By Alyssa Walrad
“Resilient, potential, fierce, progress, home.” This is the description of Newburgh, NY through the eyes of lifelong resident, Giselle Martinez. As a 22-year-old first-generation college graduate running for Newburgh City Council, Martinez has set the bar high for her running mates. An ally to numerous minority social demographics, fiercely loyal friend and mentor, Martinez shows just how easy it can be to represent and be the voice for marginalized groups.
Born in St. Lukes Hospital to Mexican immigrants who came to the United states in the 1980s, Martinez was no stranger to the hardships many fellow citizens of Newburgh experienced. Her earliest memory of advocating was when she was “about 7 years old” at a “DREAM act march/rally” here in Newburgh. “My mother explained we would be holding up signs, chanting, marching in support of immigrant rights,” she stated. Though young Martinez did not comprehend the purpose of the gathering, her work throughout the years has led her to become “a fierce advocate not just for immigrant rights, but for several issues our community faces,” which include widespread poverty and crumbling infrastructure.
Around this time, Martinez met childhood friend Amanda Ortega, who can distinctly remember her first impression of Martinez. “One of the first things I and everyone noticed was her intelligence.” Ortega continues, stating Martinez “always completed her schoolwork and always had such high marks,” highlighting that classmates referred to her as “Little Einsteinette.” Nearly 15 years later, the duo reunited as Ortega photographed portraits for Martinez’s campaign, recounting “how her intelligence and ambition grew into something beautiful and sincere.” She also mentions that Martinez is “very dependable” and “very resourceful,” arguably vital qualities a political candidate should display. Ortega attributes their “love, respect and understanding of each other” as the influences that have kept their relationship so strong over the years, and sums up Martinez’s character in five words: “bright, inspirational, graceful, ingenious, humble.”
Martinez accrued many accolades during her undergraduate education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. As a student and member of the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), Martinez attended leadership development training, received mentorship, academic and financial support, and many other elements to afford the best opportunity for success in the college transition process.
Martinez became a Peer Counselor at HEOP to Alisha Fernandez, who quotes Martinez as “so helpful” in her transition to college. She helped Fernadez expand on her English speaking skills and prepare her for expectations inside classrooms, as well as the progression through the rest of her time in HEOP. Like Fernandez, who will be graduating this May, Martinez credits HEOP for her “discipline, accountability” and acknowledgment that “representation matters.” With this, Martinez states that “it comes with a lot of responsibility. There’s a lot of pressure being a young candidate of color, and any mistake could ‘ruin’ it for the next one.” Her tactic: “carry myself in a manner that would only reflect positivity and demonstrate that ethnicity, age, or gender are not qualities that disqualifies a candidate.”
As a young Latina, Martinez understands her position as a minority with a platform. Being that only 17% of Mexican-Americans and about 10% of Latinas in the United States have a bachelor’s degree, “statistics have never been in my favor.” Her advice to other Latinx citizens: “be unapologetic… go for whatever big dreams you have,” and to never “let false narratives of who we are stop our growth and potential.”
If you are a Newburgh resident, the last day to register to vote is by May 28, 2021. Newburgh primary elections will take place on June 22 2021.