Scarlett Montenegro '14 Interns on Capitol Hill

Scarlett Montenegro ’14 celebrates the DOMA decision outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Umema Aimen ‘14

“Being on Capitol Hill is like being in Hollywood,” says Scarlett Montenegro ’14 about her internship experience at the office of Congressman Joe Garcia (D-Florida) this past summer. And she was there just as some very important issues that are close to her heart, including immigration and LGBT rights, were being debated.

At Mount Holyoke, Montenegro––a Posse student from Miami––took classes with Professor David Hernandez on immigration reform, politics of minority rights, border security, and social justice, in which she learned about immigration and Latina/o issues. On Capitol Hill, she witnessed several immigration protests and marches. The bravery and determination of the participants moved her to tears.

“All for their American Dream,” Montenegro says, explaining that the issue of immigration is of great importance to her Latino community. “There are currently 11.4 million undocumented people in the United States, and it breaks my heart to know that families are being separated, and students like me are being denied access to higher education.”

There were also some happy moments to witness, such as the Supreme Court’s historic decisions to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8. Montenegro celebrated with hundred of people outside the Supreme Court and says, “Love was in the air.”

The daily routine on the Hill was no less interesting. Her duties regularly included speaking to constituents, staffing the Congressman, attending policy and committee hearings and briefings, tracking votes, and writing memos.

As if that weren’t enough, Montenegro also met Senator John McCain, Miami Heat basketball player Ray Allen, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State John Kerry and, in her words, “the oh-so handsome President Obama!”

Montenegro learned of this internship through an MHC alum two days before the application deadline and quickly applied through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI). Out of a pool of 480 applicants, she and 35 others were selected and provided with a stipend, a fully furnished apartment, and a metro card. Orientation included etiquette classes, discussions with the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association, training at the Library of Congress, a writing seminar, a Latino literature lecture, a D.C. professional culture training, a legislative simulation workshop­––and salsa dancing classes.

With an orientation like that, Montenegro was all set for the experience of a lifetime on Capitol Hill.

“I have learned so much about the legislative and policy making process, and it has definitely inspired me to one day run for local or state office,” she says.

There are currently no Latina women in the Senate and only eight in Congress.

“I hope to one day be part of a larger statistic. I want to represent my community, be a voice for the misinterpreted and the unheard, and most importantly, defend equal rights for all,” she says.

The summer on Capitol Hill was just the beginning for Scarlett Montenegro. She is currently taking part in the Washington Semester Program at American University and interning at Congressman Garcia’s office twice a week. Meeting members of Congress and federal judges is a pretty common event now. She has even been on the set of CNN show Cross Fire.

Montenegro says, “I now have a family and support system all around the United States. Because of all of them, I know that ‘¡Si se puede!’ (Yes, we can!)”