years old and lived in East Los Angeles, California. He attended East Los Angeles Community College where he founded a student support group for undocumented AB-540 immigrant students. Mario has centered his efforts on immigrant rights, economic justice, and educational policy. In 2008, he served as the AB-540 Campaign Coordinator for the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund working on a statewide and local campaign to pass the California DREAM Act. During his time as an intern for the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute he analyzed survey results of student’s knowledge of the labor movement. He was selected as a 2008 DMI Scholar through the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy where he received core trainings in public policy and gained an opportunity to network with key leaders in policy positions and the progressive movement. In 2008 he also served on the board of Adelante! California where he chaired the policy division. He was also selected to participate in the 2009 Center for Progressive Leadership New Leaders Program in Washington D.C. He has interned with Voto Latino, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on motivating young Latino’s to become civically engaged, and has worked on researching the strong correlations between the current debate over immigration reform and the increase in anti-Latino hate crime incidents and offenses. Mario attended the University of California at Berkeley as a Political Science Major.

Mario Lopez studied at the University of California, Berkeley double majoring in Political Science and Statistics with a minor in Public Policy. In 2008, he was part of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy Scholars Program. A year later, he was part of the New Leaders Program at the Center for Progressive Leadership. As a YP4 Fellow, Mario developed the Immigration Policy Scholars Initiative. He has worked as an immigrant rights advocate and grassroots organizer since 2006. He has served as Co-Chair for Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education where he directed both the Advocacy and Fundraising Committees. Mario was also a member of the Advisory Board for ¡Adelante! California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing necessary resources for under-resourced students.


Location: Monterey Park, CA, United States

    Issues Areas:
  • Immigration

Campus: East Los Angeles College - Monterey Park, CA

Fellowship Class Year: 2009

    Fellow Groups:
  • Front Line Leaders Academy

Featured Fellow Spotlight

How did you become involved with Young People For?

Last year I was a part of the Drum Major Institute (DMI) Scholars program and spent a few weeks during the summer in New York. DMI arranged a panel discussion which addressed progressivism, policy and activism and it was there that I first met YP4 fellows. I spoke to the fellows I met there about the program and was intrigued by the structure of YP4 – how fellows got to design their own Blueprint for Social Justice and work with the support of YP4 staff. After that I researched the program and applied.

What do you stand for and why?
I stand for Immigrant and Civil Rights. I stand strong against structural racism and discrimination. I stand for opportunity and tolerance.

The fact that I stand for these issues is rooted in my values: equality, justice, truth, fairness and respect for the human condition.

Tell me about your Blueprint: Immigration Policy Scholars Initiative
When I was a part of the DMI Scholars program last year, I saw the importance and significance of public policy in advancing an agenda that is representational of the actual needs and wants of community members; community members who have been historically discouraged and marginalized from the decision-making process.  The DMI Scholars program gave me the inspiration to translate the idea of creating an educational policy pipeline for underrepresented students within the progressive movement and apply that idea to the immigrant rights movement.

Young individuals within the immigrant rights movement are predominantly geared towards careers in community organizing which is the type of background I come from.  But mobilizing people at the ground level to combat discriminatory practices as an effect of a failed policy does not compare to the ability of being an actual policymaker in a position of power and preventing bad policies from being enacted in the first place.  This, however, is not to undermine the power of community organizing because people still possess the power to elect or not elect someone into office.

This is why I came up with the idea of creating the Immigration Policy Scholars Initiative.  This initiative will create a policy pipeline for underrepresented students who have the desire and invested interest of changing immigration policy to be more efficient, accountable, respectful, and transparent in order to uphold both the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens. This idea also stems out of the desire to combat the immigration enforcement-only policies enacted after 9/11 by the presidential administration of the time and that have been exacerbated and influenced by anti-immigrant rhetoric which in effect continue to divide families, targets innocent hardworking people, racially profiles Latino and Asian communities, and blatantly ignores our constitutional rights.

The Immigration Policy Scholars Initiative will train underrepresented college students in policy analysis, policy research, the structure of the immigration system, the history of immigration policy, and foreign economic and trade policy.

The ultimate goal of this initiative lies in the hope that those who are trained through the policy initiative will eventually  go on to assume key policy positions in which they are able to directly affect proactive immigration policy in a system that is currently broken and outdated.

