She Leads: Taylor Chanes, New External Vice President for ASUCI

By Sabrina Zuluaga

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Chanes

“The official External Vice President is Taylor Chanes with 4834 votes,” announced current ASUCI Executive Vice President Kristine Jermakian on the concrete stage at the Student Center Terrace.

When the election results came out during week 4, Chanes, a third-year political science major, was announced as next school year’s official External Vice President (EVP) for the Associated Students of UC Irvine (ASUCI). This means she is going to be second in command in representing UCI undergraduates, right under the ASUCI president for the 2016-2017 academic year.

While Chanes ran unopposed, she still managed to earn the largest sum of votes compared to the other 42 candidates that ran for different office positions.

The EVP office that Chanes will be leading offers students the resources needed to advocate for issues that are crucial to their communities locally, statewide and nationally. Her office prioritizes planning grassroots, social justice campaigns, organizing campus actions and even meeting with legislators to make demands.

When planning for next year, Chanes foresees several issues being critical to her agenda. Some specific matters include future tuition increases, the ongoing failure to retain students of color and of the working class, the problematic safety based on racial, gender, sexual, and religious identity and the increase in stigmatization of mental health disorders.

Before coming to UCI, the eager, newly-elected leader had never been involved in student government. For someone who has helped lead several campus movements protesting federal cuts in student aid, tuition increases, the rights of student workers and advocating for native, indigenous students, her organizing career only started three years.

Before college, Chanes was living in Hacienda Heights. Her single mother raised her and her two brothers under the same roof in the 626. Her father was not around often, but on holidays, they would spend time together with him and her extended family..

When recalling her childhood, Chanes immediately thinks of her second grade self. At the time, she confessed, she had the tendency to not turn in her homework. The argument she voiced to her mom and teachers was that she was not being challenged enough. Although she asked to be placed in third grade, her mom didn’t let her, fearing that Chanes would be ostracized for being new and for being the youngest.

For middle school, her mom enrolled Chanes into Newton Middle School. In eighth grade, she was listening to alternative rock and punk bands. She, along with the majority of teenagers at the time, was dressed in darker attire, wearing tight jeans and owning an array of band merchandise. But alongside her enthusiasm for “The Cure,” “Paramore” and “Say Anything,” was an enthusiasm for the 2008 presidential election.

During the 2008 election, Chanes was inspired by a sight she rarely saw in the world of politics: a strong, female figure in the race to lead the country. She was so adamant on wanting to see Hillary Clinton be president that she even asked her mom to vote for Clinton.

Chanes and her mom eventually struck a compromise: Her mom would vote for Clinton if Chanes presented arguments and reasons as to why she preferred the candidate. Chanes thus turned to Google, tuned into PBS on the TV and tried to catch up on the elections to collect her research on the candidates and their policies. One day, she even spent three hours searching online about Obama and Clinton’s platforms.

When the time came for Chanes to unload her reasoning for backing Clinton, she recalls her mom being surprisingly sold.

On election day — Nov. 4 — 2008, Chanes’ mom took her to the Hacienda Heights polling place at a nearby Lutheran school. Her mom brought her in the morning, so she wouldn’t miss a whole day of school. The line was short, and Chanes got to watch her mom cast her vote for Hillary Clinton.

But a month later, after this minor, sweet win for Chanes, everything shifted. Her mom began experiencing shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat. Her family learned from the doctors that she had congestive heart failure. The diagnosis suspected it was largely from overmedication; in layman’s terms, her heart was increasingly failing to adequately pump blood. Chanes’ mom eventually passed 20 days before Christmas.

After her mom passed, her brothers moved in with her aunt and uncle. When their house was later foreclosed, they returned to Hacienda Heights and moved in with other family members.

When looking back and thinking about her mom, Chanes recalls many aspects that are still relevant to her today. Her adamant cultural roots stem from her mom, who was in tune with her indigenous Mexican. She also recalls her mom being partially responsible for introducing her to the image of a strong female.

“My teachers and my mom did have a lot to with why I was always volunteering. It was that influence,” says Chanes. “But I was drawn to this strong woman figure because of my mom — that’s what I had at the time in my life when she was there.”