“I know Pelosi could crush me,” admits Agatha Bacelar, a Brazilian immigrant campaigning to unseat her representative in congress, the most-powerful woman in American political history: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I respect Pelosi,” said Bacelar. “I voted for Pelosi. My family has voted for her … but she has been in that seat for 32 years. There just comes a time when you can thank someone for their service, but people want to move on.”
In a wide-ranging interview, the 27-year-old sat down with El Tecolote at El Farolito restaurant on Mission and 24th streets on Dec. 14, 2019.
“I’ve only ever had burritos here,” said Bacelar before ordering a single chorizo taco in fluent Spanish. “I cannot imagine Pelosi ever coming in here. She definitely doesn’t speak Spanish. She represents the wealthy interests in Presidio Heights but not the housing that people need to survive in the Mission.”
The Heavyweight Incumbent
During the midterm election two years ago, then minority leader Pelosi beat her GOP challenger Lisa Renner by 74 points, winning reelection to serve a 17th consecutive term in congress.
Democrats regained the majority in the House of Representatives but before Pelosi could be chosen as House Speaker, a bold, progressive class of House freshman lead by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or “AOC”) from New York’s 14th congressional district, began challenging Pelosi’s leadership within the Democratic Party on issues like climate change and immigration.
While Pelosi helmed the procedural warships in the lower chamber of the 116th Congress putting a swift, permanent stain of “impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors” on the Trump presidency, Bacelar has gone broke getting herself on the ballot.
The Latina Challenger
Bacelar, who is originally from São Paulo, Brazil, is challenging the House Speaker to represent California’s 12th district in the 117th Congress. The district includes the northern tip of San Francisco, including the entire Mission District.
“There were 10 of us,” recalls Bacelar, of the home she shared with nine other Bay Area millennials. “I’m actually leaving this amazing situation I’m in right now living with three friends to move in with my boyfriend just to save on rent.”
Bacelar said her campaign, “Agatha for Congress,” asks volunteers to knock on doors in the district for at least an hour each week, starting in the Mission, but it has also been branching out in Presidio Heights, where Pelosi and California Senator Diane Feinstein, both own homes.
“We’re going to campaign in District 5, also the Haight,” said Bacelar. “We have a plan to go to every single neighborhood in the city.”
Agatha for Congress asks volunteers—who number around 100 people according to the candidate—to knock on doors for at least an hour per week. “Way more people come out on the weekends,” said Bacelar of her volunteer base. “The most we’ve ever had is 30 people in one day.”
Multicultural, Multi-coastal Origins
Bacelar, like Pelosi, is not originally from the Bay Area. Where Pelosi was raised in Baltimore, Bacelar was raised between Miami and San Francisco.
“I spoke Spanish in my neighborhood and Portugese at home and I only spoke English in school,” said Bacelar of her quadrilingual upbringing by a single mother in South Florida.
“The local public schools offered French, Spanish or German. Since I already spoke two Romance languages, Spanish and Portugese, we thought German would be best. I started with German in first grade, loved it, and kept going for the next 12 years,” she said.
Bacelar became a resident of the Mission “at the dawn of internet search.”
“My father found my mother online and emailed her one word, ‘Guta?’, which is my mom’s name.” Guta Bacelar replied and the rest is history. Visiting her father, Herb Stephens, made the Castro a second north American home to Bacelar.
“The first place my dad took me in the Mission is La Taqueria,” she said. “As an adult, I’ve chosen to live in the Mission. It’s where I feel most connected. It reminds me of the Latin culture in Miami and of course, it has a lot of young people,” She laughs. “And maybe because it’s affordable.”
An Immigrant Candidacy
Immigration policy is a central issue for Agatha. The candidate said her earliest forays into immigration advocacy were organizing students to support the Dream Act at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami. Working as a multimedia organizer at the Emerson Collective, Bacelar said she continued campaigning for immigrant youth by getting university deans and celebrities to come out with support the Dream Act.
“I drove in a photobooth truck to over 30 congressional districts to take photos of local constituents who supported the Dream Act,” said Bacelar. “Then we created public art installations in support of the Dream Act. We also supported United We Dream when they would go storm the Capitol and organized press conferences in D.C.”
Bacelar gives Pelosi mixed-reviews on her immigration policy efforts as a lawmaker. “People who are undocumented are not being served well by our current political system,” she said, though she applauded Pelosi for her eight-hour speech on the floor of House of Representatives in Feb. 2018 as then-Minority Leader in defense of immigrant youth.
“I was super stoked about that,” recalls Bacelar, but the millennial candidate says it is not enough. “Obviously it still matters having a Latino candidate standing up to the fear.”