California Cardinals

Among the University’s undergraduate population, 60 students hail from the Golden State. In this summer series of profiles, we shine the spotlight on five students from the L.A. area to find what brought them nearly 3,000 miles from home, and how they are adapting to life on the East Coast.

As a high school student, Christian Gallegos came to the nation’s capital as part of Close-Up Washington, D.C., a national program that gives students and teachers an opportunity to experience democracy in action. Gallegos and his classmates participated in a mock Congress, met their representatives, and visited the monuments.

He left after taking a firsthand look at the epicenter of national politics, but not before getting snowed in at the airport.

Gallegos was hooked by both the capital city and the weather. “I like the cold and I love the snow,” he says, “I know that sounds strange coming from a Southern Californian, but I’ve never really liked the heat.” As a history major, he says, “I couldn’t really think of a better place to go to college. There’s so much of our nation’s history right here in D.C. and beyond, places like Mount Vernon and Gettysburg. And it’s where history is being made every day.”

At the mention of the current state of American politics, Gallegos says history becomes all the more important. “It shows us that political discourse can bring a country to its knees or make it rise higher. Not paying attention is a problem that history has constantly shown doesn’t work. That’s how communism and fascism took root.”

One political debate taking place in the nation’s capital that has Gallegos’s particular attention is immigration. “As a Mexican-American and someone who comes from a border state, it can be irksome sometimes to listen to the debate taking place in Washington, far from any border. While improvements are needed, the system is functioning far better than how those who’ve never experienced it might be led to believe.”

Diversity, he says, is part of the fiber of California life. “Right in my little neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, we have six different religions represented, and even more ethnicities. There are many street markets where vendors are from places like Guatemala, Vietnam, China, Ethiopia, and Mexico,” says Gallegos. On the topic of ethnic food, he mentions that “the best Mexican cook anywhere is my Abuelita.”

Gallegos is proud of his California roots and his Mexican heritage. “During all four years of college, I’ve had a California flag and Mexican serape on my walls. They are great conversation starters. I can be quiet. So I appreciate when other people take the first step to ask about my background.”