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One-On-One with Synthia Jaramillo

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you can’t find Synthia Jaramillo at City Hall, you might try the nearest softball field – or wherever hip-hop music is the featured entertainment.

Jaramillo, who recently became the city’s first female economic development director, has a love of hip-hop and rap.

Also, she dances whenever the spirit strikes and “wherever there’s music.”

Synthia Jaramillio, 40, recently became Albuquerque’s first female economic development director. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“I love the evolution of hip-hop,” said Jaramillo, 40. “I’m very inspired by that. And rap? It’s poetic, and so I can free-style rap. I used to break-dance way back in my day.”

Jaramillo’s softball passion comes from having played in her youth and from watching her 11-year-old daughter carry on the tradition.

A perfect day off, she says, is spent “at the softball fields, in the stands, watching my daughter. She’s a pitcher. It’s kind of like our sanctuary.”

Jaramillo, a former banker and small-business owner who spent nearly two decades at the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, said she never wanted to work in government.

So what happened?

She said she was inspired by the election of Mayor Tim Keller, who appointed her, and the idea that government work could lead to change.

Now, she says, she’s toying with the idea of running for office – perhaps mayor in eight years, governor or Congress.

“People, they’ve been talking to me about it, encouraging me, trying to talk me into running for office,” she said.

” … Never wanted to do it, never ever (but) because of what I’ve seen with this mayor and his administration, it’s inspired me to stay here in Albuquerque, and you know maybe lead.”

What were you like as a kid?

Trouble. Rambunctious. I grew up in the South Valley – very outgoing, but I’ve always been very daring, always pushed the needle. (I) played sports, and I ran track as well. I’m a very social person, so a lot of friends.

In what ways did you push the needle?

With teachers, I’ve always questioned. I never took anybody’s word. … I always wanted to know why. I have an interesting background. I come from a single-parent home. My parents split when I was very young. I grew up in poverty, public housing, so it’s been an interesting journey for me and, despite my childhood, I’m here today.

How do you think your background affected you?

I believe it shaped me into the compassionate person I am. I love people, care for people. I feel like if I didn’t experience what I experienced growing up, I probably would be a different person. I don’t think I’d be here today, actually.

What was your first job?

I was part of a youth summer employment program. … I was a clerk … at the Forest Service at the federal building. That was actually where the seed was planted. I knew that I could be and do so much more – 14 years old, first job. I knew I was going to work Downtown. I was going to be here. I just knew it.

What are the most important things you’ve tried to teach your daughters?

Well, of course, it sounds cliché, but hard work. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything. But what I’ve most recently (been) trying to instill in my older one is that my path is not necessarily going to be her path. I want both of them to make their own decisions and choose their own path. I want them to be free thinking. I wasn’t so much, necessarily, until I was an adult.

Why?

There were barriers for me, financial barriers, obviously, because of circumstance, and so I felt like there was only one path for me, and I didn’t have a lot of choices.

And how did you overcome that?

Mentors. People along the way that took interest in me and invested in me – invested time. There have been so many.

Anyone in particular?

Yes. Alex Romero, the former CEO of the Hispano Chamber. He was so hard on me, and I realize now he was just trying to make me the best that I could be. Another one is another former banker, Phil Castillo. He passed away. He was like a father to me. … My grandmother raised me. She was just a very strong woman. … honestly, my mother, she was a hippie and still is today. I appreciate her today.

If you run for office, what will your platform be?

Policy reform at every level. There are deeply rooted systemic issues that we’ve created as institutions. On every level … minorities, women, so it depends on the issue. When it comes to small business, that’s procurement reform.

Social issues?

There’s so many. There’s legislation I’m very, very passionate about, and it’s the “ban the box” legislation (asking employers to remove the job application box that asks about criminal convictions.) I feel like everybody deserves a second chance, sometimes a third, fourth and fifth chance. If you commit a crime and you’re a felon – we create so many barriers.

I feel like that’s huge.

Do you have any personal experiences with that issue?

No, but I worked with the homeless community for 12 years, very closely. I was a volunteer, but then just befriended them. One of my best friends who lives in California, he drafted the ban-the-box legislation in the state of California. I’m a PB&J (Family Services) kid, so their Fathers Building Futures program is incredibly inspiring. I have family that’s been affected by incarceration. Because where I am today in my journey, I just feel like everybody deserves a second chance, and if we don’t allow them the opportunity, we’re not going to move the needle in this city.”

What keeps you up at night?

What’s heavy on me right now is our Dreamers and the immigration climate in this country right now. I’m a daughter of an immigrant. My father (is from) Chihuahua (Mexico), and so just the political climate is very unsettling. And, of course, the safety of my children because my daughter is such a free spirit like her mother. I don’t worry about her because I trust that she’s going to make the best decision, but she’s going to make mistakes.

In this era of sexual harassment revelations, I’m curious about whether you’ve had any issues yourself?

Sure I have. Oh yeah. Many.

How do you deal with that?

I’ve been able to navigate through that and call it out immediately.

Any examples?

I’ll give you an example of being at the boardroom table … and I don’t want to call it sexual harassment, but I’ve not felt that I’ve had a voice in many instances. But I’ve had to assert myself and give myself a voice.

How do you do that?

You have to speak louder than the next guy, you have to work harder than the next guy. I’ve been very modest and conservative in my dress, I’ve always been very mindful of that. I’m 40 years old. I’ve been in the professional world for 20 plus years, so I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, but I’ve been able to call it out.

When you say speak louder do you mean that literally?

Literally. Oh, yeah.

Describe yourself in three words:

Resilient, entrepreneur and inspired. I feel like I’m inspired today.

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