This summer you are in Washington, D.C. with the CPL New Leaders Program, what has that experience been like for you so far?
It’s been great! I’ve enjoyed being able to be in DC for the summer and I thought that CPL would be another good program for me to solidify the grassroots organizing, policy and leadership skills I’ve been introduced to through programs like DMI Scholars and Young People For.

Through the CPL New Leaders program I’ve been placed at Voto Latino which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded by actress Rosario Dawson and led by political commentator, high profiled leading Latina, Maria Teresa Petersen.  Voto Latino works to promote an enfranchised America by leveraging celebrity voices, the latest technology and youth themselves to promote change.  So far I have been working on developing a list of potential panelist for our ON Series project that covers the topics of what it means to be a “Post Racial America” as well as a panel discussion on developing a “Green Economy.”Most recently, I have been working on an Immigration Policy Memo that illustrates the strong correlations between anti-immigrant sentiment and general anti-Latino hate crime incidents and offenses.

I have also been working on another policy memo that tracks down racial healthcare disparities within the Latino community. I’ve been brainstorming and working on ways to present this memo and materials in a synthesized and easily comprehensible manner since I would like this memo to be presented and distributed to members of the community who are generally less engaged in politics and get them to become engaged in the conversation over healthcare reform.  By offering this tool they would be able to take small steps in addressing this issue. I enjoy working on synthesizing the information into a format that people who are busy with work, family, and life are able to easily and quickly read and digest the issue.

What has been your greatest achievement in your work so far?
My greatest achievement so far has been establishing the Student Advocates for Higher Education student group on my campus East Los Angeles College which is a group that works in collaboration with the California DREAM Network. The California DREAM Network works towards the passage of the Federal, as well as the State of California, DREAM Act. The group works to support other undocumented students by providing resources and information in an easily accessible way. The group is now called Students for Equal Rights and has been able to not only establish a scholarship fund but has also been able to award scholarships this past year. The group has hosted panel discussions with UCLA about issues undocumented students face in the current educational climate. We were also lucky to have the wife of the deceased Marco Antonio Firebaugh (a California State Assemblyman who worked on AB – 540) as our faculty advisor for the group.

Outside of my work on campus I would say getting into the DMI Scholars program was another great achievement. The program has not only helped me in my personal growth as a leader but has also allowed me access and knowledge about other opportunities such as Young People For and CPL. All of these experiences are really serving to help me structure my advocacy efforts.

Policy work has now become a central approach for me because I believe that if done right it can positively affect the circumstances of many. Policy overall needs to be more reflective of the needs and wants of those communities it alleges to serve and that is what I hope my work will result in.

What is a struggle that you’ve faced or are facing in your work? And what’s your advice for people dealing with similar struggles?
In working on progressive and immigrant rights issues, my biggest struggle is trying to do everything at once and then being unable to fully measure the impact of my work. I’ve had to learn how to take a step-back, put things into perspective and be honest about what you can actually accomplish at any given time and the type of skills that you may have or not at the time.  This has helped me to understand my strengths and how to improve my shortcomings.

My advice to others is to really be specific about what you want to accomplish. Create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals. That’s one of the greatest concepts YP4 has taught me, to create SMART goals and work within that framework. I’m now able to really break down what I want to work on now and what I want to accomplish in the long and short term keeping in mind my potential but also my limitations.  In short, I learned the hard way to keep it real and simple.  We all want to change the world, and we are, but we just have to be smart about it and not rush it.

How has working with us at YP4 supported the work you are doing?
Working with YP4 has really given me the structure I was looking for in grassroots organizing. Being in touch with Alicia Jay and working through my Blueprint for Social Justice has been a great tool – and it’s how I learned about SMART goals.  YP4 has confronted me with my capacities and how to build on those capacities to continue the type of work that I want to do. Also, being in touch with other fellows in the program has been very useful for getting support and ideas.

What are your long term goals and how do you see your work with YP4 aiding in the pursuit to those goals?
One of my long term goals is for greater representational governance in which members who come from underrepresented communities can take ownership of and say in policies that virtually say what they can or cannot do.  I also want to change the dialogue of the immigration debate. I want the conversation to not only include but be representative of immigrants, their struggles, successes and their stories.

Working through my Blueprint with YP4 has really been useful for giving me a structure and ideas for how to reach and further that goal.