Felipe Reinoso is presently serving his third term in the Connecticut State Legislature. He serves as vice chair of the Education Committee and is also a member of the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee and Labor and Public Employees Committee.
Reinoso was born in Peru and immigrated to Connecticut in 1969. He is a graduate of Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University. Reinoso is the principal and co-founder of Bridge Academy, a charter school serving high school students in Bridgeport, Conn. It provides a college preparatory curriculum designed to overcome challenges in the inner city and to foster a sense of community and self-respect. As a legislator, he has introduced many bills in support of education.
He has contributed as a volunteer or board member to several organizations: Community Responding to Others in Poverty, American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and the United Way. President Bill Clinton presented the President's Service Award, the highest honor for volunteerism, to Felipe Reinoso in 1999. Currently, Reinoso also serves on the board of directors of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
Hillmer H. Reyes, HJHP staff member, interviewed Felipe Reinoso on 24 January 2005. Mr. Reyes, a native of Peru, most recently worked at the technology consulting firm Accenture. He will receive a master in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2005.
When did you first come to Connecticut?
I came to Connecticut [from Peru] because the University of Bridgeport had a very interesting program for exchange students, for international students. And my parents knew a family, a Peruvian family, the only Peruvian family in town, actually, in those days in '69. So I came as an exchange student to America. I came to Bridgeport, and I [have] never moved from Bridgeport.
You were recently re-elected to the Connecticut Legislature. How did you first become involved in politics?
When I was very young I was introduced to community service. My mother was very active in Peru. She was involved in pursuing affordable housing for low-income families. And I attended several meetings with my mother when I was eleven [and] twelve years old.
But I was also very lucky to have excellent high school teachers. They [helped] us high school students understand that getting involved was the best way to help our communities, rather than talking and making arguments or just going to meetings. The most important thing was to do something.
When I came to this country, obviously the first two or three years were very difficult for me. In the early '70s, I started getting involved. First, I got involved with the Puerto Rican Democratic Club in Bridgeport. After that I started working for former councilman Americo Santiago, who later became a state representative. I was his campaign manager for four terms. I helped candidates from city council to mayors, even at the [U.S.] senatorial level, [volunteering] and learning.
In 1995, the opportunity came, and I ran. And unfortunately I lost the election by eight votes. But understanding the causes and understanding that it was very close, I knew that the community was probably ready for something new, understanding that I'm not a typical Latino running for office. Most of the time, [we have] Puerto Ricans in this area, African Americans or Caucasians.
So I ran again in 2000, and that's when I won the election.
Coming from a small ethnic group within the Latino community, such as Peruvian Americans, how difficult is it to get involved in politics?
Before I respond to that question, I have to say that I was welcomed by the Puerto Rican community. I have excellent, good friends because this has been my community for the last thirty-four years. …