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Perez stirs Dominican pride

After threat of a Republican filibuster was thwarted, Thomas Perez became the first Dominican American to hold a cabinet-level post as  President Obama’s Labor Secretary

After threat of a Republican filibuster was thwarted, Thomas Perez became the first Dominican American to hold a cabinet-level post as President Obama’s Labor Secretary

Dominican Americans in Phoenix and across the United States were proud when the U.S. Senate Republicans’ logjam against Thomas Perez’s confirmation burst and he became Labor Secretary – replacing a Latina, Hilda Solis, who held the cabinet position before him.

Perez becomes the first Dominican American ever to serve at the cabinet level and is the only Latino in President Barack Obama’s cabinet. Perez is the son of Dominican immigrants.

Esmirna Rivas Tejeda is originally from Baní in the Dominican Republic and now lives in Chandler. She’s an artist, a big promoter of Dominican culture and a founder of the cultural organization/website Dominican Flave (dominicanflave.com). She says Perez’s career and confirmation has stimulated local Dominican cultural pride.

“As immigrants from the Dominican Republic and as Latinos, it is an honor for our Dominican community to have a political figure in the United States government. After all Thomas Perez’ years of working in public service, we are proud of his achievements, and he has all of our support for his new challenges,” she says.

Another prominent Dominican politician hailed Perez’ confirmation: “This is a watershed moment in the experience of Dominicans in the U.S., and announces to the country that we will be active in this country at the national level for generations to come,” New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez told the Associated Press.

The Senate voted 54-46 to confirm Perez. Arizona Senator John McCain was among the six Republicans who joined with Democrats the day before to vote to end the delaying filibuster tactic and bring Perez’ nomination to a vote in the full chamber.

The new, 51-year-old Labor Secretary headed the Justice Department’s civil rights division since 2009. In a lawsuit last year, Perez accused Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his whole department of discriminating against Latinos.

Perez has a law degree from Harvard University and holds degrees from Brown University. His background includes a stint as secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which oversees labor law and workplace regulations.

Perez is expected to play an important role in pushing Obama’s labor agenda, which includes immigration reform and raising the nation’s minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 an hour.

White House officials said the president strives to make cabinet choices that represent the coalition of Hispanic, Black and women voters who helped him win re-election last November.

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This Article appears on the August 2013 issue of LPM under LP Journal

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