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Monday, March 2, 2009

Efren Carillo: "Politics, Values, and Tamales"

This editorial is meant to provide your readers some insight into Efren Carillo and his family.

Pedro Villela Toledo, JD MA
Director of Community and Government Relations
Redwood Community Health Coalition

A man stood on the corner of Sebastopol Road in Roseland, the sign he held was bigger than both he and his daughter together. A silent rally of two, their heads popped above the sign and their outstretched arms greeted drivers with a reminder to vote for their candidate. After weeks of door to door campaigns, luncheon fundraisers and rallies small and large, his candidate had a chance.

It was a candidacy borne on hard work and fed by tamales. Margarita started early and cooked up her signature dish for a different group of donors each month. She made them for volunteers as needed. How else can you prepare for twelve hours of door to door campaigning and telephone calls necessary to sustain a bid for County Supervisor? The supporters and donors came to rely on chile verde tamales, a source of energy in a sometimes draining campaign.

The heat in the kitchen radiated into the living room on a sunny Saturday morning during the campaign. Efren Carrillo Sr. quietly nodded and shook hands as his proud son enthusiastically introduced him to their guests. Margarita, clad in an apron and armed with serving tongs, shuffled between the oven and the living room, filling plates as soon as they emptied. Back in the kitchen, she filled bags of tamales for the volunteers, a lunch she would pass out as they rushed out the door to work.

The campaign was not a campaign of chance; it was borne from an exceptional work ethic and strong family values. Mopping floors during the day, Efren Sr., a janitor, instilled in his children with an appreciation for the American Promise - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue and realize our dreams. Walking the streets at night, he worked to rid his neighborhood of insidious drugs and gangs. A playground monitor, Margarita blew the playground whistle at a local school and tended to the crosswalks when school let out. Community members and community servants, Efren Sr. and Margarita set the stage for their son, Efren Carrillo Jr., well before the 5th District Board of Supervisors seat became vacant.

In 1991, Efren Sr. and his family cemented their place in Sonoma County when Habitat for Humanity poured the foundation and helped the family build their house from the ground up. Only ten years earlier, Efren Sr. and Margarita had packed up their few worldly possessions and journeyed to the United States from Southern Mexico in search of a better future for their family. An opportunity to own a home sparked a lifelong commitment to their neighborhood, their community, and our nation.

Since the days of patrolling the streets and blowing the playground whistle, Efren Sr. and Margarita, have been able to weave a web of action that expanded from neighborhood support to the community at large. Armed with an elementary school education and common sense, their effect echoes from the halls of Southwest Community Health Center to the Sonoma Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness where they have been longtime volunteers. Through their service, Efren Sr. and Margarita have been able to find meaning in something greater than themselves. Their presence and participation in civic life keeps our elected officials and civil servants honest. Ensuring opportunity for their children sparked a commitment to community that evolved into a commitment to ensure that all people have an opportunity to achieve the full measure of their potential.

The Carrillo’s embody the concept that investing in families strengthens community. An entire village of volunteers helped to build the Carrillo family home and the dividends have been accumulating for decades. An army of compassionate neighbors sparked a torch that passed to a new generation months ago with a sign on the road and a steaming pot of tamales. Efren Carrillo Jr., the newly elected Supervisor for Sonoma County is now positioned to continue and expand a family legacy of service to our community.

Congratulations, Efren Sr. and congratulations, Margarita. You embody the spirit of service that American families have been celebrating for generations.

Pedro Toledo is a resident of Rohnert Park. He is the Director of Community and Government Relations for Redwood Community Health Coalition of Community Clinics in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Yolo counties. E-mail comments to

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