Melissa Cabello Havrda: Helping the community that raised her
Melissa Cabello Havrda sits in the District 6 seat for San Antonio City Council, the district she was born and raised in. The way Melissa describes it, she is helping the community that raised her. She advises other women interested in politics to “remember where you come from.” She keeps herself grounded in her roots by constantly reminding herself why she wanted to run for office in the first place: to help her community.
Melissa credits her parents with shaping her to be diverse in thought. Melissa’s mother was progressive while Melissa’s father was conservative. Her parents were politically opposed but spoke with one another openly about their differing thoughts. Melissa credits her parents with giving her a more informed perspective and teaching her how to listen to all aspects of a discussion.
In fact, Melissa’s first role model was her mom, Linda. She lovingly described her mother as outgoing, friendly, smart, and caring. Linda treated everyone like they were her best friend. Melissa also described her mom as genuine and outgoing. Melissa’s memories of her mom helped her step out of her comfort zone as someone who is shy. Now, with Melissa serving as a public official, Linda’s outgoing nature lives on through her daughter.
Melissa’s first exposure to politics happened when she met former President Ronald Reagan during a San Antonio campaign visit. She ran out to his side during the parade and he crouched down to her level to speak to her. While Melissa can’t remember their conversation, she remembers realizing that he too was a person just like her—that being an elected official did not dehumanize someone. From that moment on, being involved in politics seemed more attainable to her. “No politician is more than the environment they came from,” she said.
Only a few years after her encounter with President Reagan, Melissa realized that she had a passion to advocate for others. She was walking in the grass alongside her grandfather who was walking in the street. Melissa, who was raised in suburban neighborhoods with sidewalks, asked why her grandfather’s neighborhood did not have sidewalks. He simply responded “porque no es importa,” meaning “because it’s not important.” Melissa was upset that decisionmakers did not find her sidewalks in her grandfather’s neighborhood as important as in her neighborhood. Even larger than this, Melissa wanted people in her grandfather’s community to know that they matters.
Melissa sought a Juris Doctor with a goal to continue advocating for others. She opened her own law firm that advocates for disabled individuals. Melissa’s advocacy expanded beyond her clients after she attended an event through the Latina Leadership Institute, a training program for Latinas in San Antonio who are politically inclined. There, she learned that it was okay to embrace who she was as a Latina saying, “it was okay to wear bright colors. It was okay to be who I am.” Only a year after attending this event, her city councilmember was terming out. Melissa immediately jumped on the opportunity and ran for the seat against seven other candidates. She was the only woman and the only person who was raised in the district. While she made it to the runoff election, she lost by a mere 400 votes. Two years later, Melissa ran for the seat again and won.
When she initially ran for office, Melissa did not have a lot of campaign experience. She participated in a handful of training programs aside from the Latina Leadership Institute like Leadership San Antonio. She also gained insight from Lila Cockrell who had been the first woman to serve as Mayor of San Antonio, one of the largest cities governed by a Mayor during her term. But Melissa admitted that she still did not know much about the “campaign side” of politics when she ran. She leaned on her family, friends, and volunteers to share their advice. (Fun fact: one of her volunteers joined the campaign team after recognizing Melissa from the video store Melissa worked at when she was younger).
Now, as a city councilmember, Melissa is prioritizing District 6’s initiatives based on the feedback she receives from constituents. At the top of the list is police reform and strategic COVID-19 response. Melissa also plans to tackle some “boots on the ground” items as she describes it which includes infrastructure, workforce training, and business development. Local government is the front line against community challenges; Melissa plans to make swift and sustainable changes to tackle those. Her ultimate goal is to give back to the community that raised her.
Before running for office, Melissa advises women to talk to their closest circle of confidants. When Melissa decided to run for office, she sat down with her family and discussed the implications of running for and potentially winning political office. “Everyone had to sacrifice, not just me,” Melissa said. In fact, she remembers asking each of her children if they would be okay with Melissa running for office. Adorably, Melissa’s youngest child said that she needed a night to think about it. “Rely on that circle to help you,” Melissa said.